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Microsoft's Lost Decade

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the no-skill-at-herding-cats dept.

Businesses 603

theodp writes "Newsweek's Daniel Lyons (that's Fake Steve to you) explains why Steve Ballmer is no Bill Gates, arguing that what most hurt Microsoft was BillG's decision to step down as CEO in January 2000: 'Gates was a software geek. He understood technology. Ballmer is a business guy.' And the problem with putting non-techies in charge of tech companies, concludes Lyons, is that they have blind spots. So while Microsoft's revenues nearly tripled from $23B to $58B on Ballmer's watch, says Lyons, the company became bureaucratic and lumbering, slowing down while the rest of the world — including Google, Apple and Amazon — sped up."

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603 comments

Bill Gates is a geek? (0, Troll)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938141)

Since when? As far as I know, he never developed anything, instead relying on others to do the work and then leveraging that work towards profitability (example: DOS).

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938149)

He developed an early version of BASIC.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0, Flamebait)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938331)

He developed an early version of BASIC.

Well, maybe. What we know is that BG and Paul Allen delivered a BASIC interpreter to MITS in the mid-1970s. Only Gates and Allen know for sure who wrote what.

-jcr

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938357)

Not only that, but MS Basic, as it became known, was removed in favor of GW Basic by MS DOS 3.x because it really didn't meet anyone's needs.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (5, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938167)

Even if that was true, he understood what other geeks needed. Plain business men probably aren't going to understand that.

And if you're ever read some book by Bill Gates, you'd notice he does have quite (interesting, I might add) ideas. Not just with OS and such, but with technology general and how to combine it with everyday life.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (5, Informative)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938229)

Also like how Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] tells on his early life,

One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students—Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans—for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.[15]

At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC's software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via teletype, Gates went to CCC's offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in FORTRAN, LISP, and machine language.

Gates wrote the school's computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with mostly female students.

That gotta give some hacker and geekiness points ;)

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (5, Insightful)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938505)

Also like how Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] tells on his early life,

One of these systems was a PDP-10 belonging to Computer Center Corporation (CCC), which banned four Lakeside students—Gates, Paul Allen, Ric Weiland, and Kent Evans—for the summer after it caught them exploiting bugs in the operating system to obtain free computer time.[15]

At the end of the ban, the four students offered to find bugs in CCC's software in exchange for computer time. Rather than use the system via teletype, Gates went to CCC's offices and studied source code for various programs that ran on the system, including programs in FORTRAN, LISP, and machine language.

Gates wrote the school's computer program to schedule students in classes. He modified the code so that he was placed in classes with mostly female students.

That gotta give some hacker and geekiness points ;)

So Bill Gates studied the source code and benefitted from having done so? I wonder if he appreciates that he'd have been unable to do this if everyone operated the way Microsoft does.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (4, Insightful)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938553)

I think instead he appreciated the NDA he had to sign to gain access to the source(*), which coincidentally is how Microsoft operates. Except their recent open source offerings, but we can't mention those here, they're obviously a trap or something.

(*) Yes, this is pure speculation, much like the parent.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938579)

He does, and he has said so in the past. But now he's at the top, he probably appreciates it, but no longer needs to care.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938591)

I wonder if he appreciates that he'd have been unable to do this if everyone operated the way Microsoft does.

I think you misread. A company essentially contracted him to come in and fix bugs. Are you telling me that MS wouldn't let you see their code if they contracted with you to come in and fix bugs?

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938181)

I don't suppose you've ever heard of BASIC before, have you? You know, the language that was on the computer in your own fucking username? The most popular implementation of it even today remains Microsoft Basic, which was initally developed by...wait for it...Paul Allen and _Bill Gates_. Did you know that? No, of course you didn't. If you were literate you'd be able to do a simple search and find out just how wrong you were.

Try doing a bit of reading, it might help. Or hey, go ahead and keep spewing out ignorance for all I care, it -is- Slashdot after all. You'll probably get more mod points for being completely wrong, as long as you're insulting good old M$.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (5, Interesting)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938265)

I don't suppose you've ever heard of BASIC before, have you? You know, the language that was on the computer in your own fucking username? The most popular implementation of it even today remains Microsoft Basic, which was initally developed by...wait for it...Paul Allen and _Bill Gates_./p>

Even better, he developed the C64 basic since Commodore licensed it from MS [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (2, Insightful)

schmidt349 (690948) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938287)

Gates was a pretty good hacker back in the day. Even though I'm sure he hasn't flexed those particular geek muscles in a long time I don't much doubt that he knows technology about as well as anybody in the business.

