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8/26/2013
09:06 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
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Ballmer Is Off The Matrix

Microsoft's outgoing CEO couldn't see the desktop for the tiles.

It should come as no surprise that Steve Ballmer is out as Microsoft CEO. The company's vision for client computing is miserably off base, and that's on him. How could he have blessed such a misguided strategy for client devices?

On Ballmer's watch, Microsoft rolled out Windows 8, a product that is destined to go down as one of the most colossal missteps in computing history. I wouldn't be surprised to see it morph one day into a verb for undermining your own product. Like, for example, "the way they eight their core product like that, it's no wonder they went belly up."

Any first-year b-school student would tell you that Microsoft disregarded the basic tenets of business expansion with Windows 8. If you want to grow your business, you've got two logical options: Extend the reach of your existing products into new markets, or develop new products for your existing customers.

There's a simple two-by-two matrix to guide such decisions. You can make one for yourself by drawing a cross inside a square so that there are four quadrants. Label the two columns "new customers" and "existing customers" and the two rows "new products" and "existing products." Expand your business from the "existing products/existing customers" square to either extend current or develop new products. The square at the far end of the two-by-two matrix – "new products/new customers" – is better left for the start-ups.

[ Microsoft's mobile group can't pause for a new CEO. See Microsoft's Big Risk As Ballmer Departs: Windows Phone. ]

Maybe Keanu Reeves' character Neo might see how Windows 8 fits into the matrix. But here in this dimension, there's no option for taking an existing product with a large stable of existing customers -- the cushiest square on the board -- and essentially upending it by transforming it into a new product.

A common ploy in the software world is to get existing customers to pony up again for existing products by making and selling new-and-improved versions. That's what Microsoft had done through Windows 7. And it's what the industry expected the company to do with Windows 8.

This is a whole lot easier to grasp if we set aside the Windows numbering scheme for a moment. The existing product is the Desktop, and the new product is the Start Page. Shortly after the iPad came out in 2010, whispers were circulating that Microsoft was developing touch for Windows 8. Many industry participants were excited. They took that to mean that the software giant would be adding touch capability to the desktop.

They expected the company to update the menu structure so that it was more finger-friendly. And they expected to see gesture equivalents for mouse and keyboard commands. And they hoped to see some APIs so that hardware vendors and app developers could run with it.

No such luck, though. Instead of upgrading the desktop, Microsoft spent most of its efforts on the Modern UI and relegated our beloved desktop environment to a tile on the Start page.

So why did Ballmer embrace such an ill-fated direction? It's certainly possible that the Windows 8 nomenclature fogged his vision, and he just assumed that we'd all automatically upgrade from Windows 7.

More likely, he got caught up in the one Microsoft vision. It must have been intoxicating to think of a wide swath of products, all with a universal UI and programming model. But it shouldn't have been so intoxicating that he couldn't see that it was a really bad idea to upend the PC -- the market where Microsoft actually has a presence -- so that it would play nice with products in markets in which Microsoft barely registers.

Maybe if Ballmer directed the company to approach the problem from the other side of the fence -- force Windows phones and tablets to adapt to the PC desktop -- everyone might be better off, huh?

As it happens, it's too late for Ballmer. Sadly, he was so close to the product that he couldn't see the desktop for the tiles.

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Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
9/9/2013 | 5:48:06 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Sorry, I guess Orange County CA isn't quite up to China standards yet.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2013 | 5:26:06 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
P.T. Barnum comes to mind. Marketing leader yes, CEO of a tech company no.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2013 | 5:23:47 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
You can also add reduced R&D as a percentage of revenue under Ballmer verses Gates which follows right along with short term thinking.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/28/2013 | 4:53:12 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
I don't disagree with you, Michael. Only large, popular companies can get away with this stuff. These large companies probably have a turnover rate higher than 10% annually anyway, they are always hiring and firing somebody. This is a misguided attempt to make sure they are firing the lowest performing 10%.
My best friend works for GE Aircraft Engines in Cinci. He has industrial engineering degree (Ohio State) and works in logistics area for them. He had to pursue advanced degrees, all the way up to PhD level, to make sure he stayed off their 10% radar.
That is why I've always enjoyed working for mid size biz units who don't play those games. We will go years without hiring or firing anyone, you can't hide at small companies.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2013 | 9:10:54 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Thanks for following up. I'm glad it's worked out for him. I agree to an extent; for most truly superlative talents, a "cream rises" ranking system can work.

I'm still skeptical of stacked ranking, though. A term like "bottom dwellers" sounds like a generalization to me, especially since some groups at Microsoft are comprised almost entirely of people with PhDs. Not that people with advanced degrees can't be lousy workers-- but if nine people score perfectly on a test and you miss only one question, would it be fair to fire you as the "bottom" performer? Seems like some of this stuff should be considered in relative terms, rather than measured by an absolutely scale. Also, managers - even at great companies like Microsoft - don't always invest in the right performance metrics, or the right way of measuring them. I wonder if many perceived "bottom feeders" have been driven out by stack ranking, only to prove after moving somewhere else that they have much to contribute.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
8/27/2013 | 8:59:50 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Sadly for Microsoft, while Windows 8 did try to bring needed uniformity to the desktop/laptop, tablet, smartphone continuum, it was hopelessly too late, and all the more doomed, given Microsoft's failure in the mobile market. The marketplace had already made iOS or Android the platforms of choice. But perhaps another factor cementing Windows8's fate is the degree to which corporate and government IT shops are also recasting their operations into the cloud, and looking at the savings potential of adopting alternative licensing options. One imagines had Windows7, with all of its improvement, been released in today's environment, it would still have faced a disintegrating marketplace.
jries921
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jries921,
User Rank: Moderator
8/27/2013 | 5:55:33 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Perhaps not, but people speculate about all sorts of things that are "none of their business".
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2013 | 4:42:22 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
He is an outstanding talent, those people do well in any ranking system. It's only the bottom dwellers that have to worry about performance based systems. GE has been getting rid of it's lowest 10% for a long time now, it's nothing new.
He works in enterprise support area. At first it was Exchange support, now he (helps) manage the big picture of enterprise support.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2013 | 6:35:15 AM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
That is exactly the point. Vista killed MS. It should be light, modular and efficient, to boost ultramobile market: it eventually was the opposite!
CE was let dying, Phone, Kin and Zune were horrible failures, desktop version with Vista gone after selling more and more powerful PCs, not to open new markets.
UMPC died, XP tablets died, even netbooks (super heavyweight of the ultraportable market) needed to install xp until 7 come out with some fixes to the disaster of Vista inefficiencies.
That's why Java OS and Linux took over set top box and feature phone markets, MS got marginalized even in mobile/embedded professional market, and everyone jumped on the iOS/Android bandwagon.
Next battle is cloud and online advertising/search/social: no wonder that MS being marginalized in providing the OS to access those services (already behind Linux... sorry, Android, and with such sales even iOS is a treat!) is tremendously disadvantaged compared to its situation a few years ago, while it slumbered trying to fight the change and release an heavier and heavier Longhorn kernel to force new hardware down the throats of users!
Not even MS can disgruntle the ultramobile world for more than a decade.
W8 is the final insult, the funny part it shots to the heart (calling it "legacy") the desktop that is the last MS strategic asset... and it got what it deserved, as everyone involved in this madness is now fired.
Palpatine
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Palpatine,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2013 | 6:27:51 AM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
I could not agree more, Mike, well said.
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