Microsoft Is The Very Antithesis Of Strategy

by John Kirk   |   July 5th, 2014

Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

Microsoft could learn much from Sun Tzu. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, Microsoft has engaged in the very worst kind of generalship. Microsoft has allowed their competitors to join forces and successfully scheme against them. Microsoft has responded to the successes of their competitors by forswearing their strongest weapons, abandoning their strongest defensive positions and rushing to attack their competitors wherever they may be, even if those battlefields were located where Microsoft was at its weakest and their competitors were are at their strongest. When these attacks inevitably failed, Microsoft resorted to wars of attrition. Yet in these wars of attrition, it was Microsoft, not their opponents, who suffered most, taking disproportionally greater losses than they inflicted.

There are some roads not to follow; some troops not to strike; some cities not to assault; and some ground which should not be contested. ~ Sun Tzu

Microsoft’s approach is the very antithesis of a strategy. Here are five principles of war. See how Microsoft violates them over and over again.

Principle #1: Concentration

The principles of war, not merely one principle, can be condensed into a single word – ‘concentration’. But for truth this needs to be amplified as the ‘concentration of strength against weakness’. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

Microsoft’s strategy over the past two decades has been the very opposite of concentration. Instead of acting, they react — lashing out in multiple, uncoordinated directions. A good strategy forces the opponent to compete on a battlefield where they have no chance of winning. Microsoft does the opposite. They pick fights they don’t need to fight, and they fight those battles on their opponent’s home turf, where their opponent is at their very best and Microsoft is at its very weakest.

Principle #2: Avoid Frontal Assaults

From the beginning of organized warfare, frontal attacks against prepared defenses have usually failed, a fact written large in military history for all generals to see. ~ Bevin Alexander, How Great Generals Win

The essence of strategy is to play to your strengths while taking advantage on your opponent’s weaknesses. Microsoft routinely flips this on its head, going out of its way to fight on battlefields of its opponent’s choosing — battlefields that emphasize the strengths of Microsoft’s opponent’s and minimize Microsoft’s own strengths.

It is a military axiom not to advance uphill against the enemy, nor to oppose him when he comes downhill. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In military terms, Microsoft does not just seek out the enemy — they look for them on the highest, most fortified hill, bristling with weapons — then they march straight at ‘em.

To refrain from intercepting an enemy whose banners are in perfect order, to refrain from attacking an army drawn up in calm and confident array:–this is the art of studying circumstances. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Contrary to the art of war, Microsoft just LOVES to make frontal assaults against the enemy while their banners are in perfect order.

The Spartans do not ask how many the enemies are but where they are. ~ Agis Ii, King Of Sparta

One may admire the bravado, the daring, and the courage of both the Spartans and Microsoft, but attacking the enemy where the enemy is strongest was not, is not and never will be sound strategy.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Example #1: iPod

In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod. By 2004, it was a smash success. Microsoft reacted, rather than acted. Instead of asking themselves WHY they needed to enter the MP3 market or even WHETHER they needed to enter the MP3 market, they attacked — first with their software licensed PlaysForSure, and later with their own Zune branded hardware.

From a strategic standpoint, Microsoft’s move to create the Zune was inane and bordering on the insane. Its strategy:

1) Obliged Microsoft to betray its existing allies (hardware manufacturing partners);
2) Required Microsoft to abandon its greatest and most powerful weapon (licensing software to hardware manufacturers);
3) Compelled Microsoft to fight with unfamiliar weapons (hardware);
4) Forced Microsoft to fight on the battlefield of its opponent’s choosing and where its opponent could could leverage its strongest assets (integrated software and hardware).

Therefore, those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him. – Sun Tzu

It’s the equivalent of a lion — the king of his domain — abandoning the land in order to fight a shark at sea. What madness! It was a strategy that favored Apple and handicapped Microsoft in every meaningful way. It was, in fact, not a strategy at all but the abandonment of strategy. Instead of pitting their strength against their opponent’s weakness, Microsoft pitted their weakness against Apple’s strength. Microsoft’s defeat was virtually guaranteed.

Example #2: Bing

Google was founded in 1998 and soon became a very real threat to Microsoft. A response by Microsoft was appropriate and called for…but not the response Microsoft made. As usual, Microsoft went right at ‘em by challenging Google where Google was strongest and where Microsoft was nonexistent — in search.

Let’s examine this from a strategic perspective:

  1. Attack opponent where opponent is strongest. Check.
  2. Attack opponent with a weapon with which you have little or no expertise (search engine/machine language).1 Check.
  3. Attack opponent where they live, thus guaranteeing that they will they will be inspired to fight with desperation in order to ensure their very survival. Check.
  4. Attack where even success gains you little or nothing. Check.

Do not throw your weight into a stroke whilst your opponent is on guard – whilst he is well placed to parry or evade it. The experience of history shows that, save against a much inferior opponent, no effective stroke is possible until his power of resistance or evasion is paralysed. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft’s search engine efforts haven’t significantly hurt Google. Worse still, they’ve actually HELPED Google. When Microsoft pitted Bing against Google Search, they created a legitimate, albeit ineffective, competitor. And that, in turn, meant Google was not a monopoly in search and not subject to government anti-trust and anti-monopoly oversight.

As when snow is squeezed into a snowball, direct pressure has always the tendency to harden and consolidate the resistance of an opponent, and the more compact it becomes the more difficult it is to melt. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

I will readily concede that Bing has served, and continues to serve, Microsoft well on the back end. But on the back end is where it should have remained. By attacking Google directly where Google was strongest, Microsoft has lost billions upon billions of dollars and the result has been to make Google Search more, not less, secure.

Summary

Great generals know a direct attack, on the other hand, consolidates an enemy’s defenses and, even if he is defeated, merely forces him back on his reserves and his supplies. ~ Bevin Alexander, How Great Generals Win

Over the past 20 years, Microsoft’s only stratagem has been to directly assault their competitors where their competitors are strongest. This bull-headed non-strategy was formed in the late nineties when Microsoft truly did have overwhelming superiority. Back then, what Microsoft wanted, Microsoft took.

It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It’s not the late nineties anymore and Microsoft no longer outnumbers their competitors ten to one — or outnumbers them at all — but they still act as if they do. When one is outnumbered, one should flee, not fight. It may not sound like the noble thing to do, but it’s very sound strategy.

STRATEGY Definition on Blackboard (business marketing planning)

Principle #3: Never Reinforce Failure

A general must never reinforce failure. ~ Clausewitz2

One of the myths that surrounds Microsoft is they “get it right on the third try”. I heard a pundit say this just last week in regard to the Microsoft Surface.

Really?

When was the last time Microsoft “got it right” on the third iteration? Or any subsequent iteration? The last time I recall Microsoft out-iterating an opponent was with Netscape, which was some 15 years ago. Or perhaps one could be thinking of the Xbox3 where Microsoft went five billion dollars in the red before even starting to make a return. However, those long ago victories can provide Microsoft with little solace today. Microsoft is no longer the 900-pound guerrilla it was a decade ago. And I think it is fair to say Apple is no Netscape and Google is no Sony PlayStation 2.

Do not renew an attack along the same line (or in the same form) after it has once failed. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

With products like Windows Phone 7 (now 8), Surface, and Windows 8, Microsoft is not iterating faster and catching up to their opponents. Far from it. They’re falling farther and farther behind. And it doesn’t matter anyway because the race they’r running in is already over.

Once a problem is solved, you compete by rethinking the problem, not making a slightly better version of the current solution. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Windows Phone 8 is an attempt to solve a problem that has already been solved by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Surface is an attempt to pretend Apple didn’t solve the tablet problem when they introduced the iPad. Windows 8 is an attempt to ignore their decade-long failure to transplant a desktop operating user interface onto a tablet form factor.

Great generals do not repeat what has failed before. ~ Bevin Alexander, How Great Generals Win

Microsoft is not re-thinking the problem. They are simply failing at the same thing, in the same way, over and over again.

Principle #4: Avoid Sieges

The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. ~ Sun Tzu, The Art Of War

Microsoft simply does not quit. When they fail to win in the open field, they settle in for a long, drawn out siege. Yet when has this strategy ever worked for Microsoft? When, in recent history, has Microsoft ever overcome simply by carrying on?

These sieges have only led to Microsoft growing progressively weaker while their competitors grow ever stronger. It’s the exact opposite effect that the strategy is supposed to accomplish.

You may admire Microsoft’s doggedness — I do — and you may admire their perseverance — I do — but you simply cannot admire their strategy. Persistence is one thing. Pigheaded stubbornness is another thing altogether.

Attrition is a two-edged weapon and, even when skillfully wielded, puts a strain on the users. ~ B.H. Liddel Hart, Strategy

Attrition is a long, slow, arduous and costly grind. It should only be used as a last resort. And its use makes no sense at all when it costs the aggressor more than it costs the besieged. That way lies only exhaustion, collapse and defeat.