What worries me is the direction he has always pushed software in. If those old ALTAIRs had the guts to do DRM you can bet his BASIC would have been locked down tighter than the iPhone.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938327)

Considering Microsoft hasn't really ever been too much worried about piracy of Windows and I think Gates even said once it was good for it at some level, and that Windows (especially Windows Mobile, the only actually open kind in Mobile world until Android), I don't think he is that much for DRM. Piracy was dead-easy on the first xbox too.
 

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0, Troll)

jcr (53032) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938343)

Gates was a pretty good hacker back in the day.

Gates was a big fish in a small pond back in the day. Try reading the code of that BASIC interpreter. BG can't hold a candle to Woz or Chuck Moore or Dennis Ritchie.

-jcr

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938403)

and that was promptly replaced by GW Basic (of George Washington University) by MS DOS 3.x because it sucked.

They didn't develop BASIC, they wrote a compiler for the 8088, along with Davidoff. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BASIC

Perhaps doing a bit of reading might help after all?

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (4, Interesting)

Nazlfrag (1035012) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938631)

So he's not a geek, he just wrote a compiler in machine code on an 8080 interpreter Allen had written for the PDP-10 targetting the kit-form hobbyist computer credited for starting the personal computer revolution.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (4, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938219)

Since when? As far as I know, he never developed anything, instead relying on others to do the work and then leveraging that work towards profitability (example: DOS).

No kidding. He made the comment during the antitrust trial that "technological miracles cross my desk every day." Well, assuming that's true (and it ought to be, given the money the company spends on Microsoft Research) my only question was: well, then, well the hell are they?! Google, Apple and others are making those things happen: Microsoft just releases yet another version of Windows and Office every few years and calls that "innovation."

Plus which, it doesn't help that Ballmer is a flaming sociopath who should be on medication not running a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (5, Insightful)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938291)

Plus which, it doesn't help that Ballmer is a flaming sociopath who should be on medication not running a multi-billion dollar corporation.

I always thought that was required from *all* CEO's of multi-billion dollar corporations.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938473)

Apple? Technological miracles? Care to name one?

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (2)

oh_bugger (906574) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938609)

Why was this modded offtopic? It's a direct response to a dubious claim made in the parent post

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (1)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938537)

Plus which, it doesn't help that Ballmer is a flaming sociopath who should be on medication not running a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Yes, but he's a wealthy flaming sociopath, and in our culture that makes it okay!

Not many people are likely to say it quite so plainly and openly, of course. But that certainly is the message here.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938587)

See: Project Natal.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (1)

pgmrdlm (1642279) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938465)

I had to look this up just out of curiousity.
--
In 1970, at the age of 15, Bill Gates went into business with his pal, Paul Allen. They developed "Traf-o-Data," a computer program that monitored traffic patterns in Seattle, and netted $20,000 for their efforts. Gates and Allen wanted to start their own company, but Gates' parents wanted him to finish school and go on to college where they hoped he would work to become a lawyer.

--
His acumen for not only software development but also business operations put him in the position of leading the company and working as its spokesperson. He personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, often rewriting code when he saw it necessary. As the computer industry began to grow with companies like Apple, Intel, and IBM developing hardware and components, Bill was continuously out on the road touting the merits of Microsoft software applications. He often took his mother with him. Mary was highly respected and well connected with her membership on several corporate boards including IBM. It was through Mary that Bill Gates met the CEO of IBM.
--

http://www.biography.com/articles/Bill-Gates-9307520?print [biography.com]
The point I want to highligh here is:
He personally reviewed every line of code the company shipped, often rewriting code when he saw it necessary.

So, the man was a developer.

I thought he also wrote the fat file system, but I couldn't find supporting links for that.

Oh well.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938507)

As far as I know, he never developed anything, instead relying on others to do the work and then leveraging that work towards profitability

Wait, when did this become about Steve Jobs?

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (2, Interesting)

ivucica (1001089) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938513)

I dunno, after reading this interview from 1986 [wordpress.com] I don't think he used to be a horrible guy. The interview seems pretty insightful, and Microsoft does look like a nice company back then, at least according to Gates. And some of his statements look geeky to me, especially in light of bloatware that's bearing the name .Net Framework.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938523)

You stupid fuck, you don't need to be a programmer in order to be a geek. That is what most geeks do, but it's not really required. Also, Bill Gates was a geek because he was a programmer. He hacked lots of shit in his life. You may be trying to push the idea that he stole stuff and just put it under his name. You still need some geek skills to steal software ideas and source code. Now go cook or whatever, just go away from Slashdot.

Re:Bill Gates is a geek? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938561)

Since when?

My God, look at the man... I didn't know this was even in question.

