Steve Ballmer Moving Microsoft in the Right Direction?

For those who don’t know me, let me establish a few positions that I have taken over the many years that I have been working in IT before me writing a piece I never thought I would write. First, I do not particularly care for Microsoft and have been known to go great lengths to avoid using or buying their products. I am even writing this on my Ubuntu laptop for now. And I won’t claim to be a free software preacher either. I feel that every job has a proper tool, many have more than just one.  For example when I am home browsing on the internet, that tool could be an Apple Product or a Windows Product, or an alternative such as Linux.  They all do the job well.  When I work, I use Windows 7 x64 bit because I need the memory for the work that I do.
Second, as much as I dislike Microsoft, I loathe Steve Ballmer even more. In my personal opinion, Steve Ballmer is the mouthpiece that rattles on endlessly as though possessed by an otherworldly spirit while the rest of the company appears to want to present itself in a better way. While many key people in Microsoft try to reach out to Open source communities and bring in developers or try and encourage hackers to work with Microsoft to improve security, Mr. Ballmer will spout ramblings of IP theft and threaten lawsuits just moments later and place bounties on the head of anyone who exploits security flaws. The man seems about as in control of Microsoft as a dog owner would be of a Rottweiler walking through a butcher shop. The man has been notorious for being a clown on stage and jumping around like the dancing monkey boy moniker he has earned.

Which is why as much as it pains me to say this, but I feel Sam Diaz of ZDnet is wrong on saying that Steve Ballmer should remove  himself. Over the past five years, Microsoft has suffered a lot of brain drain and replaced a great many good managers with technical goals with business men that are out for pure profit.  One such great loss include one of my personal idols Ray Ozzy.  The problem with losing those engineers, the visionaries of the company is that eventually without the visionaries, the company runs out of ideas to market and lacks direction.  Ballmer finally realized this and appears to be changing his tune.  You see, he has shown something of what I would call growth.  He made a mistake and is showing signs that he has learned from that mistake.  Much like when I tear apart a computer and for some reason, I misplace a jumper or get the wrong power supply or purchase a CPU that won’t work with the existing motherboard. I can easily just abandon the computer or give it to some one else for a discount price because I can’t make it work.  Or I can try and troubleshoot the problem, fix the computer and learn something from the experience.  Another example would be taking the star basket ball player out of the game for being a ball hog after he finally learns how to pass to the other members on his team.  Steve Ballmer seems to have learned one of the valuable lessons in running a business.  That is running a technology company with only businessmen as executives is a bad way to run a business.

Now for why I feel so strongly about this.  For the last decade I have seen more people chase after jobs in the “business” world rather than the engineering world because they didn’t want to deal with the complexities of math and feel they could get an equal or better paying job than some one who actually did the heavy thinking.  I have a co-worker that chose to be an manager of information systems instead of a computer science major for just such a reason.  Bill Gates spoke for years about the need for more H1B Visas because of the talent shortage in engineers.  Steve Ballmer didn’t do much to help the problem by showing everyone that marketing and sales were important to the business while letting the engineers disappear.  Hopefully this is a high profile enough movement and successful enough that more companies will push to get engineers and more technical people into positions of leadership.  With that notion perhaps, and this is a long shot, people will see an engineering degree as a way to make real money instead of thinking the only college degree is an MBA.

So yes,  I want Steve Ballmer to stay as the CEO of Microsoft, not because I like the guy.  Not because I like the company.  Not even because I don’t like the company.  I want Steve Ballmer to be CEO so he can put more engineers in power and hopefully set an example that sometimes the person with the engineering degree gets to call the shots, which by what I still call a long shot, but start getting more students to enroll in college as engineers.  These hopes are the reason that I feel Steve Ballmer is moving Microsoft in the right direction.

3 thoughts on “Steve Ballmer Moving Microsoft in the Right Direction?”

  1. Microsoft is one of the few companies in the US still doing pure research. It’s why they file so many patents each year (last I checked, around 3,000… leading the nation, or close to it). They recently opened research facilities in the UK and India, because they learned that “the best” don’t have to leave home anymore. Microsoft hires a pile of engineers, and one of their biggest issues with Google is competition for talent. If you look at the .NET ecosystem, it is purely driven by open source envy, they are copying every open source project that looks good, and open sourcing it themselves.

