Microsoft Has a Death Wish

| Particle Debris

Microsoft seems to be making the same mistakes that other companies left behind long ago. Now, the new obsession with Apple will be the end of Microsoft.

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Steve BallmerThis company seems lost and utterly bewildered. To make matters worse, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer has publicly committed to a renewed duel with Apple. Why? Because, presumably, if you engage a winner, you, yourself, will be propelled to do great things. Right. That works if your company already has greatness built-in and you stop opting for losing strategies.

The last reference below in this week’s tech news debris tells the story about how even a former Microsoft employee sees the coming debacle. Brooke Crothers, no stranger to the world of Microsoft, opines: “Microsoft is in a hard place.”

It seems Microsoft is clueless to the business opportunities afforded by Android and is electing to drive all its OEM partners into the arms of Android while it tilts at windmills and goes toe-to-toe with Apple. An act of hubris. This change of business model is also addressed by Jean-Louis Gassée in another link below.

We’ll see how all this goes.

Tech News Debris

Recently, I have not been happy with the available selection of e-mail clients for the Mac. Perhaps Eudora spoiled me for good. (I was a Eudora beta tester for a decade.) Alas, email has fallen out of favor just enough that, while it’s still essential, there’s no money to be made selling a great email client. Another writer shares my pain. “First Thunderbird, now Sparrow? We need e-mail clients, please.

Here’s a very short survey of our options. Oddly, it omits mention of MailForge, an app that inherits the legacy of Eudora. “Email client alternatives to Sparrow for the Mac.” I reviewed a very early version of MailForge back in 2009. I think I should pay it a revisit, now that it’s up to version 3.x.

“I am not really surprised that Apple hasn’t figured out the cloud because Apple has never understood that to really be a web player you have to free the data from the device.” So says David Sobotta, a 20+ year ex-Apple executive in his interesting missive that includes stinging comments about photo management: “Will Apple Ever Figure Out the Cloud?

Jean-Louis Gassée starts off this essay with tongue in cheek, so watch out. What he’s really onto is the peril of capriciously changing your business model. “Why launch a new Apple iPhone?” A good read from Mr. Gassée, as always.

Here are two pretty good articles for the science and computational people. “Your Laptop Can Now Analyze Big Data.” The next one is specifically about using Macs in astronomy. Even though Apple doesn’t formally and explicitly market to scientists anymore, scientists still love the beauty, refinement, and elegance of a UNIX-based Macintosh. Here’s how astronomer Richard Massey uses his Mac. “Understanding Dark Matter with the help of Apple.” By the way, Apple still hasn’t updated Apple.com/science. I guess the company has forgotten the pages even exist.

Ane while were on the subject of science, one of my favorite small companies, Southern Stars, is planning a satellite launch, SkyCube, with the help of Kickstarter. You know what to do.

SkyCube

Track SkyCube and send messages.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about how the iPad will eventually become a more complete content creation device. So, this article caught my eye, more for the humor value. Actually, the premise is good. A MacBook Air might actually be better than an iPad for many college students. But this isn’t the salient list. Submitted more for comic relief than sober analysis: “10 Reasons Not to Buy an iPad Instead of a Laptop for a College Student.

Apple builds closed systems. That’s because Apple feels that what you can do with their devices shouldn’t be dragged down by endless tinkering inside. Google, on the other hand, according to the New York Times, is positioning itself as the conspicuous alternative. “How a Cellphone’s Case Can Imitate Its Maker.” A nice piece by Randall Stross.

I didn’t see this mentioned much anywhere else. So far as this author can tell, Safari is dead on Windows. I can see how Apple might feel that way. After all, Apple doesn’t need Safari on Windows anymore to showcase what they’re doing with the Mac.

From the “Let’s shoot ourselves in the foot department”: Microsoft writes in its annual report “… our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform.” Brooke Crothers, in the next link, wrote, “… that’s a prickly statement when it’s coming directly from Microsoft.” For more rib tickling fun, read: “Windows 8 fear and uncertainty kicks in.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

Comments

davebarnes

John,

” I think I should pay [MailForge] a revisit, now that it?s up to version 3.x.”
Stop here first. http://www.infinitydatasystems.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=1694

,dave

geoduck

When I was in college I read a book about a kid that inherited his fathers furniture business. He made all sorts of decisions to “update” and “modernize” the company each of which failed to greater or lesser degrees. In the end it came out that he hated his father and wanted to destroy the company that his father had spent his life building. He had to do it subtly though so the managers and the board wouldn’t catch on until it was too late. In the end he succeeded.