To adopt the method of attrition is not only a confession of stupidity, but a waste of strength, endangering both the chances during the combat and the profit of victory. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

Principle #5: Keep Your Object Always In Mind

Keep your object always in mind, while adapting your plan to circumstances. Realize that there are more ways than one of gaining an object, but take heed that every objective should bear on the object. And in considering possible objectives weigh their possibility of attainment with their service to the object if attained – to wander down a sidetrack is bad, but to reach a dead end is worse. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy

Microsoft should take the above paragraph and pin it to every door, in every office in Redmond…

…except first, of course, they should identify what their object is.

Microsoft Has No Vision, No Mission, No Object To Guide Them

Everything wrong with Microsoft’s strategy comes down to this:

A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.

Microsoft doesn’t know what their objective is.

Without that compass, without that “north star” to guide them, Microsoft is like a rudderless ship, subject to the pull and sway of every wind and every current.

Manage The Top Line

Somebody once told me, “Manage the top line, and the bottom line will follow.” What’s the top line? It’s things like, why are we doing this in the first place? What’s our strategy? What are customers saying? How responsive are we? Do we have the best products and the best people? Those are the kind of questions you have to focus on. ~ Steve Jobs

Does Microsoft ask itself such questions? If so, their actions certainly don’t reflect it.

In fact, I double-dog dare you to articulate Microsoft’s vision or its mission. The following is the best I could discover. I like the passion expressed, but I assure you, it’s not nearly specific enough to act as the guidance Microsoft so desperately needs:

We are obsessed with empowering people to do more and be more. ~ @Satyanadella (5/20/14)

Microsoft Needs To Re-Define Itself

– Microsoft has forgotten what they are good at.
– Microsoft has forgotten what business they are in.
– Microsoft has forgotten who they are.

In Nadella, Microsoft has a new CEO whom I admire. However, if he has a new vision for Microsoft, he has not yet clearly articulated it — and he needs to do just that.

Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission. ~ Peter Drucker

Microsoft must redefine itself — must reset their vision. And then then need to shout that vision from the rooftops.

The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.  You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet. ~ Theodore Hesburgh

Conclusion

Dead battles, like dead generals, hold the military mind in their dead grip…. ~ Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August

Past triumphs and past glories seem to hold Microsoft in their dead grip too. Microsoft is still fighting yesterday’s wars with yesterday’s no-longer-existing weapons. They need to acknowledge reality as it is and change their strategy accordingly.

The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

In my Insider’s article (subscription required) , I’ll talk about the strategy that Microsoft could — but almost certainly will not — follow.

Career Decision

  1. Of course, Microsoft has plenty of experience and expertise in search now, but at a tremendous price in both money and in time. Lost money, Microsoft can afford. Lost time, not so much. []
  2. Excerpt From: Charles River Editors. “The Top 5 Greatest Generals: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte.” []
  3. I would argue Xbox is a tactical master stroke but a strategic blunder — but that is an argument for another day. []

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • klahanas

    Yup! They are all those things.

    “In fact, I double-dog dare you to articulate Microsoft’s vision or its mission.”
    To completely and totally dominate and control all aspects of computing! (What do I win?)
    Two nitpicks…
    Example #1 iPod: Imagine an alternate history where MS disallows iTunes on Windows. Flat out forbids it. Where would the iPod (and Apple) have ended up? It perhaps would be a “winning” strategy for MS, but losing overall. It is strategic, no?
    Yesterdays theater’s of war (desktops, notebooks) still are highly valuable tools. Always will be. Heck, mainframes are still vital. It would be a pity if the cost of desktops and laptop brought them to mainframe level niches. When it come to really crunching those numbers, they will always be the tools of choice. The best ARM chips are at least a decade behind in performance of the best desktop chips.
    To agree with you, however, desktops and laptops were oversold due to being the only viable avenues for simple tasks, “appliance” level tasks.

    • FalKirk

      “(Microsoft’s mission is) To completely and totally dominate and control all aspects of computing!”

      Actually, that does look a lot like Microsoft’s mission for the past twenty years. So broad and so unfocused that it is worse than useless. Like trying to sail a ship in every direction all at once. The sails and the lines are sure to become tangled and fouled.

      • klahanas

        Hmmm…

        You could sail in every direction, or you can narrow the world. Pretty much sums up our ongoing dialogue. Narrowing the world is very much a benefit to the company that does it, and to it’s user’s within those confines.

        There is option C, which I prefer. It’s to do it the way it always was, just like in PC’s. You own it, you decide, here’s our vision though (OEM).

        • FalKirk

          I don’t think we’re having the same conversation. A ship can only go in one direction. A company can only go in one direction too. And if they try to go I’m more than one direction at once, they both go nowhere.

          “If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.” ~ Martin Gardner

          “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

          • klahanas

            I think we’re having exactly the same conversation. MS tries to control the whole computing universe. It goes in every possible direction. 360 degrees.

            “Vertically integrated” companies (see what I did there?) constrict the universe to within the bounds they can control. North star direction.

            The reason MS was ever successful was because they were the OS on the broadest ecosystem, which they didn’t own. They tried to constrict that universe into only their direction and failed. But the idea of that unconstricted universe still has great value. I think it’s the very reason for Android’s success.

          • FalKirk

            “I think we’re having exactly the same conversation.” – klahanas

            Nope. We’re talking two totally different thins. As usual. :-)

      • Scott Humble

        It probably.helps that they have an armada then. I was watching a Microsoft Research video for medical imaging the other day. They applied lessons learned from Kinect to help them develop a machine learning algorithm for medical imaging product research. Many other points of intersection exist for other product categories. In the area of scientific research, the Bing Prediction Engine could very well feed into climate change prediction modeling or early warning systems for catastrophic events.

        Consumer applications clearly point to home automation and contextual awareness. Enterprise applications could peal back new layers of market analysis among other things.

        What’s the point? They are using synthetic data sets to build machine learning algorithms from what they learned while developing Kinect for Xbox 360. Just imagine how they could feed that into quantum computing. Organic product development at its finest that could very well define new product categories in the future.

        • whattssonn

          Go play with your XBox. Please…. IBM has watson, blabla…. Of course MS, one day, will success… in everything. When the next version comes out. MS research is a facility to keep talented researchers busy so don’t go elsewhere.

  • Scott Humble

    You could just as easily replace, “Microsoft” with many other tech companies. Pointing out strategic blunders does not inherently qualify the analysis. For example, you could argue that their investment in Bing was as much of a research project as it was a search product. Like it or not but it has moves the needle forward for machine learning and it has bolstered their cloud services portfolio in ways that would not have been possible otherwise. Speaking of cloud services, lets replace Microsoft with Apple. When they introduced MobileMe and Apple Maps, how many of these principles did they concede to? Apple, to this day, struggles with cloud services. Even worse, they went from innovation to iteration to following. HealthKit is following HealthVault, Siri is trying to catch up to Cortana, HomeKit is a shadow of Satori and Continuity is a pale excuse for Convergence. MobileMe morphed into iCloud and is hosted by Azure and AWS. How about Google’s stubborn onslaught against Office and Office365? You could argue they have had limited success but clearly, they are not playing up to their strength. Where the author sees a lack of vision, I see a very clear strategy. They have been driving to ubiquitous services and platform convergence since Vista SP1 took on the Server 2008 kernel. They have positioned all the pieces on the board when no one was looking. Now, they have started to take notice but they are woefully behind. Where the author sees a lack of direction, I see them poking for weaknesses and clear differentiation. Google hasn’t, “solved” search and Apple hasn’t, “solved” devices. If anything, Google may have just given away the keys to the kingdom with Android L by exerting more control over the interface. And as with Apple, they are playing up to the converged platform experience in the same way that Microsoft has been for years now. Either way, OEM’s like two main things about Android. It was flexible through skins and it was free. Now that Windows is free for devices under 9 inches, handset manufacturers are flooding over to produce handsets because it is actually cheaper than using Google’s free OS because they don’t have to pay Microsoft for patent licensing. Now that Google has exerted more control over Android, there will be even less of a motivation for them to use it. For Apple, Continuity is really just a feature set. For Microsoft, Convergence is a way of life and a driving force behind all of their coding efforts for the last decade. It was a long term play not a feature. Threshold will open up the world to this vision with Windows morphing to the device form factor but it will still maintain the same core kernel. What does that mean for Microsoft? They will leverage platform and code with economies of scale. Will it work? I couldn’t tell you but it is a stroke of genius and was clearly derived from a long term strategy. While Apple and Google were hung up on the idea that you can’t run Windows on a tablet and a phone because of form factor UI considerations, it never occurred to them that Microsoft wasn’t talking about a UI. They were talking about the kernel with the UI and UX being a dynamic element that would change based on the form factor. History may show the genius of that but only time will tell.

    • FalKirk

      With all due respect Scott, paragraphs are your friend. If you have time, it would be well to break up your block of text into segments so that it is easier to read.

      • Scott Humble

        Point taken with adjustments applied accordingly.

        • FalKirk

          Well spoken and well done.

      • klahanas

        Since you bring it up…. Paragraphs are stripped upon posting. I have to go back and put them back in each and every time.

        • FalKirk

          Really? That’s not true for me. Let me pass that on and see if it’s a universal issue.