Anyway, anyone who went as out-of-the-way as he did to get computing time back in the day is a geek in my book. I wasn't alive back then, so I can't say for sure - but I doubt I would have spent that much effort trying to get little slivers of mainframe time.

Yeah but (4, Insightful)

/dev/trash (182850) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938169)

It must really suck to be a billionaire and yet realize if you had been smart you coulda been a trillionaire.

Re:Yeah but (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938237)

Well, at least, according to his wikipedia page:

Spouse(s)
          Melinda Gates (1994–present)

Children
          Jennifer Katharine Gates (b.1996)
          Rory John Gates (b.1999)
          Phoebe Adele Gates (b.2002)

He's had sex at least three more times than myself or the average Anonymous Coward. So those billions must have counted for something.

Re:Yeah but (3, Funny)

frozentier (1542099) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938275)

Steve Balmer (whom I thought we were talking about) had sex three times with Bill Gates' wife, and has three kids with her? I'm surprised he still works for the company!

Re:Yeah but (3, Funny)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938339)

So the conclusion is that because Bill doesn't have guts to do anything even after that, he really is a true geek!

Always blaming or crediting the CEO (4, Insightful)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938183)

Always blaming or crediting the CEO and never the techs, like Martha Stewart's husband.

Re:Always blaming or crediting the CEO (3, Insightful)

thue (121682) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938443)

Microsoft has the money to buy the best techs. So it becomes a failure of management if they fail to do so.

So in the case of Microsoft I would say that blaming the management for failure is reasonable.

Re:Always blaming or crediting the CEO (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938613)

Was it reasonable to blame Kirk for the firing upon of Gorkon's ship?

The level of innovation present in Word 2.0, Excel 4.0, and Visual Studio 4.0 is not something you "buy". In the .NET era, Microsoft went around the world hiring academics for "Microsoft Research". Dream teams aren't made by hiring a collection of best-in-field individuals -- pro-bowl and all-star games are proof of that. They're made by a combination of luck, timing, and a lack of bureaucracy. Management has little control.

Please, the only "tech" influence Bill Gates had on Microsoft was clinging to Basic for far too long. Imagine how much further ahead we'd be now if the 1990's Microsoft RAD IDE were C++ instead of Basic, and Microsoft Office Scripting were Lua or Perl instead of VBA?

Doesn't really matter beeing a geek (5, Insightful)

Stratoukos (1446161) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938189)

This says a lot more about Steve Balmer's competence than Bill Gate's geekness. A far as I know Steve Jobs is no geek, but apparently Apple's relevance is affected by him being there.

Re:Doesn't really matter beeing a geek (5, Insightful)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938365)

This says a lot more about Steve Balmer's competence than Bill Gate's geekness. A far as I know Steve Jobs is no geek, but apparently Apple's relevance is affected by him being there.

Jobs is not a geek per se but he talks our language, that's how he got involved with Woz. That and he has an uncanny insight into technology and how it can be used and popularized even when he lacks the technical skill to develop it himself. He's not a salesman (bullshit artist) like Balmer, but someone who can genuinely see how cool a technology is and then transfer that enthusiasm to other people.

Re:Doesn't really matter beeing a geek (4, Insightful)

StreetStealth (980200) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938559)

Jobs is basically that guy who may not be very artistically inclined himself, but has absolutely uncanny taste and runs a gallery in SOHO that turns unknowns full of potential into superstars of the art world.

Only instead of starving artists, it's technologies.

Re:Doesn't really matter beeing a geek (2, Interesting)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938517)

A far as I know Steve Jobs is no geek

But it's so cute when he tries.

I remember back in 2003 when Xcode 1.0 came out and Steve was on stage showing "Fix and Run" (where you could have the program running, change some code, recompile and dynamically link that code into the running binary). All he had to do was change a few lines of code in the demo and hit the "Fix & Run" button, but you could see his cheat sheets and he, very carefully, was typing in exactly what was on the sheet and no idea what he was doing.

Of course, he was joking that he had no idea what he was doing--he wasn't trying to pretend that he was some superprogrammer or anything. There've also been a few times when he's talked about processors and instruction paths and geeky hardware stuff and followed it up with, "I have no idea what that means."

Steve is pretty good about surrounding himself with people who know this stuff (ie, Woz, Avie Tevanian) and turning pure technology into products that people want to buy.

Bill Gates understood technology? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938197)

Like, uh, the rise of the internet, which Windows 95 was built for?
Oh, wait...

Its cash in time (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938217)

The people who own and run Microsoft know that they won't benefit from radical development in the product line. Not in their lifetimes anyway. So the engineering side goes business as usual. Marketing gets a boost. And profits go in the bank.

Its the same where I work. And its time to go.

