With the end of the year in sight, the great list-making time has come upon us. Newsweek makes ten predictions for 2010, and at number 9, they predict the end of the road for Steve Ballmer at Microsoft. I never really thought about it that much, but if you line up Microsoft’s failures over the past years, it’s actually a miracle his head hasn’t rolled yet.
The list of things that have gone wrong for Microsoft the past years is pretty long. The biggest failure is of course Windows Vista. Not so much in the amount of money it has raked in, or the technological groundwork it laid for Windows 7 and future releases, but more because of the rather massive public relations damage it has caused. Windows Vista was a failure at the very heart of the company: the operating system business.
The other failures are well-known and documented: Google took Microsoft by surprise, leaving Microsoft in a ditch by the side of the virtual road. We’re years and years on, and Microsoft is still trying to recover from Google’s success – to relatively little avail. Related to this is the demise of Internet Explorer – once a genuinely better product than the competition, but now the laughing stock of the online world (and the thorn in the eye of web developers).
Then there’s the mobile market. For all intents and purposes, Windows Mobile is dead. Sure, it may be kept standing by sticks and not-so-invisible strings, and if you squint really hard, you may not notice it, but it’s absolutely no match whatsoever for Android and the webOS – let alone the iPhone. Windows Mobile as it stands today is a relic, and even though there is still quite a large number of phones running Windows Mobile, it can’t hide the fact the old girl is not doing so well.
The MP3 is also one of those things where you’re really wondering what Microsoft is doing there. The new Zune HD is indeed a very nice device, but is it really worth it to fund a product which is not even a blip on the worldwide radar of the MP3 player market? Why is Microsoft even investing money in this project?
Of course, it’s not all bad. The XBox 360 is doing pretty well, and the company’s server business is producing some very decent software. Windows Server 2003, 2008, and 2008 R2 have all been met with very positive reviews, and even here on OSNews, I’ve seen many a UNIX/Linux geek readily admit they’re good server products, which is about as high a compliment you can get in the server world, I’d say. As a last plus point I’d definitely mention the massive interface revamp of Office 2007, instantly making all other offerings look archaic and cumbersome (try using the clumsy and cluttered OOo/Office 2003 UI after 2007 – it makes me shiver).
Overall though, Microsoft has not been doing well. Shares have nearly halved in value, and the company’s public image is probably worse than it has ever been. The successful release of Windows 7 is starting to turn the tides for the company, but it remains to be seen how much of that can be attributed to Ballmer – or to the actual brains there, Steven Sinofsky.
As Newsweek notes, the big problem with trying to get rid of Ballmer is that he’s been put in his position by Bill Gates. “The two have been pals since their undergraduate days at Harvard. If Gates wants to get rid of Ballmer, he’ll have to craft some kind of graceful exit that lets his buddy save face,” Newsweek writes, “Another problem: there’s no heir apparent on the management team. Nevertheless, investors must be getting restless. Soon they’ll start calling for a shake-up.”
I have never liked Ballmer. I find him a very obnoxious person (professionally speaking – I have no idea what he’s like in person); he’s too loud and “present” for my tastes. I’d say that Microsoft needs a more charismatic personality at the top, someone who understands the concepts of subtlety and understatement – you know, like a certain other Steve.
Then again, I’m a complete moron with no knowledge or experience in business – I can only fall back upon common sense.