I keep thinking of that book whenever Ballmer announces the next Microsoft strategy. The next attempt by him to “update” and “modernize” Microsoft. Zune, Kin, Vista, Surface, it’s almost like he wants to destroy what Gates built. I suspect that by the end of the year at least one of the companies currently selling Windows PCs will start marketing a version running Linux or Android.

John Martellaro

Dave: Here’s hoping MailForge finds a good home.

skipaq

A notable line to finish with, John.

Lee Dronick

I too miss Eudora.

As to a MacBook or an iPad, yes get both. They are different tools that share some features, I often use mine side by side.

mhikl

Sobotta has had a bee in his bonnet, probably over something from his time at Apple. His tirade has become a bore. What a way to spend one’s retirement.

One should learn to let go resentments.

wab95

John:

Just a quick comment, in between errands and heading to the airport.

While I understand the headline regarding ‘death wish’, I have a somewhat different view. My take on MS’s - specifically Ballmer’s - comments and apparent business strategy, are, on the surface (pun optional), indicative of internal conflict.

The aetiology of that conflict is likely multifactorial (e.g. Apple’s success, Google’s success, too few modern successes for MS, MS’s dwindling mindshare among them), but it comes down to fears over the future and MS’s role in that future. Again, I think predictions of MS’s doom are premature and misplaced (one only has to come out here to low and middle income countries in Asia and Africa to see MS’ penetration and stranglehold of the computing market). Rather what they face is a second tiered status and lower cruising altitude if they fail to pull up; but terra firma is still miles below.

Without doubt, opinions differ amongst the top execs as to the best way forward. They appear to be in conflict as to whether to ‘re-brand’ or ‘not to re-brand’, with the re-branding voices gaining in volume. The foray into hardware manufacture is, in itself not new, but direct competition with their OEMs is. The strategy suggested by Windows 8, while novel in some respects, seems more a hedge against uncertainty rather than a clear course with a specific objective. And finally, the tirade against Apple is simply, in my view, an attempt to link itself (MS) with a leader in the public’s mind, and by proxy, remind the public that MS, too, is a leader, on par with Apple. That link remains seared into the minds of veterans who survived the Mac vs PC wars of the late ‘80s and ‘90s, and MS are playing that link for all it’s worth for mindshare in modernity. Whether MS truly believe their own press releases (as my wife is wont to say from her days as a staffer on Capitol Hill) about taking the fight to Apple anywhere and everywhere, is another issue. Frankly, I think that’s fodder for the faithful, bagpipes to stir the blood of MS’s own troops, and a reminder to their OEMs that they are not abandoning the fight for relevance and market share.

At the end of the day, what all these mixed messages say, in my view, is that MS, not unlike RIM just before they went into a flat spin, do not yet have a clear way forward. To regain it, they need to first start with defining the business that they are in (and it is not as a direct competitor to Apple - that’s the path to extinction you mention above), choosing a clear path to be preeminent in that business, and maintaining that focus with best-of-class products to support that business. In the meantime, they should look for ways to support new devices and new tech coming into market that they themselves have not made, and probably should not attempt to make.

I can imagine a drill sergeant giving their top brass a dressing down (a perversion of roles to be sure, but bear with me), and telling them to stop aping the enemy as the first step to regaining lost ground; to remember their heritage and take pride in themselves, dammit; and show that pride by doing what MS does best - enable the hardware business (which now includes smartphones and tablets) with software and IT solutions.

Lee Dronick

Worthy cogitations Wab95.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, How can Microsoft be clueless to the business opportunities of Android when they are getting about $5 per Android phone in patent license fees from HTC and Samsung (and others), representing almost 3/4 of the Android phone market now?

This is exactly the strategy Apple should have followed rather than try to ban competing devices. Even if Apple is successful in some places, it will be just as unsuccessful in others, exposing the whole sham of exclusive IP and drawing more bad will for the company’s tarnished image.

Lancashire-Witch

If Photo Journals doesn’t improve soon I’m giving up on it.  It’s neither a good way to keep a journal nor manage photos. The MobileMe Gallery was better.

Having both “Photos” and “iPhoto” on an iOS device can be really confusing.

I think I understand how Photo Stream works. But I need to continually “enable”  it on my iMac.

I wish I had bought a MBA instead of an iPad.

Jamie

Wab95 - what you are referring to as multi-factoral I think is likely simply more multi-symptomatical of the larger and actual cause of Microsoft’s woes - their leadership sucks. Steve Ballmer inherited a calf that was already fatted and gelted, they’ve been coasting on built in revenue ever since he took the helm. I honestly can’t think of a successful ‘new’ product Microsoft has introduced during his tenure, save for the Kinect. There will come a day, maybe sooner, maybe later, that that old revenue paradigm will fall apart in the face of what is necessitated to evolve in the ever-unfolding tech landscape. Thus far they have yet to prove they can really rise to that occasion.