Re:Its cash in time (1)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938409)

The people who own and run Microsoft know that they won't benefit from radical development in the product line. Not in their lifetimes anyway. So the engineering side goes business as usual. Marketing gets a boost. And profits go in the bank.

Microsoft is spending $9.5 Billion on R&D this coming year. Now as usual with R&D it is somewhat of a crapshoot. Sometimes you'll hire bright talent and throw a lot of money into R&D and get nothing for it. Eventually though, those two in combination are going to come up with something that is going to give you an edge on your competition.

That is when the radical development comes in.

Chairs incoming! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938233)

Daniel Lyons better get ready to find some cover!

Fake Steve Start Your Copier (4, Insightful)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938243)

Nice piece, but he probably got the idea from James Kwak [slashdot.org] via Gruber [daringfireball.net] .

"Technology firms also face a similar problem. In technology, as in most businesses, the way to make it to the top is through sales, so you end up with a situation where the CEO is a sales guy who has no understanding of technology and, for example, thinks that you can cut the development time of a project in half by adding twice as many people. I have seen this have catastrophic results. Even when you don’t have the generational issue that Trillin talks about, the problem is that the sociology of corporations leads to a certain kind of CEO, and as corporations become increasingly dependent on complex technology or complex business processes (for example, the kind of data-driven marketing that consumer packaged companies do), you end up with CEOs who don’t understand the key aspects of the companies they are managing."

The Worlds Lost Decade (5, Interesting)

SuperKendall (25149) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938259)

How far back has the software industry been set back by Microsoft?

How much further along would server side be if Microsoft had truly worked with the Java community instead of going it's own way with .Net?

How much better would cellphones be if Microsoft had not bought, and slowly strangled, Danger?

How much further along would so many areas be if Microsoft had not bought up so many experts and stuffed them in an R&D group with almost no real world output, instead of having them work on practical technologies that made it to market?

Would the HD video market have been as fragmented as it was without Microsoft pushing HD-DVD long past the point it was obviously dead just so they would get licensing revenue from the menu system?

If Microsoft the company has lost a decade, it is Karma - for the world and our industry has lost so much more at their hands.

Re:The Worlds Lost Decade (0, Troll)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938375)

How much further along would server side be if Microsoft had truly worked with the Java community instead of going it's own way with .Net?

To be honest I'd take .NET over the piece of slow shit that Java is over any day. And .NET supports a lot more languages than just Java, which I'm not really a fan either.

How much better would cellphones be if Microsoft had not bought, and slowly strangled, Danger?

I doubt Danger has had really any effect on Mobile world. And actually Windows Mobile is a lot more open than the other alternatives that there have been, in DRM sense and who can develop for them and how (tho finally we got Android aswell)

Re:The Worlds Lost Decade (4, Insightful)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938419)

You realize in most independent benchmarks, Java is quite a bit faster than .NET and has been proven in really huge enterprise apps. .NET hasn't been proven, just ask the London Stock Exchange.

I think you need to get the facts, my friend.

Re:The Worlds Lost Decade (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938627)

i'm not going to arguement benchmarks, they are so rediculous i'm not even going to engage.

To say .NET is unproven is an outright lie, and we both know trying to pin the LSE's failed IT upgrade on .NET is bullshit as well.

Re:The Worlds Lost Decade (-1, Troll)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938499)

How much father ahead is the software industry because of Microsoft?

Regardless of how it got there, having a mass market platform to develop against surely made many projects feasible that would otherwise have cost too much for niche markets.

Java is a tragic missed opportunity. A great idea but too slow in practice until other options had already surpassed it.

Buying up experts and stuffing them into R&D is always hit and miss. Generally you'll take a lot of misses to get the one big hit though. It takes time and even with the recession Microsoft is still spending over 9 billion on R&D this year.. one of the biggest R&D budgets in the world. This is the sort of company that is thinking long term instead of short term. That is rare these days and it is most likely the reason why they will be strong for decades to come.

I can honestly say that I don't think anyone cared much that Microsoft was backing HD-DVD. I have to agree though that two competing but very similar standards on something as insignificant as storage media at this point in our digital lives is a complete waste of time.

Re:The Worlds Lost Decade (5, Funny)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938555)

You must give some credit to Microsoft. If weren't because of them, we would never knew the risks of botnets, trivial exploits and trusting by default in the network. Who knows, if they werent there probably some centuries from now, when we invade some primitive planet, natives would hack our mothership because we never got aware of those risks.

Can a good manager manage anything? (4, Interesting)

Lemming Mark (849014) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938277)

I certainly find the viewpoint of the article very appealing - essentially that just being a manager isn't enough to enable you to manage anything you want. That you need to understand what your company does at a highly intimate level to really run it well. Who wants to be pushed around by people whose only qualification is to manage others? What about the real folks at the coalface who know what the business is really like?