    • FalKirk

      “(Bing) has bolstered their cloud services portfolio in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.” ~ Scott Humble

      I said as much, although not as eloquently.

    • FalKirk

      “(L)eta replace Microsoft with Apple…”~ Scott Humble

      If Apple, Google, and others have made some of the same strategic mistakes, does that make Microsoft any less culpable? Do you excuse the general’s actions just because there have been other poor generals before him?

      • Scott Humble

        Absolutely not. In this case, I was presenting the idea that Microsoft does not have a monopoly on bravado. However, that does not mean that they do not have a strategic vision.

        • giggles

          Microsoft definitely has a strategic vision: consumers want square wheels on their cars.

    • FalKirk

      “Where the author sees a lack of vision, I see a very clear strategy. They have been driving to ubiquitous services and platform convergence since Vista SP1 took on the Server 2008 kernel. They have positioned all the pieces on the board when no one was looking. Now, they have started to take notice but they are woefully behind.” ~ Scott Humble

      With all due respect, Scott, Microsoft is leaving its competitors behind because no one has any interest in going in the direction that Microsoft is headed.

      “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” ~ Lao Tzu

      “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

      • Scott Humble

        With all due respect, I’m not convinced that their competitors understand the underlying principles. The compounding effect for their approach could be the differentiator. It may seem disjointed but the level of integration between their products and services is nothing short of profound. As a solutions architect and consultant, I continually peel back one layer after another.

        For example, when they chose to release Cortana to Xbox One and Windows 8, they will be able to leverage the economies of scale associated with a shared kernel. By minimizing duplicate effort in their delivery model, they have allowed for an agile development and delivery model.

        On the scale that this has been implemented, this is a completely unique advantage that is relatively new to the technology industry but similar principles are regularly employed by other industries. One of the best examples for this is the automotive industry. VW would not be one of the largest manufacturers in the world if they didn’t leverage platforms at scale across a plethora of different marques.

        In parallel, they are able to use their strengths to fortify their areas of weakness. For example, Cortana could serve as an AI back end to Siri. Azure can serve as an on premise private cloud solution for the enterprise or it can function as a built-in disaster recovery mechanism. Whether you agree with their strategy or not, I believe it is inaccurate to say that they do not have one.

        I do not claim to know where they are going with devices but more than likely they will continue to focus on cross platform service availability and Windows devices for emerging markets. That is where they have the most opportunity to further establish themselves in the, “post, post PC era”.

        In my opinion, they released Windows 8 before it was ready. I say that because the integration for other products were still in process. I think it was developed under the mantra of the old regime where competition was still an internal cultural driver. I’m fairly convinced that it was rushed to market and it was a mistake. The internal culture at Microsoft is slowly changing and it will be for the better provided that leadership continues to drive and support the initiative to break down barriers and encourage more collaboration and less competition.

        • ha-ha

          With all due respect, I’m not convinced that you have the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.

          • Scott Humble

            If we were discussing thoroughbred horses, you would be right. But I do know a jackass when I see one.

          • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

            OK gentlemen. That’s enough of the personal attacks. Please get back on track with the discussion at hand or agree to disagree and move on.

          • Scott Humble

            I never actually called him a jackass but in hind sight, I can see how you would draw that conclusion.

          • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

            I’m not going to split that hair with you. I’m saying to keep the discussion on the information at hand and to leave insults out of it. Agreed?

          • jfutral

            Otherwise, really great discussion thread.

            Joe

          • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

            Agreed which is why I hate seeing threads sidetracked by silliness like the above.

          • hannahjs

            Right…talk about stubbornness!

        • FalKirk

          “I’m not convinced that their competitors understand the underlying principles” – Scott Humble

          In this comment, and others, you articulate a pretty good case for Microsoft. However, I can’t help but feel that you are giving Microsoft way, way too much credit. Your defense amounts to saying that Microsoft is SO smart that we all are too stupid to understand their genius.

          Occam’s razor say it ain’t so. Microsoft looks lost because they are lost, not because we are too dull to understand the genius behind their strategy.

          • Scott Humble

            First, I wouldn’t say that I am presenting a case for Microsoft. They certainly don’t need me to defend them. But I do have something of a periphery understanding as to how they work. What may seem like a disjointed strategic approach is considerably more targeted than it may seem. Tactically, they leave something to be desired. There are times where they use a hatchet when they should use a scalpel.

            As for their strategic approach, understanding something and having the intellectual capacity to understand something are two very different things. Apple has a more acute focus on the products that they develop. Their experience in the consumer market may be unparalleled in the technology industry. Conversely, Microsoft’s experience in enterprise markets has driven their approach.

            In Apple’s case, devoting resources to completely distinct product lines is feasible but they have less opportunity to scale without starting over from scratch. However, with less diversity, there is more risk. On the other hand, Microsoft’s approach is more like a manufacturing model that borrows from Six Sigma, ITIL, etc… It places a priority on modular and scalable design. The ideal will also include dynamic elements for management and provisioning.

            When viewed through the lens that Apple uses, it may seem inefficient. But for Microsoft, it isn’t just about what they are building now. It is about what they may build tomorrow. Historically, release cycles were considerably longer than as of late. One of the reasons for this is because they have been able to mitigate the variables with modular design elements that borrow from ancillary product categories.

            In the end, their approach may not work for software development but from my experience in the enterprise, it has and it will. If they are able to develop products that consumers and the enterprise loves, all the years of development effort around the common kernel will provide them with an advantage.

            Lastly, I say that their competitors don’t understand it for three main reasons. First, I base that on public comments that they have made in the past. Secondly, I base it on their experience. And third, I base it on the products themselves.

            For example, managing Macs in an enterprise domain environment is more laborious than it should be because they were designed around a user centric model. That sounds great until you realize that it inhibits scale and agility. They require more labor, more complexity and more end user interaction than Windows machines. Windows machines dynamically adjust to either a user centric or domain centric model.

            I wouldn’t say that one is necessarily better than the other. It all depends upon the objectives. However, the experience associated with building enterprise products that optimize scale doesn’t come easily.

            Until you have experienced the difference first hand, it can be difficult to understand the distinctions regardless of how intelligent you are. Apple has been shaped by their experience in much the same way that Microsoft has. Ironically, they have not been able to achieve the same agility as a part of their development process until now. I would say that they have achieved around 75% of that objective at this point.

            In conclusion, when you propose that Microsoft should narrow it’s focus, you are asking them to sideline one of their greatest strengths. You cannot view Microsoft through an Apple lens and expect it to make sense until you peal back the layers and look for the points of intersection. Products and product categories are more of an extension for the underlying framework.

            In a way, they are doing what they can to maximize elegance in code, architecture, infrastructure and the user interface. You may not appreciate the end result but you have to appreciate the initiative and drive.

          • FalKirk

            “You cannot view Microsoft through an Apple lens…” ~ Scott Humble

            I was viewing Microsoft through the lens of strategy, not Apple; through the lens of Sun Tzu and B.H. Liddell Hart and others. And viewed through that lens, they have been a disaster for the past 15 years and more.

            “…when you propose that Microsoft should narrow it’s focus, you are asking them to sideline one of their greatest strengths.”

            I don’t think you know what focus is. One can never be too focused so ing as one is focused on the right thing or things.

          • jfutral

            To be fair, sometimes dogged determination or pure stubbornness can look an awful lot like focus.

            Joe

          • Scott Humble

            I am unable to isolate a circumstance where determination and stubbornness would be devoid of focus.

          • jfutral

            I see it all the time in the non-profit sector, even the companies who used to be quite successful. They lose focus, sometimes even while maintaining vision. They lost focus on how to implement for their vision. Read Michael Kaiser’s book _The Art of the Turn Around_ for several examples of large arts organizations that lost focus, but stubbornly and determinedly continued on a path that was bound for certain EOL until Mr. Kaiser helped them refocus on what was important.

            Joe

          • FalKirk

            Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

          • Kizedek

            In that case, the “focus” is on a predetermined solution or goal, that misunderstands the problem and does not take into account the changing circumstances all around, because they are dismissed as irrlevent to the predetermined solution.

          • jfutral

            For a tech example, it isn’t hard to look in our own backyard and see the in-between-Jobs era of Apple was a great example of lack of focus and stubbornness.

            Joe

          • FalKirk

            Yes, focusing on the right things comes first. Relentless pursuit comes second.

          • Scott Humble

            You may very well be right about that. If so, you may wish to consider why your article didn’t present it more clearly. Standing on the shoulders of giants is one thing but providing your readers with insight may be something else altogether. Your use of strong language may reinforce your position but authenticity is rarely accompanied by an absolute. You will need sincerity to change hearts and minds but you will not accomplish that through the infallible wisdom of Sun Tzu.

          • FalKirk

            “you may wish to consider why your article didn’t present it more clearly” – Scott Humble

            This article showed how Microsoft failed to employ good strategy. My INSIDERS article talked about what Microsoft should do.

            http://techpinions.com/4-facts-3-acts-1-microsoft-mission/32431

          • jameskatt

            This is true. Microsoft still manages to make $16 Billion in profit each year.