One of the problems with Ballmer’s style of leadership is that he views evolution or progress as an event rather than as a process, and it’s a process that requires more than the investment made in acquisition or assimilation (I always get the feeling when I hear him speak that he thinks he’s at a football game). That’s not what I would call vision, and if I were on Microsoft’s board, I’d be raising holy hell. I too doubt they will disappear, but if they don’t shape up, boy will they be relegated. To what exactly remains to be seen, fill in the—-> ______ . wink

mrmwebmax

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I keep thinking of that book whenever Ballmer announces the next Microsoft strategy. The next attempt by him to ?update? and ?modernize? Microsoft. Zune, Kin, Vista, Surface, it?s almost like he wants to destroy what Gates built. I suspect that by the end of the year at least one of the companies currently selling Windows PCs will start marketing a version running Linux or Android.

I have to wonder if Android would translate well to a desktop PC. Somehow I doubt that, as it was designed for touch, not keyboard/mouse. That would be like trying to run iOS on a Mac.

As for Ballmer trying to destroy Microsoft? I truly doubt he has such motivations, though he may end up with the same results. His—and Microsoft’s—problem is that their desire is to rule every possible industry that comes along, created by others. Netscape builds a web browser? MS answers by destroying Netscape. Apple launches a consumer-oriented GUI with the Mac? MS creates Windows, and almost destroys Apple. (Although Apple was doing a good job of destroying itself, too.)

What’s doubly ironic with both Windows Phone and Surface, is that while MS is clearly going after Apple (and Google) in the smartphone and tablet space, they’re doing it in a very unique way. To their credit, Windows Phone and Surface are very unique devices compared to iOS/Android.

The ultimate irony: In their unique approach to mobile, they might have complete failure on their hands, while also damaging Windows with Windows 8’s mobile/desktop hybrid system. Windows Phone has yet to get any traction, and Surface/Windows 8 has yet to hit the shelves. Time will tell. But I wouldn’t want to be an MS shareholder right now.

John Martellaro

Brad:

John, How can Microsoft be clueless to the business opportunities of Android when they are getting about $5 per Android phone in patent license fees

Handouts to a beggar.

mrmwebmax

+

John,

Regarding the above, are you somehow suggesting that Microsoft somehow use Android?

It seems Microsoft is clueless to the business opportunities afforded by Android and is electing to drive all its OEM partners into the arms of Android while it tilts at windmills and goes toe-to-toe with Apple. An act of hubris.

If that’s the case, are you suggesting that they build handsets that run on Android somehow? Regardless, I don’t see Windows Phone making a dent in the iOS/Android smartphone scene. iOS and Android set the standard that people have come to expect…two different flavors of the same basic concept.

Irony of ironies: Much as Windows and OS X dominate desktop computing, and Linux can’t get a foothold, it seems that Windows Phone has become the desktop Linux of smartphones…just too different for people to grasp and embrace.

People switch back and forth from Mac to PC to Mac, from iOS to Android to IOS, but I have never heard anyone switch from a Mac or PC to Linux. Likewise, I have never heard of anyone switch to Windows Phone. Heck, I don’t even know anyone who uses it.

Substance

I’m also tired of hearing from Sobotta.  Sure he’s right about Apple’s implementation of PhotoStream and all-things-photo with iCloud.  But there are so many other tech writers who have said the same thing (and better). 

As @mhikl said, he sure appears to have an axe to grind.  I’m finding most of iCloud’s implementation to be maturing well, with Mountain Lion being a crowning achievement in bridging the iOS/OS X gap.  How does it do it?  One way is by putting your data on iCloud…hey isn’t that what Sobotta says that Apple isn’t getting? 

John, isn’t this the same guy you linked to a few months ago who said that Windows 8 had closed the gap on OS X in usability?  Well I’ve used Windows 8 a few times and you know what?  I hated it.  Hated hated hated it.  And it sounds like most of the tech press is agreeing with me.  And his experiences with Macs and PCs couldn’t be further from my experiences.

But I digress.  Sobotta’s own words incriminate him as falling into the same trap as so many techie people I’ve met.  All they can see is their experience with these products and believe that everyone should feel the same as they do, even though they are in the tiny minority of how they use the product.  Usually they focus on what you can’t do with Apple products (‘I can’t host BitTorrents from an iPhone!’) and can’t recognize how well it does the things it can do, which is what 99% of people care about it.  This doesn’t mean their comments don’t have merit, just that they can’t properly put their needs in perspective with the majority.