Question is - is it true? Certainly appeals to me. But has anyone done a study into this? It'd be interesting to see. Although really, the backgrounds of the CEOs and the records of their companies are out there for all to see. MS under Bill Gates, Apple under Steve Jobs - these certainly look like convincing individual cases. What would happen if you analysed the whole computing industry? What about other industries?

I would suggest that to a certain extent a really good manager could manage anything they choose - because a truly good manager will make sure he understands what he's getting into. But even then, everyone has different aptitudes for different things, so there's no way to guarantee that they'd be as skilled in any given job. You can probably adapt to that, as long as you're aware of it and don't assume that your previous experience will carry you. For CEOs, there's perhaps a requirement to be a good general businessman - maybe those skills do transfer well. But I think understanding the business ought to be pretty darn important if you want to run the company *well* as opposed to just keeping it ticking over. I don't think there should be any excuse for appointing a CEO who doesn't, can't or won't understand the business adequately. But hey, I'm not on any company boards nor am I a shareholder in anything *shrug*

Re:Can a good manager manage anything? (1)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938601)

I certainly find the viewpoint of the article very appealing - essentially that just being a manager isn't enough to enable you to manage anything you want. That you need to understand what your company does at a highly intimate level to really run it well.

That is a good point but I would say that since Steve Ballmer has been at Microsoft for DECADES he probably has a good idea of what the company does.

It would be one thing if he had parachuted in from a completely unrelated industry but he has been there almost since the beginning.

Look.... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938289)

MS's entire business model was doomed for anything beyond the first dip in the pool...BG or not. Let's not paint that horse anything but the original color....

Maybe if they rebrand the company and call it "Freedom Hero Baby Jesus Family Values Lower Taxes Soft" instead....

eBay,google,xbox. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938297)

This also happened with eBay, and is likely to happen to Google should they ever chance the CEO.

Formula for failure:
Have the CEO drive a business into the ground by paying them in cash. Pay them the average employee's wage + bonus in stock, therefore they are only sabotaging themselves if they drive the company into the ground, or increase customer resentment. Maybe apply this to board members too.

In Microsoft's case, the Anti-opensource/anti-linux zealotry, and delivering incremental upgrades as "new operating systems" with only improvements made to the bells and whistles has made customers who even buy windows still refer to Microsoft (the company) as bad.

What could change Microsoft's standing, and stop eroding customer confidence is doing what they did with Windows 7, and open-beta each operating system for 90 days to get feedback on what people like and dislike. Had they done this back with Windows XP, we might never have seen the terrible Vista.

And Vista was not Windows ME. Vista was stable, ME was not.

eBay runs afoul of the not listening to customers, especially with the CEO change. It went from relatively listening, to completely ignoring. (As soon as John came on board, departments were getting outsourced left and right, and plenty of forced-use-of-paypal attempts were made.) The final straw on this was the giving discounts to bulk listers. In effect John in one year turned eBay into Amazon, stripping a lot of what made eBay good out.

If Google were to follow the same route, you'd see that 20% project time gone first, then innovations would stop flowing. Then ads would be stuffed into every part of the site until it resembles Yahoo. And we all know how well Yahoo is doing (not well at all.)

Bill Gates at least knew what direction to take things, Microsoft is a software company. Ballmer doesn't seem to know what direction to go, hence the "New version, now with shiny new bells and whistles." The moving of software into "Live" is a horrible mistake that is trying to encroach on what Google does well, that being "offering free usable services." Microsoft is trying to charge money and offer unusable services.

Microsoft only does Windows and Office well, and makes some slightly-better-than-average hardware for the PC. The Xbox/Xbox360 development must have hired the same people who worked on Windows ME. Pushed unfinished, poorly tested hardware out the door to meet some business agenda.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile is becoming increasingly irrelevant with the iPhone and Blackberry eating it's lunch. Again with the "move services online" aspect that is failing. If they can't do it right on the mobile platform, they sure as hell are going to fail to make paywalled office software.

O RLY? (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938305)

And the problem with putting non-techies in charge of tech companies, concludes Lyons, is that they have blind spots

What good did that do Jerry Yang?

Not just Microsoft (4, Interesting)

methano (519830) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938329)

This has happened in a lot of businesses. The pharmaceutical industry is in similar shape for the same reasons. Maybe even more so.

Math Error (1, Flamebait)

Prien715 (251944) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938369)

revenues nearly tripled from $23B to $58B on Ballmer's watch....

56 / 23 ~= 2.43

Unless we're in some strange universe, Ballmer increased revenue almost 2 and a half times...or over two times. 3 is out.