          • PapayaSF

            For several years now, Apple has made more money (gross and profit) from the iPhone alone than Microsoft makes from everything they do.

            This is an excellent piece and details what I’ve felt for years: the Microsoft is flailing, acting defensively and reactively, without a vision.

        • whattssonn

          Stockholm syndrome… ah well.

      • DanceOfBirther

        Is Sun Tzu Chinese for “Captain Obvious”? Or Buckaroo Bonzai? “No matter where you go, there you are!”

    • klahanas

      You’ve done a service to us all. Very well put!

      If OEM’s don’t like Android L, the can go AOSP (or Win8 or code their own). It will still be free, and they risk their Android liking customers going to where Android L is available. More importantly, Android Apps will still run regardless. Also, the consumer could still skin their version.

      • Scott Humble

        AOSP seems to be a growing segment that doesn’t get enough attention. It really needs to have it’s own classification when discussions around market share arise. Using AOSP is really a drastic departure from the motherland. Consider all the operating and support costs associated with AOSP and it either says alot about the handset manufacturer or it says more about how they feel about Google. They have seemingly painted themselves into a corner.

        On one hand, do you allow the platform and user experience erode or do you tighten the screws on OEM’s who wish to differentiate? It would seem as though they have opted for the latter but the end result may further delineate between Google’s Android and the AOSP market. It would seem as though Google services do not have the same appeal in emerging markets. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

        • klahanas

          I don’t know whether “tightening the screws” is the best way. Google did openly license Android. The best they can do, is to be better than any forks. Then the customers can either demand it, or presumably pay less for AOSP. I don’t know. As you say, let’s see how it shakes out.

          Still…As long as the Apps are common, I like a system that offers that kind of latitude.

          • Scott Humble

            I suspect the cost for a well managed AOSP is actually more than using the out of box Google Android experience. There is supporting infrastructure, update qualification and development, managing app submissions and approvals, working with carriers, etc… It seems fairly extreme when you consider the alternative of using Google’s resources for that.

          • klahanas

            Sure. Independence comes at a price. If an OEM wants a free OS, it is a viable option. Hey, maybe they can make a deal with Amazon. Remember the old PocketPC stores like Handango, MobilePlanet, etc.? Those could yet happen again.

        • ConsoleOS.com

          It’s not such a dramatic departure. Google still answers the phone when Androids built atop AOSP come calling. I should know, I am one! /ConsoleBot

    • hilarious

      “They have positioned all the pieces on the board…”

      “It was a long term play…”

      “They will leverage platform and code…”

      “…it is a stroke of genius…”

      And Microsoft’s superiority in tech will be revealed later this year when it is discovered that they have sold more ice cream than anybody else.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “I see a very clear strategy. They have been driving to ubiquitous
      services and platform convergence since Vista SP1 took on the Server
      2008 kernel. They have positioned all the pieces on the board when no
      one was looking.”

      Yes, they have a clear vision of how they want to have all their products to be using the same underlying kernel and code base. What, exactly, does that accomplish for MS’s customers? It’s a worthy *programming* goal that will make things easier *for Microsoft’s programmers* to maintain MS’s products.

      To continue with the military metaphors, MS’s goals and plans are all focused on reorganizing the chain of command and streamlining the quartermaster’s procurement process. Meanwhile their enemies continue to strengthen their fortified beachheads on the edge of MS’s home territory and their raiding sorties into MS’s turf are getting larger and bolder all the time.

      • Scott Humble

        How does it benefit Microsoft’s customers? It has resulted in a more product development and release cycle. It also provides customers with a more consistent experience across devices and services. I’m sure there are others but those seem pretty substantial to me.

    • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

      For Apple, Continuity is really just a feature set. For Microsoft, Convergence is a way of life and a driving force behind all of their coding efforts for the last decade

      And while Apple’s focus is driving innovation and greater integrity of its platforms aiming at true continuity, Microsoft’s “focus” has been divisive when it’s not a spectacular failure. To the point where they have had to promise that the next desktop version of Windows will revert to the behaviours that it’s clients expect, in essence abandoning this “way of life” Convergence that is yielding nothing of substance. Unless “annoyance” is the product they intend to peddle.

      And this Convergence is a way of life and a driving force behind all of their coding efforts for the last decade in actual fact is laughable given that Microsoft’s attempts at “Convergence” in tablets had them releasing two Surface models with incompatible OSes and abandoning their existing mobile code, effectively stopping dead any momentum that mobile OS may have had.

    • def4

      Such a perfect illustration of the thinking inside Microsoft and how they end up making such bad decisions!

      Of course Azure would have been possible without Bing. The intellectual dishonesty in even claiming that is breathtaking.
      Bing was as needed for Microsoft’s cloud services as WW2 was for ending the Great Depression: it did the job, but almost any other solution would have been cheaper.

      What about MobileMe? It was an iteration of cloud services that wasn’t very successful. Who was Apple in misguided pursuit of with MobileMe?
      That fact that Azure is used by iCloud is actual proof of the kind of wisdom and restraint the article accuses Microsoft of lacking.

      Apple Maps is an instance of blindingly obvious sound strategy: do not buy supplies from your enemy if you can avoid it. I doubt Sun Tzu felt necessary to include that one.

      How shameless and disconnected from reality do you need to be to claim that “Siri is trying to catch up to Cortana” or that Google Docs was chasing Office 365? The corporate brainwashing is strong with this one.

      The revisionist history continues but it is illuminating by showing how pride and denial allowed Microsoft to fail so completely. Immediate forgetting of mistakes, retroactive inclusion of past false starts and dead ends as parts of the master plan for the inevitable glorious future, it’s all there.

      Let’s just take the easiest, most prominent and repeated example: the kernel.
      Nobody cares because both Apple and Google have always used the same kernel on their platforms. Microsoft’s crowning achievement is solving an internal problem Apple and Google never had.

      While Google was switching their clone of Blackberry to a clone of iOS, Microsoft was still marching on with their stylus oriented Windows Mobile 6 based on Windows CE.
      When they could no longer tell themselves everything was fine, they decideded to build Windows Phone 7, but still they pretended they had all the time in the world.
      They built Windows Phone 7 on top of old Windows CE.
      They designed the UI to adhere to non-cloning agreements with Apple and to scale to PCs, not to be great on phones.

      History has already shown “the genius” of that move.

      • Scott Humble

        You have done an exceptional job with masking personal insults throughout a rebuttal that contains just enough substance to stay off the radar.

        Let me see if I can help you summarize. It is your opinion that I’m shameless, disconnected, intellectually dishonest, proud, in denial and brainwashed.

        It is satisfying to know that it struck a nerve but it would be a refreshing change if this site were an open forum for intelligent discussion. It’s a shame really. I was starting to get my hopes up.

        • def4

          You have been exposed and now you’re running towards the closest thing that could possibly resemble a moral high ground.
          Dishonesty, pride and denial go hand in hand with cowardice.

          • http://www.yourmaclifeshow.com/ Shawn King

            OK gentleman. Time to step back from the thread. You’ve stopped discussing the article and started to get personal. Let’s move on, shall we?

          • def4

            That’s how you got creationism to be taught in science classes: honest informed people being polite cowards in the face of bold and ignorant partisans.
            People get personal during personal interactions. Deal with it!

          • Scott Humble

            It’s true. I am a fraud and a coward.

  • mscritic

    The only difference between Steve Ballmer and Satya Nadella is that where Steve Ballmer yelled meaningless nonsense, Satya Nadella says it quietly.

    • FalKirk

      Hmm. I disagree. I like Nadella. And I have a sneaking suspicion that he “gets it” but that his hands may be tied.

      I’d like to see him kill dead projects sooner so Microsoft can move on. But I can understand why that may be both psychologically and politically hard to do.

      However, he NEEDS to clarify Microsoft’s mission and then — as I said in the article — shout it from the rooftops for all to hear.

  • stefnagel

    It’s not competitors but consumers that has Microsoft dumbfounded. Like watching a retired drill instructor trying to sell lingerie.

    • GlennC777

      Amusing analogy of the day.

      Also, very true. Microsoft may “get” business users, who think in spreadsheets, but they don’t get consumers, who think in actual thoughts.

      • stefnagel

        Microsoft grew battle by battle, destroying its competitors. Tactics were enough; strategy unnecessary. John’s war references to strategy and war leave out the moments of war, which boils down to the “push of pike” historically. Strategy stops where the screaming begins.

        Savagery is the antithesis of strategy.

        • GlennC777

          War is an imperfect analogy for business, partly because one is a zero-sum endeavor and the other is not. To win in business it’s not necessary that your competitors fail, which Apple obviously grasped, and it’s also possible to be successful from a weak position. The Microsoft of the last decade was like the GM of the ’70′s, which doesn’t seem promising for Microsoft’s future. The tech business is much less capital intensive than the car business, and moves much more quickly.

          Microsoft may have lousy strategy, or none; and Apple excellent strategy, but the high order bit now, unlike in the ’90′s, is customer desire for the product. This remains Apple’s gravitational center, with strategy a secondary aligning factor. Fortunately they seem well in command of both. Microsoft, of neither.