John Martellaro

Substance: My aim in Particle Debris is to pull together technical news items for Apple customers that probably didn’t make the headlines. And are food for thought.

When I present an article, it’s not because I endorse everything in the article. Rather, it’s because I find merit in it, even if I disagree with it.

In the case of Mr. Sobotta, I agreed with his concerns about iPhoto. Some of the worst horror stories I’ve heard from users have been about iPhoto. I have my own grave doubts about it, his comments struck home.

Even when an author has an axe to grind, as I often do, it brings about a great discussion afterwards. I am so proud to have a following of some of the best readers/followers/commenters ever assembled, and we work this stuff out together. And have fun doing it.

So. If you you disagree with the arguments in one of my selections and can intelligently and politely amplify to the benefit of all of us, then I’ve done my part. That’s what Particle Debris is all about.

wab95

Wab95 - what you are referring to as multi-factoral I think is likely simply more multi-symptomatical of the larger and actual cause of Microsoft?s woes - their leadership sucks.


Jamie:

Multisymptomatic it may be, and I agree with your comments regarding the revenue paradigm; although I would suggest that either a company abandon the revenue paradigm if it clings to such, or that paradigm will abandon any company that clings to it by delivering it to that nexus where inferior product intersects with consumer dissatisfaction, and from which the consumer and the product emerge along irreparably divergent paths.

The reason I say multifactorial has more to do with my observation of MS’s post-windows ventures, and the stimuli to which they seem to be reacting. This is by no means a complete list, but to illustrate: 1) Search (Bing) - Google; 2) Smartphone - Apple, perhaps Google; 3) Tablet - Apple; 4) Online music - Apple; 5) Music player - Apple; 6) Online App Store - Apple; 7) Retail store - Apple. The list could go on.

The latter 5 perhaps explain Ballmer’s singling out of Apple during his CNET interview.

Not only MS, although they are at the centre of this storm, but the world is coming to a slow reckoning, although neither the world nor MS have yet to put into perspective, with a long standing misperception, and righting that misperception. Because of its dominant desktop PC marketshare (and, mind you, only one configuration of machines we call ‘computers’), the pundits and popular press have looked to MS for guidance on the future, and assumed that that future would be brought to them by MS. They did so because they conflated marketshare dominance with innovative dominance - and, wrongfully, assumed that marketshare dominance was merit based and driven by innovation (may the best company win).

It generally happens that, during the heyday and emergence of a dominant figure, one that will be recognised by posterity as a true giant in their field, few among their peers or the public give them that recognition early on. While Muhammad Ali has been proclaimed not only the greatest boxer of all time, but the athlete of the 20th Century, during the 60s and 70s when he was duking it out with the likes of Liston, Frazier and Norton, many claimed to be as good or greater - and each had their moments and victories. The same is true of companies.

What has emerged is that the tech company with the least marketshare in desktop PCs (and by desktop I am including their laptop spawn - essentially all non-touch screen computers with a GUI accessed by a separate tactile keyboard), Apple, was the company best at innovation. Not only did they innovate the GUI-based PC as we know it today, but they continue to innovate. Relentlessly. And others emulate. Relentlessly. We have reached the stage in global consensus, with objective (meaning, in this case, things that one can point to outside of mere personal opinion) indicators such market cap, sales margins and relative growth rates to aid that consensus, that Apple are the innovators and drivers of the industry.

What has yet to sink into common consciousness, but almost certainly will in time, is that each of Apple’s rivals may effectively compete with it, even gain superior marketshare over it, on a given product line (MS on the desktop, Google on smartphones) - at least for a moment in time. Apple, however, moves on multiple fronts in parallel. No tech company, but Apple, have demonstrated the capacity to do that as Apple has. Not even close. And, for a company of such limited vision and repertoire as MS, to have so outcompeted Apple even if on just one of those fronts, and for so long a stretch, was not only an anomaly and perhaps a fair bit of dumb luck, it was no indication of merit nor of that company’s innovative capacity relative to the totally of all that is Apple, Inc.

And that is why the other tech companies emulate Apple, even adopt its business model for at least some of their products (the ones they hope to make money on), why press, pundits and public follow Apple’s product announcements, and why Apple already stands in a class of its own. The competition just haven’t conceded yet.

Substance

Substance: My aim in Particle Debris is to pull together technical news items for Apple customers that probably didn?t make the headlines. And are food for thought…So. If you you disagree with the arguments in one of my selections and can intelligently and politely amplify to the benefit of all of us, then I?ve done my part. That?s what Particle Debris is all about.

John, exceptionally well-stated.  I appreciate the time you put into clarifying the role of Particle Debris and agree that you fulfilled your purpose of providing food for thought.  It’s why I keep coming back here.

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