Wall Street Journal: Microsoft Usually Only Innovates At The Barrel Of A Gun

Last week we told you that Steve Ballmer had said some positive things about Apple, AirPort, and Adobe during a speech to the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley. Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal focused on a different aspect of that presentation, the issue of innovation. Mr. Gomes penned an article about that issue that rakes Microsoft over the coals for being a company that copies, and one that only innovates at the barrel of a gun. From the editorial, which we accessed from Mondayis print version of the Wall Street Journal:

Said Mr. Ballmer: "I believe that thereis almost a dangerous complacency about innovation amongst people in the world these days. That complacency threatens to leave companies behind in a world that will continue to change rapidly."

Having studied computer technology for several years, I am able to offer this translation: "Back in the good old days of the Nasdaq bubble, everyone was so dazzled by tech hype and our high stock price that theyid buy practically anything. Now, big corporate customers ask all sorts of annoying questions like whether the stuff really works, and what sort of payback theyill get. Boy, is my job harder than it used to be."


Microsoft is on especially thin ice when it waves the innovation flag, because it usually innovates only at the barrel of a gun. It did its famous embrace of the Internet only after Netscape set the world on fire with its browser. It developed the Xbox videogame machine as a defensive move after hearing all the buzz about the Sony PlayStation kicking PCs out of homes.

Its big .Net online initiative was born in 2000, when Microsoftis revenue was flattening, and when the company got the idea that it could increase sales by having us not buy but rent its software through the Microsoft Passport online accounts weid be forced to have. (It didnit quite put it that way, of course.)


Microsoftis real problem is that it wants to be both rich and loved; to be lauded as a brilliant and daring innovator while actually following the business plan of an expert and cunning copier.

The editorial finishes with a comment about how Microsoft has put more high quality software in more peopleis hands than any other company, but that users shouldnit give the company any respect. He also says Microsoftis products "arenit so bad, really."

The editorial was published on Monday in the Wall Street Journal on page 1 of the Marketplace section. It is likely to be online, too, where the newspaper requires a subscription.