Unless he's doing some fun rounding I'm unaware of.

Re:Math Error (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938437)

Unless he's doing some fun rounding I'm unaware of.

There are many ways of rounding a number y to an integer q.

round down (or take the floor): q is the largest integer that does not exceed y.
round up (or take the ceiling): q is the smallest integer that is not less than y.

methods are called directed rounding, as the displacements from the original number y to the rounded value q are all directed towards or away the same limiting value (0, +, or -).

If y is positive, round-down is the same as round-towards-zero, and round-up is the same as round-away-from-zero. If y is negative, round-down is the same as round-away-from-zero, and round-up is the same as round-towards-zero. In any case, if y is integer, q is just y. The following table illustrates these rounding methods:

Re:Math Error (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938447)

58 / 23 ~= 2.52. Saying that's almost 3 is deep in marketing speak territory but it's not outright false.

Re:Math Error (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938449)

revenues nearly tripled from $23B to $58B on Ballmer's watch....

Unless we're in some strange universe, Ballmer increased revenue almost 2 and a half times...or over two times. 3 is out.

I believe Joel used Excel to calculate that... :-)

Re:Math Error (1)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938509)

If I'm not mistaken they actually had 60 billion in revenue last year before the recession hit.. maybe he is looking at the high point.

.. on business men (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938371)

To business men, numbers are everything. To them, the larger the number under the 'Income' category the better. They measure success just by looking at the large number of money they make. In geek terms, that would be the same as measuring 'lines of code' to measure how great a peace of code is.

I agree Bill G was a geek and knew what to look for.

Re:.. on business men (1)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938455)

In geek terms, that would be the same as measuring 'lines of code' to measure how great a peace of code is.

After all the spaghetti code and dirty workarounds I've seen, I think your analogy is a bit flawed.

But you are welcome to try with a car analogy.

Um Sounds like my ideal business plan (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938379)

You make working less and earning more sound like a bad thing? And for Ten Years? Man I'm lucky if I can screw off without much to show for a little less than a week. Ballmer should write a book.

Apple got lucky (2, Interesting)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938383)

The current CEO of Palm is the inventor of the ipod, not Steve Jobs. While at Apple Steve Jobs sent him out to find a hot product to make and he found the 1.8" hard drive at Toshiba that was considered a waste of resources and about to be killed. He made the ipod around it. iTunes came from a company Apple bought and they just renamed the software.

iTunes took off because Microsoft couldn't get their DRM strategy right and iTunes worked out a good deal with the record companies. the Ipod was one brand from a company everyone knew.

the iphone was a sales disaster until they cut the price and added the subsidies from AT&T. even then it was a slow niche seller until the 3G came out with the AppStore and Exchange support. the fact that you need a Mac to code for the iphone and the Vista PR disaster helped drive Mac sales. Otherwise they were flat for most of the decade since no one in their right mind would pay the premium for Apple's usually slower hardware. Now that the PC market is maturing it's becoming more vertically integrated like any maturing industry and Apple is there with a complete product while MS sticks to it's OEM model.

if you compare the specs than the iMac's are competative against Dell/HP and in some cases cheaper. the MBP will be competative once the next refresh comes. it's worth it getting a Mac since it's the only decent desktop ^nix and there is no crapware like on Dell's and HP's

Re:Apple got lucky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938485)

I'm sorry, but as someone who despises most of Apple business practices (and does not care too much for most of their products), this is simply not true. The iphone has been doing a phenomenal business since day one. Look at the people already buying their second one to fall into Apple's (standard practice) upgrading scheme).

Re:Apple got lucky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938497)

iTunes came from a company Apple bought and they just renamed the software.

Are you seriously trying to claim that SoundJam MP [wikipedia.org] was even remotely like iTunes? I was a user of SoundJam from the time it was released in 97 or 98 until Apple bought it, and it was nothing like iTunes at all.

Re:Apple got lucky (1)

sanjosanjo (804469) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938595)

Apple seems to only get lucky when Steve Jobs is running the ship. I would say that his sense of design is his most important talent.

Re:Apple got lucky (5, Informative)

CharlyFoxtrot (1607527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938599)

The current CEO of Palm is the inventor of the ipod, not Steve Jobs. While at Apple Steve Jobs sent him out to find a hot product to make and he found the 1.8" hard drive at Toshiba that was considered a waste of resources and about to be killed. He made the ipod around it. iTunes came from a company Apple bought and they just renamed the software.

I'm confused. Are they lucky because they hired good people or because they made smart acquisitions ? They completely redid the GUI for iTunes by the way, Soundjam looked entirely different and they develop it in a a novel way by making it into an interface for their store.

iTunes took off because Microsoft couldn't get their DRM strategy right and iTunes worked out a good deal with the record companies. the Ipod was one brand from a company everyone knew.

