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Ballmer

Microsoft needs its own Steve Jobs

Posted on 21 Nov 2013 at 14:25

Jon Honeyball looks back at the stagnant culture of Ballmer's Microsoft

On the contrary, Microsoft was now stuck in catch-up mode, and in a business where being third isn’t a place you want to be. Couple that with Redmond’s still-prevailing, inward-looking mindset, and you have to ask yourself this question: given that there are hundreds of millions of iOS and Android mobile devices out there, why is there still no Office for those platforms?

Ballmer to blame

The blame for this situation must lie squarely with Ballmer. Let’s quietly pass over the two years he spent working at Proctor & Gamble as an assistant product manager after he graduated from Harvard. After that, he joined Microsoft as its 30th employee, and he’s stayed there ever since.

The steep rise in Microsoft’s sales revenues throughout the 2000s is mostly down to the work he did alongside Gates in the 1990s – but the current train wreck is down to the work he didn’t do during the 2000s.

None of the technology that was achieved by Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google was particularly revolutionary. It was all pretty straightforward stuff, but it required vision and the ability to bring teams together to create a coherent future. That’s the proper role of a CEO, and Ballmer’s inability to chivvy Microsoft Research into building such a coherent and forward-thinking plan has been his undoing.

None of the technology that was achieved by Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google was particularly revolutionary

Has he decided to go or has he been pushed? Some might say “who knows, who cares?”, but you can get some indication from the share price, which leapt on the news (by enough to make the already eye-wateringly wealthy Ballmer worth almost another billion).

Microsoft's strengths

One of Microsoft’s ongoing strengths has been the way it’s been able to conceal its loss-making operations within larger more profitable ones; it’s hard to see the really poorly performing areas when they’re swamped by the money-making machines. But when the recent write-down of unsold Microsoft Surface RT’s value ran to almost $1 billion, it was no longer possible to pull that trick. I expect the board and major investors were so furious that they chose this as the bullwhip with which to finally force Ballmer out.

Who will take his place? One thing’s for sure: Microsoft really needs a Steve Jobs right now. Someone with the vision to define what the company should look like in 2020 and 2030, and the drive and determination to push it through.

Someone with aggression enough to twist the necks of a lethargic, lazy and inward-looking upper management until they’re looking outward into the real world again. Only time will tell whether Microsoft still has anyone brave enough to do it.

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User comments

Has he decided to go or has he been pushed? Some might say “who knows, who cares?”, but you can get some indication from the share price, which leapt on the news (by enough to make the already eye-wateringly wealthy Ballmer worth almost another billion)

I think you may have answered your own question ! :-)

By Jaberwocky on 22 Nov 2013

Apple could also do with Steve Jobs

When the founders of dynamic businesses leave, for whatever reason, then the 'vision thang' tends to fade.

As Jon argues, MS lost the plot when Gates left the Campus, and Apple is having problems without Jobs.
Both (especially Apple) are making lots of money.
But their vision of what the company is for, and where it might be going, is blurred in the absence of the founder-figures.

Although I'd prefer it otherwise, there is an inevitability about this. As industries mature the need for visionaries diminishes and\or the Accountants & Bean-counters attain pre-eminence.

The good news is that this makes room (theoretically, at least) for the next generation of Jobs & Gateses to do their thing, though the stranglehold that the "Big guys" currently have is pretty intimidating....

By wittgenfrog on 22 Nov 2013

Bloated

Looks like MS management became as bloated as the many versions of Windows. Win8 needed a lash on not long after release, just glad the monopoly for the home user is over.

By rhobstein3 on 25 Nov 2013

They've got him already!

Microsoft needs its own Steve Jobs...they have, he's called Bill Gates! Has everyone forgotten how good and visionary he was? He conceived tablet computing and introduced the first devices around 2001! His problem was that he needed a designer Johnny like Jobs had Ives to make great devices.

They now need Bill to return back from his charitable role for a couple of years and get the company innovating and back on track again...even make Johnny Ives an offer he can't refuse!

By Cavehomme on 11 Jan 2014

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

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