    The big issue with Microsoft, is that for all of their super smart people, too much of their pure research stuff gets turned into bad products. “Clippy” is the ultimate example. You know why “Clippy” was so miserable? Because it came out when it did, not now… not that it needed more development, but that CPUs were too slow! The code that was done in the labs worked beautifully well, but was so intense, it bogged down even the fast PCs of the day. The product people (rightfully) said, “this is too slow, find a way to make this fast enough for real people to use”. So they did, but it involved giving “Lumiere” (the original project) a lobotomy and turning it into “Clippy”. There are tons of other examples where a good idea in the lab got butchered in the process of making it into a marketable product. The “Origami” PCs… great idea, but the hardware world wasn’t ready. The much maligned Kin was actually an excellent idea, in terms of integrated all sorts of devices into the social media world, but it was hampered by a million issues, few of them technical. WP7 is an EXCELLENT phone OS, but they are in trouble because they didn’t have the time to finish the feature set, and the Android market is so hot that the handset makers don’t want to devote a great design to WP7 when they can put Android on it and know that they have a hit.

    People say “marketing” is the secret to Microsoft’s success, but it isn’t. Their marketing sucks. Their ads suck. Their Web sites give zero information and suck. Where Microsoft shines is giving businesses what they want and need (on paper, at least). Things like the BizSpark program, and the fact that their products are usually a fraction of the price of their competitors. SQL Server spanks MySQL six ways till Sunday, it’s real competition is Oracle, which is a million times more expensive. Office cannot be beat, for *any* price at what it does for a business. If you think “marketing” is how they do it… ask yourself… what was the last ad you saw for a Microsoft product? What about for Microsoft enterprise products? If you do remember an ad, was it good? They only advertise Windows, Office, and their phone stuff. Their business stuff is totally unadvertised. But they are big enough presence that whatever they do gets covered by the relevant news organizations, who do their marketing for them. :)


  2. @Justin James
    You are right in that Microsoft couldn’t market their way out of a paper bag. Much like the Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld commercials. People were asking what was that all about afterward. Microsoft does do research, and they do a lot of research. I can’t say if they are on the top of the market this year with Patents. Usually that spot is reserved for IBM.

    Hey, guess who got the top spot in 2010 again? Microsoft did manage to get third this year. That managed to get them just over half of what the #1 spot patented.

    The only tech company that we can say excels at marketing is Apple. Although both Apple and Microsoft have impressive brand recognition. I still feel that getting the engineers into key spots again could help the company. I also feel that Ballmer needs to create this unique vision of where Microsoft needs to go and formulate a strategy on how to get there. He needs to keep engineers close to figure out the resources and how best to manage the deadlines. I can tell with Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7 that marketing has been more of the focus and while those products do have a better image than their predecessors, Microsoft has fallen short on promises made for Windows Phone 7 which could have been avoided had the right key person been in power not been a pushy business man trying to meet deadlines.

    The cloud offerings that Microsoft is bringing to the table sound more and more unique and is a very bold approach. I can start to see part of Ozzy’s vision in how they could come together, but if they fail to execute Azure properly, Microsoft’s cloud could be nothing more than a wisp of dust in the air.

    Many of the offerings by Microsoft such as Kin and Origami should have first had more real world testing before launched, second had been put on hold until technology caught up or adapted to work with present technology in an acceptable manner. I worked with an Origami tablet and felt that the platform underperformed all the while being over priced.

    I think the problem with WP7 is that they are so busy trying to compete with Android, and iOS that they should have focused on beating Blackberry. RIM is still the enterprise competitor to beat and had WP7 focused purely on marketing itself as an enterprise phone, they could have claimed themselves as a success even with their current sales numbers. Even their marketing would have worked well had it been directed towards the business world. Instead the marketing looked like it was trying to show all facets of life.

    These are hopefully things that Steve Ballmer has learned as well as getting engineers into higher spots in the company.

  3. @Michael Baumli

    I could not agree more regarding WP7’s positioning. Android was a hit because they took the iPhone’s consumer focus (which was unique at the time) and made it available across all carriers. Even then, it took about a year for it to catch on. WP7 could have been unique by taking the lessons learned from the consumer devices (like not needing special server side applications to do stuff, ease of use is king, etc.) and applying it to the enterprise market; neither iPhone nor Android are particularly well suited for the enterprise. Instead, they tried to “me too” the consumer stuff. And WP7 is still a really good mobile OS… I recently won a Samsung Focus, and I may end up dropping Verizon to use it, or I may end up hanging out on Verizon until they get WP7… but the devil’s in the details, and WP7 has a lot of weird omissions (especially compared to WM 6.X) that make it a hard sell to the enterprise, particularly one doing their own in-house development.


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