True, but again that they were able to get right what MS couldn't just proves they were smart not lucky.

the iphone was a sales disaster until they cut the price and added the subsidies from AT&T. even then it was a slow niche seller until the 3G came out with the AppStore and Exchange support.

This one is just blatantly false. The iPhone hit all Apple's announced targets, 1 million sold in the first 80 days, 10 million sold by 2008 [macworld.com] ("Apple hits 10 million iPhone target two months early".)

Re:Apple got lucky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938603)

They bought a 1.5" hard drive, which unless I'm mistaken, is Hardware, not Software. They didn't rename anything. They needed something with capacity that would fit in a small form factor. Don't confuse a piece of technology with the whole.

The first gen iPhone didn't sell well? What planet were you living on? It was back ordered for weeks with people lined up around the block and lining up days in advance. They sold over 6 million of them in a little over a year. Even when 3G's release was imminent [cnet.com] , it was still selling well. You're obviously a little confused about the definition of 'disaster'.

Re:Apple got lucky (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938635)

"the fact that you need a Mac to code for the iphone and the Vista PR disaster helped drive Mac sales"

The fact that you need a Mac to code for the iphone may have hurt iPhone development somewhat, but it did not drive Mac sales significantly, come on now. You can't seriously believe that.

Re:Apple got lucky (1)

4iedBandit (133211) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938637)

the iphone was a sales disaster until they cut the price and added the subsidies from AT&T. even then it was a slow niche seller until the 3G came out with the AppStore and Exchange support.

The iPhone was such a disaster that ATT stores couldn't keep them in stock? That people stood in lines and paid the full un-subsidized price to get them? That they sold millions in their first year in just the US alone? That ATT decided to act on their optional contract extension before they actually had to? Wow, I wish I had a company that could manage that kind of disaster.

It's okay to not like Apple, the iPhone or any of their products. But I'm getting tired of the revisionist-historians who keep popping up all over the place.

Microsoft: The "Me Too" company (2, Insightful)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938391)

While Microsoft has never been the most innovative company, since Bill Gates' departure Microsoft seems to have fallen into a "Me Too" mentality. Nintendo and Sony were making money in gaming consoles. Microsoft says "Me Too" and the X-box is born. Apple makes money with the iPod and "Me Too" here comes the Zune. And don't get me started onMicrosoft's obvious Google-envy. Microsoft has some of the best and brightest minds in the industry but they constantly seem to be playing catch-up with everyone else.

Re:Microsoft: The "Me Too" company (1)

eat cakes (1665859) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938451)

This may very well be why MS is so largely popular. They take what others are already doing well, change it, and throw their already well-known name onto it, creating an instant hit.

Re:Microsoft: The "Me Too" company (2, Interesting)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938515)

Not like Apple innovates. There were other MP3 players on the market when the ipod came along. and it was a niche Mac fanboy product until Apple released a Windows version of ITunes. Blackberries had music capability before the iphone. in fact Apple worked with Motorola on the disaster known as the ROKR before the iphone came out.

Apple has a good marketing department that has a plan before they enter a new business and changes it if things go badly like they did with the iphone at first. Microsoft still relies on OEM's who sell on tiny margins and go cheap in every way they can. except for the x-box Microsoft doesn't seem to have any plan for their products except prayer. why would anyone enter the PMP market when cell phones are taking over that category. WInMo seems to be in limbo and behind the new blood of Palm, Apple and Google.

  Apple sells slightly different versions of OS X in each product. Mac's, Time Capsule, Apple TV, iPhone. they all run slightly modified versions of OS X with big limitations.

Re:Microsoft: The "Me Too" company (1)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938533)

Xbox is clobbering the Wii and PS3 in profits now that Microsofts strategy is apparent. Just as what happened with PCs, the hardware is going to matter less and less. The software and connectivity is where the profits are going to lie.

Xbox Live is far and away the dominant service for this generation of game consoles and the nice thing for Microsoft is that it is "sticky" in that when a new gen of hardware comes out you'll be able to keep your avatar, achievements, downloads etc seamlessly. They are way ahead of the game but it has only become apparent in the last year as the Xbox Live numbers have started to get really up there.

It also gives them the possibility of end running around Apple because they have access to the TV and downloadable movies, songs, videos, etc. through Xbox Live.

*head explodes* (2, Funny)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938421)

FTFA:

It had advanced features like "Goto" but the labels were actually physically invisible.

advanced...goto... ...does not compute...

WTF planet is the author from? (0, Troll)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938427)

A company makes $1.2 BILLION a month in net profit, and it's a failure with a lost decade? And people wonder why techies usually suck as CEOs...

