Software // Operating Systems
Commentary
8/26/2013
09:06 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
David F. Carr
50%
50%
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/26/2013 | 1:46:08 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Will no one step forward to say a good word for Ballmer? He must have done something right, somewhere along the line ... right?
VFanRJ
50%
50%
VFanRJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/26/2013 | 4:38:44 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
One? There 16B+ George Washingtons that confirm that Steve is one of the best executives around. You don't build that kind of a following being a slouch.
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2013 | 4:45:19 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
My wife's cousin's husband has worked for MS for many years in the Dallas area, dating back to when Bill was still around. It remains a good company to work for, they treat their people well.
Ballmer was never a technologist, he was always a business guy. If Gates didn't have Ballmer when MS began it's meteoric growth, unlikely they would be the company they are today. Someone had to be the "bad guy", the one that focused on the financial side of the business, and he filled that role well.
Don't forget, Gates is still on board of directors, if he had strong reservations about Win 8 path it would not exist in the form it is. But buck stops at top, so it becomes Ballmer's failed vision when he was never the vision guy in first place.
MFeibus
50%
50%
MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
8/26/2013 | 5:00:09 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Exactly, Terry. There's a lot of good to say about Ballmer. In my book, he'll always be one of the industry's great pitch men. And when it comes to rallying the troops, I've no doubt he'd be as effective in a locker room as he is in a conference ballroom.

There are plenty of good coaches in football that get the boot because the team is going in a bad direction. And like you said, the buck stops at the top.
Somedude8
50%
50%
Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2013 | 5:11:56 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
"Windows 8, a product that is destined to go down as one of the most colossal missteps in computing history."
Huh? Everyone I know that uses it thinks its fine.
IT-security-gladiator
50%
50%
IT-security-gladiator,
User Rank: Strategist
8/26/2013 | 5:29:45 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Everyone I know that uses it thinks its fine?

So you know 1 person?

I live in Asia where there are billions of people and I come into
contact with hundreds every week.

So far I have not even seen one MicroKlunk 8 anything:

That list includes:

Desktop 8's
laptop 8's
Reboot-A-Phone 8's
Shablet 8's

Nice try Shill.

Hey I have a question for you:
Now that Balmer is gone who is going to sign your Troll checks from Redmond?
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2013 | 5:39:46 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
That was inherited. Ballmer may have helped to build the MS empire, but Bill Gates was in charge. It would have taken a truly horrible CEO to turn MS into a money loser and that does not appear to be Ballmer.

About the only good I can think to say about Ballmer is that he's passionate about MS and its products; his problems are that he's never really adjusted to the fact that MS no longer has the ability to dictate to the market that it had in 1998; and he seems to have no idea how to shed the bully image MS developed under Gates.

That and he doesn't have the knowledge to understand and arbitrate technical issues, as Gates could; that is to say, he really doesn't understand what he's selling (no conflict with the above; one can be passionate about what one does not understand).
ANON1238069211759
50%
50%
ANON1238069211759,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/26/2013 | 5:41:33 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Maybe the people in Asia, where you live, haven't been able to steal the Windows 8 serial keys yet. rofl.
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2013 | 5:43:11 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
Gates is not only on the Board of Directors; he's the Chairman and carries massive clout as the founder of the company. I've no doubt that if Gates had wanted Ballmer gone before now, it would have happened.

Gates is King; Ballmer is Prime Minister.
jries921
50%
50%
jries921,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2013 | 5:45:54 PM
re: Ballmer Is Off The Matrix
I do wonder if Ballmer's departure is truly voluntary, coming on the heels of the reported struggles of both MS' new tablet business and Windows 8. I was very surprised that Ballmer survived Vista, so the current troubles may have been the last straw.
Page 1 / 4   >   >>
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Government Oct. 20, 2014
Energy and weather agencies are busting long-held barriers to analyzing big data. Can the feds now get other government agencies into the movement?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
A roundup of the top stories and trends on InformationWeek.com
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.