          • stefnagel

            Only in theory is war a zero sum anything. And at Microsoft. Back when.

          • GlennC777

            If business in the real world is a zero sum activity then I imagine you would be pleased to go back to the gold standard?

            You’re right about war: It’s the main human endeavor in which the sum is always negative.

          • http://info-tran.com/ Info Dave

            The only winning move is not to play.

            War Games, 1983.

          • FalKirk

            War is not a zero sum game.

            “The purpose of war is not battle at all. It is a more perfect peace. ~ Bevin Alexander. “How Great Generals Win.”

          • GlennC777

            Quite right. The sum is always negative. And it’s never a game.

            “War does not determine who’s right – Only who is left.” – Bertrand Russell

          • FalKirk

            Its sum is always negative.

            The sum of a war is not always negative. It can lead to a better, more stable peace.

          • GlennC777

            The sum of war is by definition always negative. The purpose of war is destruction. There is nothing that prevents its positive byproducts coming about independently, other than some of the less than admirable aspects of human nature, which we spend far too much effort glorifying and romanticizing.

            “What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.”

            - Robert E Lee, a great man, who became compelled, when the better instincts of people failed, to destroy, mar, and devastate.

          • FalKirk

            “The sum of war is *by definition* always negative.”

            You’re wrong.

            While the horizon of strategy is bounded by war, grand strategy looks beyond the war to the subsequent peace. ~ B. H. Liddell Hart

            Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

            Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting. ~ Sun Tzu

            I think B.H. Liddell Hart and Sun Tzu know a bit more about war than either you or I do.

          • GlennC777

            Well, John, I’m glad these great humanitarians have been able to justify their contributions to the art of warfare with pleasant thoughts about what a peaceful world they have helped to create.

            I will bow to your superior knowledge of the subject. Your argument from authority is indeed compelling, it is always useful to be reminded that there is no good reason to question people who are undoubtedly much smarter than one’s self; and if I still had any doubts they would certainly have been put to rest by your skillful and persuasive contention that I am, indeed, “wrong.”

            Now I will suggest that we stop wasting our time with all this peaceful bantering. We must begin, immediately, seeking opportunities to kill and to exterminate; to engage in physical battles against all enemies, no matter how minor; to never again resort to words and diplomacy when there are opportunities for violence and destruction; so that we can make this world a better place.

          • FalKirk

            You took an absolutist position, GlennC777. Don’t resort to attacking straw men just because you were caught carrying your argument too far.

          • GlennC777

            I don’t think it’s absolutist to argue with the notion that three minus two might equal four. To get from three minus two to four, you need to add a third term. I believe you’re confusing the third term – the beneficial things that people might do in conjunction with or after war, with the effects of war itself. War itself is always destructive, always harmful, always a *subtraction* of economic and human value.

            I enjoyed your article, and I think things can be learned from thinking of war as a metaphor and perhaps direct lessons can be taken from military strategy, but I think that to leap from that to equating war and business in a literal sense is misguided. Among the fundamental differences, war is about destruction and business can often be about the compounding of positive value. That is, to put it in my original terms, negative-sum versus positive-sum.

            I will grant that there are businesses and business tactics that more closely resemble actual war, but I think those are probably also destructive of value and therefore negative-sum.

          • airmanchairman

            You are indisputably right in the notion that War is nothing but grim arithmetic (“for every one of us, of them”, and “a tooth for a whole set of teeth”).

            Nowhere is it more highlighted than when Israel mounts escalating retaliatory operations against insurgents in the Occupied Territories, when we are gleefully treated all day to what must be the most one-sided casualty figures of all time by almost every news outlet in certain parts of the world.

            Most historians are agreed though, that only one ruler in history has ever used war and invasion as a genuine and successful attempt to right wrongs, and name him as Cyrus the Great of Persia (or Koresh the Great of Iran, to be more accurate). Somewhat ironically, the ancient nation of Israel declared him to be “the Anointed of God” for delivering it from the oppressive hands of its neighbours. Hmmm.

          • FalKirk

            You took an absolutist position, GlennC777. Don’t resort to attacking straw men just because you were caught carrying your argument too far.

          • airmanchairman

            History seems to agree with Sun Tzu, and therefore with you. In a UK documentary some years ago examining the origin of a quintessentially English-sounding phrase: “That’s all jolly nice and pleasant but rather naive”, it was determined etymologically that all those words are actually of French origin, dating back to the Norman invasion. Phrases like “creme de la creme”, “piece de resistance”, “cordon blue”, and other superlative expressions abound in the English language.

            The Normans surgically decapitated the leadership of their target and inserted themselves as the new overlords, their language, mannerisms, cooking and culture became the new aspiration for those subjects who desired upward advancement. Everything else left intact, the deed was done, and the rest history.

            This documentary actually compared and contrasted this ancient approach with the supposedly more modern and informed American-led Allied approach in Iraq of recent times. The chaotic state of that enterprise speaks volumes about the wisdom of Sun Tzu, and mankind’s failure to learn from history.

          • Fnordius

            In other words, Strategy is the art of knowing what you want and where you want to go, and tactics is the art of getting there.

            In the case of Microsoft, its former strategy was to have their products become the sole choice for business PC’s, and their tactics were to exploit their partnerships and then turn on those partners when the time was ripe (see IBM and the clones, Novell Netware, and so on). Once they achieved that goal, they never got a second one except for to defend that position by attacking all perceived threats, with the tactic of throwing all their weight at the perceived threat’s stronger point in an attempt to demoralise.

            This second “strategy” comes from Microsoft’s paranoia that they openly talked about just after Windows 95′s success, where they suddenly realised that they were the new IBM, and was suddenly afraid of sharing IBM’s fate. They thought they could hold back the inevitable that way.

          • stefnagel

            Nope. “Battle can be the antithesis of war.” Me

          • GlennC777

            Inscrutability to the rescue!

          • stefnagel

            Word up. Pyrrhic.

          • Another_Lurker

            The point of the analogy is that MS has no real strategy or focus that is discernible to anyone or can be articulated in a short, pithy phrase or sentence. This leads to more stumbling, missteps, blind alleys, etc. than should occur. It also means they do not truly understand the industry they are in and how they can best fit.

  • stefnagel

    Ah. Found Microsoft’s strategic mission: “Always keep your foes confused. If they are never certain who you are or what you want, they cannot know what you are like to do next.” George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords

    • def4

      Nah, Microsoft is quite transparent and predictable.
      They react to changes in their environment and are motivated by the three biggest motivators of the human race: fear, greed and pride.

  • salm0914

    This piece seems to be focused on Ballmer’s MSFT, not the one that released Office on IOS and is about to do the same on Android. I think we should probably give the new CEO a bit longer to wed the pieces together. Those pieces have been there for a long time and they are going to take a few cycles to realign.

    • FalKirk

      My article IS focused on the Microsoft of the past 15 years. And I do think that Nadella may change things. However, his continued support for the Surface gives me pause. That is a battle that Microsoft should not be fighting. And mobile phones? How is Microsoft going to stop fighting that battle when they just bough Nokia? It’s like deciding sea warfare is not your thing right after buying a fleet ships.

      • salm0914

        Thanks for replying yourself.

        I think it really depends on whether MS still thinks it’s core OS is a value prop. Considering the volume of available users I’d say so. Going from there Surface isn’t a bad idea if it sets a min bar for quality and function. If you recall, allot of the problems Microsoft had in the consumer market started with shoddy Dell, HP, and other computers loaded with crapware and functioning poorly. If it keeps the gang inline to some extent (the MS Signature program is good as well) then it’s worth it.

        I don’t know where Nokia goes but if it fills a niche in the enterprise market, perhaps is the basis of other devices like wearables (they’ll be WP/RT [they will merge] based), then maybe not a bad idea either. I’ll be interested to see if their wearables focus on the enterprise or consumers.

        In any case, that’s why I say let’s wait and see.

        • FalKirk

          Surface is not only a bad idea, its a terrible idea. Here’s how it works:

          Microsoft had Windows 7 cash cow. Desktops went into permanent decline. With Windows 8 Microsoft sought to elongate the lifespan of Windows by migrating it to tablets. Total fail. Then they tried to prop up that decision by creating hardware to drum up demand for their software. Which has now cost them 1.2 billion in losses.

          Microsoft’s Surface is like selling the house to pay the mortgage. It makes zero strategic sense.

          • salm0914

            Again, you’re in past tense. You are framing Surface and Windows 8 in terms of what Ballmer intended not what Microsoft will do next. As we are seeing with the changes to Windows 8 thus far, when Windows 9 rolls around, Windows and Surface can (and appears like it will) be decoupled (the OS will essentially behave as a desktop OS on desktops and touch OS on an appropriate touch device). That leaves Surface to stand or fall on it’s own (yet well supported by the OS). I expect to see allot more devices, form factors, and experiments.