Re:WTF planet is the author from? (2, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938547)

A company makes $1.2 BILLION a month in net profit, and it's a failure with a lost decade?

Putting short-term profit over long term has been a standard policy for failing companies driven by short-sighted management.

Sure, Microsoft make a lot of money now, but over the last decade they've gone from being one of the most important companies in IT to 'so what?'. How many people really care about anything Microsoft does anymore? Does anyone get excited about a new version of Windows? Or a new version of anything that Microsoft produce?

So Microsoft may be making plenty of money today, but what will they be doing in another decade? Where are the new products they should have been developing since 2000 that are going to make them billions in the future?

Tripled (2, Insightful)

BigBadBus (653823) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938435)

The bean counters who manage Microsoft won't give two hoots that the technies within and without the company are disgruntled. Why should they? The article says that Microsoft's fortunes nearly tripled, and thats all they care about.

Bill Gates was not replaced only by Ballmer (1)

bravecanadian (638315) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938441)

Steve Ballmer is a business guy and the CEO.

Ray Ozzie is the tech guy and the chief software architect.

Bill Gates was actually replaced by the two of them working in tandem.

Do these guys even research a little before they make these retarded articles about how an already huge company that tripled its revenue in 10 years is doing poorly?

What a good manager can never manage.... (3, Insightful)

SwedishChef (69313) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938459)

The one thing a good manager cannot manage is creativity; they've either got it or they don't. In MS's case they never had it unless you count buying up the ideas others had come up with (DOS, SQL, Excel, Word, and on and on). This problem is compounded when, at some point, HR steps in with focus on credentials instead of competence and further strangles any new ideas. Go ahead, tell your HR department to hire more creative people and watch them demand more credentials from every applicant.

Google has managed to attract the best and brightest because they've promoted a sense of excitement and stressed competence. But at some point HR at Google will get the upper hand too. Art History majors always prevail.

Tallest Tree in the Forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938475)

It may be a matter of risk management.

The tallest tree in the forest is the one that gets struck by lightening, thus keeping most of the forest roughly the same height.

In the case of companies like Microsoft, if you get too far ahead (technically or fiscally) you become the target of anti trust laws.

Not just Microsoft (5, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938477)

The decade was lost for the entire tech sector, not just Microsoft. 9/11 triggered a recession that caused most companies to pull back and take on only low-risk maintenance-type projects -- nothing cutting edge. All the good software developers and cutting edge work were relegated to black ops, which we don't hear about, except in bits and pieces like Total Information Awareness and Google's Singularity sub-campus on the NASA Ames campus (which is known for its AI work).

Oh, there was a bit of an economic lift in the middle of the decade -- the housing boom triggered by Greenspan's one-percent interest rates. So, some software development work went into the mortgage industry. That's as useful, as exciting, and as enduring as granite countertops (which were just a waystation between Corian and compressed quartz). Then the Great Recession hit in 2007 -- back to no innovation at all (as least outside of cleared work).

What do we have to show for it on the desktop? Window bars that are blurry and hard to read. Faaaan-tastic.

Where the heck is end-user database/web development? It's like Microsoft Access and Lotus Notes are living time capsules of their 1995 versions. Where is a unified naming system that treats e-mail messages, files, web URLs, and database records homogeneously? Where are agents? Why do I have to manually save every check images from my online banking? Why aren't these automatically downloaded to my computer by a software agent?

The problem is not just Ballmer (5, Interesting)

mbkennel (97636) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938511)

The original article is too timid.

The problem is not just Ballmer. The problem is that Microsoft wasn't broken up. Ballmer is the symptom.

After the antitrust ruling was emasculated, Bill Gates should have said "OK, we won. Now we're going to break Microsoft up anyway. That's the only way to prevent us from turning into exactly what we despised when we founded the company: IBM."

They have many smart people working there but they are all Thralls, in service to the continued maintenance of the Windows Empire, whose first commandment is Thou Shalt Not Think Different.

What about BOB?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938529)

I guess Gates developed at least Microsoft BOB!!! :D

Software or Company? (1)

ffejie (779512) | more than 4 years ago | (#29938563)

And the problem with putting non-techies in charge of tech companies, concludes Lyons, is that they have blind spots

I don't think this is necessarily true. A company like Cisco has done great things with a business guy (Chambers) in charge. He probably gets it better than Ballmer, but he's proof that a business guy can be a good CEO of a technology company.

For Microsoft, it's both - Software and Company. They create software and they are a profit machine. I don't think that having Ballmer or Gates at the helm is really driving either culture.

James T. Kirk said it best... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29938623)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swvf3w6hcY4

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