            That’s right in inline with Sun Tzu btw – Never give a superior enemy (size wise here) a single target to shoot at. Attack when you are strong, disperse when you are not…

          • FalKirk

            Even if Windows 9 works at a tablet OS with a tablet and as desktop OS with a desktop OS, it doesn’t change my evaluation of the Surface. The Surface is hardware. That’s not Microsoft’s strength. The Surface breaks Microsoft’s licensing business model — it competes head-to-head with Microsoft’s hardware partners. The Surface in a niche that is trying to be a category.

            It’s bad strategy and the fact support that conclusion.

          • salm0914

            You 100% correct it break the pattern, but just realize that Surface is probably better built than 90% of the partner system out there. Assuming more devices follow with different form factors and focuses that will keep the partners inline. The partner were a big reason for MSFT’s success in the beginning, but they were heart of the problem later on.

          • FalKirk

            “Surface is probably better built than 90% of the partner system out there” – salm0914

            You’re completely missing the point. To be fair, you’re in good company. Microsoft is missing the point too.

            What good does it do you to have a great product if it’s in the wrong strategic category? In military terms, it’s like building a great landing craft when you have no navy or building a great paratrooper force when you have no planes.

            The quality of the Surface is irrelevant. The proper questions whether it advances Microsoft’s agenda. Not only doesn’t it help Microsoft, it hurts them.

            Tactics are the handmaiden of strategy, not the other way around.

          • salm0914

            That’s assuming it’s the only thing they make or will make. The latter is hardly likely which is why I said let wait and see. Tablets are rapidly becoming PCs (look at the iPad and Android tablets out there and their accessories). This is PC in the early stages of becoming a tablet. It makes sense that they’ll meet in the middle, and when they do Windows will run on all the form factors. Apple and Google will have to make due with iOS and Android. Both are excellent but not enterprise integrated and they don’t run legacy software. In the meantime Microsoft sets the quality bar for Windows here. Something we’ve seen they cannot let their partners do.

          • FalKirk

            “That’s assuming it’s the only thing they make or will make’ – saim0914

            No, it’s not.

            It’s assuming that making hardware — any hardware — is anathema to Microsoft’s strategic interests.

          • salm0914

            Yes, “assuming”. However that’s all that is, an assumption. One that doesn’t look good when you look at the last decade of Dell, HP, and other’s pushing junk down on the consumer with a Windows logo and then blaming MS for everything. I don’t blame consumers for using Macs (I’m typing this on a Mac Book Pro). My HP at home is noisy, has bad contrast, and for a similar price point now comes with less RAM, a slightly powerful CPU. Bought because I needed a real, non-virtualized box. Otherwise I would have gotten another Mac. Not because I hate Windows; because HP only makes junk imo now.

          • FalKirk

            With all due respect, salm0914 . You’re missing my point. At this stage, I have to assume that’s deliberate. I’m talking about business models. Hardware conflicts with soft are and with services. Microsoft isn’t making an integrated product and trying to one or the other. They’re selling hardware AND software AND services. It doesn’t work. Never has, never will, never can.

          • salm0914

            With all due respect as well, this is about as close to a point as you’ve come: “They’re selling hardware AND software AND services. It doesn’t work. Never has…” Note where I stopped. And, I’d add, you are not exactly correct. Oracle sells all those things and they are all profitable. IBM as well, mostly profitably. Just not consumer stuff. Apple sells hardware, software (check their site), and services (iTunes, Apple TV). That’s mostly just consumer stuff. The question is not if a company can do all three line but whether a company can do both consumer and business. I’d think we’d agree the answer is no and I think that MSFT is pulling back from consumer minus X. I think they will limit their consumer exposure going forward to the business aspect. IE: People will run Windows and/or Office at home (on their consumer devices if need be, like an iPad) to do work.

            Again I think your also ignoring (deliberate?) the problem that MSFT’s partners have left it in with regard to quality control.

          • FalKirk

            You can’t sell software and then sell hardware that competes with those who you’re trying to sell the OS too and then try to sell services to those who you’re trying to destroy with your software. I don’t need to prove my point. Microsoft’s past five years proves it for me.

          • salm0914

            Microsoft’s past 5 profitable years have little to do with conflicts of interest. When everyone thought RT would take off they were very happy to make RT devices knowing full well that MSFT would as well. I see lot’s of pretty cool ATOM powered devices out there as well running full Windows now in the MSFT store. In fact if you go into the MSFT store the majority of the stock and models are not Microsoft, and except for Levono who is doing pretty well with convertibles Surface is pretty much a custom device. The partners’ quality control starting dipping a long time before five years ago. “Can’t compete with their partners” is kind of a mantra you are repeating that no one has any math to support. Anyway let’s agree to disagree on this. Time will tell.

          • Scott Humble

            Unfortunately, I’m limited to a single up vote for each of your statements.

          • Scott Humble

            I guess the permanent decline of the PC isn’t as permanent as many believed it would be.

        • pdegroot

          I personally think the “devices and services” strategy, or “cloud first, mobile first,” will be a disaster. What made Microsoft successful in the first place was the concept that you could be successful just in software alone. It sounds commonplace and obvious today, but in the early 80s it wasn’t. The rule was “find the software you like, then buy the hardware it runs on,” because hardware platforms were so unique, and porting software across platforms was hard and expensive.
          As with many successes, Microsoft’s was a coincidence of circumstance and insight. IBM came out with a PC that the market lapped up, but which was clonable, and MS wrote the OS for it, reserving the right to market it more broadly than with IBM (a right it almost lost at one point). But I credit Gates and Allen with seeing the opportunity for a pure software play to succeed, and they were a pure software play from their very beginning in Albuquerque. In the end, they reversed the old axiom–customers and software partners first settled on MS-DOS and then sought out hardware that ran it well.
          Salm0914 sees hope in releasing Office for IOS and Android, but the Microsoft of the 1980s would not have waited until those platforms had wild success without Microsoft, Office would have been on the iPod and iPad when they both came out, just as Word and Excel were quickly on the AppleOS, an MS-DOS competitor. Office would have been on Android 3-4 years ago and would have scaled with the enormous growth in mobile.
          But today, MS sees Apple and Google as competitors; Apple sees MS now as a hardware competitor while Google and Amazon see it as a services competitor.
          I still think that the pure software model could succeed, but Nadella is officially committed to abandoning it. MS is also abandoning the partner-first model that was hugely instrumental in its success.
          It’s being reduced to a #3 player whose consumer software no longer sets de facto industry standards because it runs on hardware no one cares about. Its market share in services is decent, but will never generate the 70% profit margins of the pure software plays of the past. The standard-setter in cloud services, AWS, isn’t lugging any hardware or software baggage around and doesn’t care about profits, setting prices at (constantly declining) costs. It will be a very, very tough fight, and Microsoft’s current strategies are not aligned with what it will take to succeed.

          • salm0914

            I think it really depends on implementation of the strategy. Cloud itself seems to be working. Azure appears to be a run away success. While Amazon is the biggest, Azure seems to be leaving the rest of the pack behind in terms of growth rate. Not sure if that was what you meant btw. But I see releasing software and building software across a variety of platforms as getting back to software in a large way. BTW: I also think we are still in an early evolutionary step in the industry. Right now hardware and services are being created to capture users and data. I don’t think the “value add” hits in a big way for a couple of years yet and that’s when software becomes a focus point again.

          • FalKirk

            “Cloud itself seems to be working. Azure appears to be a run away success”

            Agreed. This is exactly where Microsoft should be focusing their efforts. Their phone and tablet efforts and holding them back from reaching this new service model.

          • salm0914

            “This is exactly where Microsoft should be focusing their efforts.”- Yes. Agree.

            “Their phone and tablet efforts and holding them back from reaching this new service model.” – How? Seems unrelated to me. At least until Office is running on all platforms/devices AND seamlessly on the web.

          • FalKirk

            Windows and Office as money makers are going away. Windows is trapped on desktops. Offices is being supplanted by online services. High end customers will pay for Office 365 but 95% will use the free online services provided by Google, Apple and others.

            By wasting their time and money on phones, they’re fighting the hardware partners they want to license their software too. But wasting their time and money making the Surface, they’re competing with their potential service-side customers. Their strategy is self-defeating. They need to stop the hardware so they can do the services. They can’t do both.

            Exhibit “A” in support of my proposition: The past two years of Windows Phone 8 and Surface sales.

          • salm0914

            Except that Windows and Office revenues are still growing. Office 365 PAID subscriptions are growing. The lions share of revenue from Office comes from businesses. Apple doesn’t compete there and is a long way from even starting. Google tries but is a disaster in the enterprise.

            Is Windows trapped on the desktop? Again, as I said, let’s see.

            The problem with Exhibit A is that is assumes a causal link that you haven’t proven yet.

          • pdegroot

            Just so we’re working from the same data. Windows OEM revenue declined 3% in MS’s second quarter (the holiday season). Revenue from Surface for the first three quarters of this fiscal year was nearly $1.8B, which no doubt had a positive impact on revenue. Unfortunately, MS lost more than $300M on Surface over that time. So, yes, revenues are growing, but a product with 80% profit margins is being replaced by one on which profits are slim to negative.
            The trend to making Windows free for smaller devices isn’t going to help profits and may not have much impact on market share either. Giving the OS away has already been done, by Google, and Android is now the most popular OS in the world, according to Gartner. It’s growth alone this year (about 300M more units, to a total of 1.17B) almost equals the entire Windows OS shipped base. And Gartner expects it to grow by more than 50% next year, to nearly 2B.
            On a % gain basis, MS looks good only because it’s growing on such a small base.
            The following isn’t data, but anecdotal. I work with mid (1,000 PCs) to global (>100,000 PCs) Microsoft customers. The number one way we save them money is to stop paying Microsoft for Office. It’s big, fat, low-hanging fruit. Most customers own licenses for Office 2013 and they’re just now migrating to 2010, so there’s no point in continuing to pay MS to license a future, as-yet-unknown version. We saved one customer nearly $100 million (over a 3-year contract) this year and Office was a big part of that. Also, only one of about 30 customers last year went to Office 365 in any significant way. We did not have a single customer last year who planned to migrate to Windows 8.
            Just saying that the reality at the enterprise level can be quite a bit different than for consumers and smaller businesses.

          • salm0914

            I would generally agree with that. However, the market is measuring points on a graph. We’re in the middle of a sea change (Office->Office 365, Windows->Devices and Cloud, etc). We’re going to need be the new CEO roadmap for a little while. I’d expect more revenue and margin declines to come for a while. The ballon is being deflated, but that long run is a good thing.

          • Scott Humble

            1 in 30 customers moving to Office 365 is a significant shift. It also doesn’t necessitate that they use Office 2013. And presumably, you are steering customers away from Software Assurance agreements to help them save on licensing for Office.

            If so, that can and does have an impact on value add services and features. Windows Enterprise is worth every penny IMO but I’m not a licensing expert. Many of our clients are on the precipice of going with the 2012/2013/2014 products. Click 2 Run has been hugely popular for Office 2013 and I’ve implemented Windows 8 on a moderate scale for pilot programs involving several thousand endpoints. You may not see that as a VAR but it is happening.

  • pdegroot

    Great piece and a few more comments.
    One of Microsoft’s tactics is so bad that it never occurred to Sun Tzu to list it: Do not attack allies or potential allies
    When Microsoft started MSN, it eliminated the possibility that companies who were its allies would ever use its products. AOL, Yahoo, Netscape might well have advanced Microsoft’s platforms, until it became a competitor. VMware became a competitor not because it competed with MS, but because it made more than $1 billion, the point at which MS typically decides there’s a business it should pursue itself. But to compete, it GIVES AWAY HyperV, just as it “beat” RealNetworks and Netscape with free streaming and a free browser. Where’s the “win” in a product with zero-revenue (negative revenue, if you count the cost of coding and upgrading a free product)?
    MS is doing it again by attacking its OEMs with its own hardware–with the result that HP’s long range vision for a new computing platform will not rely on Windows. We don’t know how that will turn out, but it will certainly do little to accelerate Windows adoption or reverse the dip in PC sales.
    The notion of platform convergence has been preached–and blown–many times before. Remember the idea that if you could program for Windows you could program for Windows CE on tablets and phones? How’d that work out?

    Windows 8′s failure to get enterprise traction is the seed of an even greater disaster than poor market share–hardly any one is adopting the “Modern” programming model because Win8 adoption is so poor, particularly in the enterprise.While all kinds of new development tools and paradigms are being developed for other platforms, notably the Web (which is device agnostic, providing equal advantage to every platform), Microsoft has not moved Windows developers past Windows 7 in any meaningful way. Sure, they might someday make Windows 8 a better dev platform, but who cares? Sun Tzu might have described it as “Occupying ruined cities does not guarantee your success against empires.”

    • FalKirk

      I’m sure Sun Tzu had things to say about allies. Just because I don’t know all of his quotes doesn’t mean they don’t exist. :-)

      Microsoft routinely dumps on their hardware partners. This is a long-standing theme. When Microsoft focused on Nokia for their phones and the Surface for their tablets, pundits said: “So what? Where can the hardware manufacturers go.”

      Well, we know have the answer. They can go away. Who, besides Nokia is making Windows phones? And who, besides Microsoft, is making Windows 8 tablets? The list keeps getting smaller and smaller.

      • def4

        Hardware OEMs are not Microsoft’s allies, they are Microsoft’s vassals.

      • Scott Humble

        Actually, the list is getting longer but I won’t continue to interject where it is more convenient to use anecdotal evidence to support your case.

    • Scott Humble

      We all knew that enterprise adoption for Windows 8 would be a challenge but calling it a failure is completely false. First of all, most organizations that I work with either have Windows 8 upgrades on the radar or they are using it in pilot programs. The biggest detractor to upgrading to Windows 8 was Windows 7 and infrastructure dependencies.

      You don’t just upgrade to a new OS platform. In point of fact, if they weren’t already in process, most organizations were deep in the planning stages for Windows 7. All of their budgeting and planning had been targeted for that platform. XP had been in the industry for so long that compatibility was a major hurdle.

      The increased cadence for releases has put IT’s head on a swivel. Unfortunately, very few of them are really prepared. The process of normalizing and rationalizing an application catalog that has 5000+ applications is a HUGE endeavor. The fact that many organizations allowed them to swell to such a massive size is telling.

      On the plus side, the massive number of resources that have been mobilized to migrate businesses off of XP has also prepared organizations to better realize an ROI on that investment including better agility and scale. If they were thoughtful during their migration to Windows 7, migrating to future platforms will require less effort and resources.

      But therein lies the rub. While upgrading to Windows 7 may seem like nothing more than a client platform upgrade, that is just part of the picture. In reality, it exposed weaknesses in nearly every aspect of the organization’s infrastructure. It happened everywhere and it still is.

      Windows 7 became a catalyst to upgrade or remediate countless other systems. Nothing was off the table. Whenever I perform an initial evaluation for a client, I expect the smoke test to fail. It is just a matter of how many holes you need to plug. Some of those holes are show stoppers. And you can’t just throw people at those kinds of problems.

      It would be easier to bulldoze the infrastructure and build it from scratch but all the duct tape and bailing wire is holding something together that the business needs to operate. I will never be able to take back some of the things I’ve seen. I haven’t run into anything I couldn’t fix given the time and resources but I will say that on more than one occasion, I have considered whether I should start stuffing my cash in a mattress.

      Either way, you can’t really talk about Windows 8 in the enterprise without considering the whole. I can only hope that at least a few of the organizations that I’ve worked with will maintain what I built for them. Unfortunately, tools are only a part of a solution but that is the point. Dynamic service delivery in IT may be trending but the reality is far from it. In my professional opinion, it was released too soon but it is what it is.

      • http://www.picacommunications.com pdegroot

        I’m should make clear, if I haven’t, that I can only speak from my experience with my customers, who range from about 750 PCs on the low end to 125,000 on the high end. In all we’re probably talking about customers with 500,000 PCs. They’re mostly US, but some are in Europe, Asia, and Australia, and they span a broad set of industries–finance, insurance, retail, healthcare, software, manufacturing, food processing, legal, oil and gas, agriculture.
        Not one of them has plans to deploy Windows 8 beyond a small set of users, never more than 5% of employees. Whether that’s a failure or a success is in the eye of the beholder. That’s the data, and if you want to call it a success, feel free to do so.
        But I don’t claim that my data is in any way representative of the whole market.
        I get hired by companies that want to save money on Microsoft software. I always emphasize, to people who ask me general questions about Microsoft’s business, that Microsoft’s happy customers don’t call me. I know there are happy customers out there, and reducing their Microsoft spend is not a priority for them.
        You may get hired by companies that want to deploy or develop software for Windows. In both cases, our respective customer sets will probably have an impact on how we perceive customer choices and trends.

        • Scott Humble

          I would say that the numbers are in the 5-10% adoption range. Windows 7 migrations were hot and heavy when they released it. The enterprise is notorious for being late to an adoption cycle. Achieving as much or as little as 5% may seem like chump change but when it is considered in context, it shows higher demand than I expected.

          The comparison to Vista has limited merit because of how long XP had been in service. Conversely, many companies were already in process for their Windows 7 upgrades. Microsoft was pushing for a rapid release cycle but the enterprise wasn’t ready for it. In many ways, that is still the case.

      • http://www.picacommunications.com pdegroot

        Just some data, from some research that IDG put together for Dell. I will agree that it’s a small, probably self-selected sample, but the topic was desktop refresh rates, not Win8 adoption, so it’s not like Win8 haters piled on here.

        Win 8 adoption in this survey in march averaged 4% of the PCs at the respondent’s businesses. That aligns with what I’m seeing among my customers.

        90% of my customers own Windows 8 licenses for all their PCs, by the way, through their enterprise agreement upgrade rights, so cost is not a barrier here. They’re just not installing the software they paid for. Something similar happened with Vista, although this may be worse. Vista never topped 20% adoption after three years, and with talk about Windows 9 starting, I’m guessing that most enterprises who were considering Win 8 at all will just wait for its successor. It may never get over 10-12% adoption in business.

        http://www.slideshare.net/arandag/idge-dell-qprefresh2014?utm_source=slideshow03&utm_medium=ssemail&utm_campaign=iupload_share_slideshow

    • Scott Humble

      By the way, Hyper-V isn’t a give away product by any stretch of the word. If anything, it plugs into a larger pool of products and services including Azure and System Center. Using Hyper-V has an incredible ROI but it’s strength lies in its extensibility, flexibility and expanded use cases.

      At any time, VMware could have built it for similar scenarios but they didn’t. Full on DC snapshot support and DR scenarios integrated into Azure come to mind. Automating VM’s through System Center on premise and in Azure also come to mind. Self service virtual machine management? That is just too cool.

      This is an example of exactly what they should be doing! Competing with an entrenched incumbent from a position of strength is a good thing IMO.

  • sosumi

    A good poker player maybe plays one hand out of five, Microsoft plays every hand no matter what cards they hold.

    • FalKirk

      True. They can’t seem to say “no.” Just the opposite of the Apple approach.

      The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes. ~ Tony Blair

      People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. ~ Steve Jobs

  • The Truth

    You are a fool to wish harm upon microsoft. It us a technology giant…a financial powerhouse…and you use its fantastic pruducts every day…and they are making billions while you claim that they are flawed. You..son are a fool as microsoft is a fantastic company…that brings technology and happiness to us every day. Xbox one is a the best console entertainment available….and i have both…ps4 is all but worthless. Microsoft software and hardware offerings are unmatched and you are a bitter biased angry fool to post such propaganda.

    • FalKirk

      I’m hoping that your post is a parody.

      “You are a fool to wish harm upon microsoft”

      I never wished harm upon Microsoft. I suggested, instead, how they could return to greatness.

  • NonyAsip

    To me this article can be replaced by one liner from none other than Steve Jobs.
    “The problem with Microsoft is that they have no TASTE.”
    To me this is the root problem for every problem Microsoft creates.

  • http://www.picacommunications.com pdegroot

    Satya Nadella has just killed the “devices and services” strategy (like I suggested he should). Now it’s “productivity and platforms.” A much better focus, in my view. http://www.cnet.com/news/ceo-satya-nadella-microsoft-will-reinvent-productivity/?tag=nl.e703&s_cid=e703&ttag=e703&ftag=CAD090e536.

    • FalKirk

      Agreed. However, he spent 3,000 words NOT spelling out a vision, NOT spelling out a mission, NOT spelling out Microsoft’s reason for being. Instead, he said that: ‘We help people get stuff done’.

      Who the hell does NOT do that? What company does that NOT describe? In what way does that help to define what Microsoft does and, more importantly for Microsoft, what they should NOT being doing, going forward.

      Bah. I like Nadela. However, you don’t take your mission and bury it in 3,000 words worth of nothing. You make it clear, you make it concise, then trumpet it from the rooftops for all the world to hear!

      • def4

        Productivity and platforms are the assets and strongholds of Microsoft.
        As such, they are all about the present, not the future like vision or mission.
        They are the focus areas for defense, for stopping the bleeding, not for attack.
        It makes sense to start with them so we may yet see the plan of attack for the future once the assets are secure and the strongholds stabilised.

      • Scott Humble

        Does that mean that you would prefer a sound bite?

  • ConsoleOS.com

    Surface is not merely an attempt to re-solve iPad.

    iPad is a tablet for enjoying. Surface (Pro) is a tablet for doing.

    • http://twitter.com/LunaticSX Lun Esex

      Way to toe the party line, Mr. Ballmer.

      • ConsoleOS.com

        ConsoleBot does not respond to straw men. Please try your pithy remarks again, later. Message BOT-121.

        • creation

          It seems to have no qualms with creating them, though.

    • FalKirk

      “iPad is a tablet for enjoying. Surface (Pro) is a tablet for doing.” – ConsoleOS.com

      With all due respect, this argument deserves no respect. You, and the others espouse it, don’t realize how arrogant you are. Work is not work unless it fits YOUR definition of work.

      Guess what? The buyer, not the seller, gets to define what the buyer wants to do. So long as Microsoft continues to insist that buyers don’t know their own wants, their own desires, their own needs, their own minds, Microsoft will wander it a purgatory of their own making.

      The market has spoken loud and clear. If one chooses not to listen, then they will have to live the with consequences.

      Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. ~ Aldous Huxley

      • http://consoleos.com/ Christopher Price

        Wow. Someone needs to calm down. Your assignment is full of circular logic and tautologies.

        How could the market have spoken “loud and clear” when Surface Pro 3 doesn’t even have sales figures yet? And don’t tell me you expect an $800-$1500 tablet to match iPad Air’s sales numbers.

        • melci

          The utter failures of Surface RT, Surface Pro 1 and Surface Pro 2 are examples of the market speaking loud and clear.

          I was given a Surface Pro 2 at work and have had direct experience of the terrible animal of compromises that are Microsoft’s Surface tablets. Too heavy and expensive for a tablet, too limited and clunky for a laptop – Jack of all trades, master of none.

          • http://consoleos.com/ Christopher Price

            And GM, Ford and Chrysler made terrible products in the ’90s. That doesn’t mean you can say their cars today are terrible as a result.

            Surface Pro 3 is a totally different beast from previous models. From the Type Cover that is beautiful to use, to the thin body – it doesn’t share one thing with Surface Pro other than the product name and intentions – the implementation is beautiful and totally different. Try one.

        • FalKirk

          “How could the market have spoken “loud and clear” when Surface Pro 3 doesn’t even have sales figures yet?”

          If you have to ask that question then you have long ago tuned out what the market has been saying about tablets.

          • http://consoleos.com/ Christopher Price

            While this is all valid for Surface RT, Surface Pro is a tablet that blurs market boundaries between tablet and PC. Microsoft is comparing Surface Pro 3 against MacBook Air, and for good reason – they have (correctly, in my opinion) defined the target profile of their audience in that Surface Pro is as much a PC as it is a tablet.

            Having used one extensively, I love my Surface Pro 3 and think it’s a new breed of device completely. I did not find Surface Pro or Pro 2 in that same class… it was a tablet desperately in need of a price cut. But I think Pro 3 is not meant to compete with iPad, nor generate as many sales. It’s the right price for a bunch of people that want a tablet that can replace their workhorse.

        • FalKirk

          “Wow. Someone needs to calm down.”

          There is no point being a writer if I can’t afflict the comfortable.

          • http://consoleos.com/ Christopher Price

            Calmness and comfort are two different things. Accusing someone of arrogance is no way to have an intellectual discourse – it just undermines your own arguments because you’re having to fight against a straw man.

  • obarthelemy

    Interesting piece, thank you. I’m not sure MS is framing the issue that way though, and you might be overlooking a few biting facts:

    1- Personal IT will be mostly funded by advertising, like other media are. MS has no choice but to have a search engine and a full ecosystem monetize from. There *is* room for MS as the also-ran in that space, which is much better than not being there at all. Nobody else is even trying.
    2- Being successful in Personal IT does require a different UI, and the issue with MS’s dual approach is not so much that it is dual, but that Metro and its apps and LiveTiles suck. Now that they suck less with Windows 8.1, the potential of that approach is starting to shine though. There’s still a lot of work to do though, and they might have lost users’ confidence – I know they lost mine as an individual even earlier. It’s not a strategy problem, it’s an execution problem.
    3- Growth is in Personal, not Entreprise, IT, and Entreprise IT is probably vulnerable to the rise of personal IT. MS retrenching to Entreprise is not an option: once clients get heterogeneous, lock-in and rent extraction get exponentially harder. You lose the desktop, then the Office tools, then the back-end… Ask Novell.

    I think the main issue is a cultural one: MS haven’t been fighting for survival for a long time, they’ve been fighting to please their bosses. And they’ haven’t been fighting in the consumer space, but in the Entreprise space. They do have all the right blocks to build success, but they’re failing at making their stuff sexy and easy. Same as back when Windows Phone 6.1 made me miss a keyboard and mouse so badly.

    • imagination

      Everyone in technology relying on being funded by advertising is an immense failure of imagination that will hopefully catch up with them soon.

      • obarthelemy

        Indeed. Same as for TV, radio, magazines… oh, wait…

        • imagination

          Yes, same as those things.

  • http://robert.morrison.name PragueBob

    Microsoft was never a good product company. It set computing back by at least a decade over the course of its existence with its crappy, bug-ridden products. A marketing company though, and pretty good at ramming its crap down everyone’s throats, that about sums it up. I will be glad when Microsoft finally goes the way of the dinosaurs, I only hope I live to see that day.

    • FalKirk

      Steve Jobs said the following about IBM but I don’t think he recognized until too late that it was Microsoft, not IBM, that he should have feared:

      “If, for some reason, we make some big mistake and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter a computer Dark Ages or about twenty years.” [1985] ~ Steve Jobs

      • Scott Humble

        Well, he would have been wrong either way. It is only natural that he would qualify a competitor’s product as being the, “dark ages”. This statement is hyperbolic at best. In the worse case scenario, it is a paranoid delusion. Either way, when you use that quote as a basis to support your argument, it is self defeating because it is ultimately biased.

  • Comment Zilla

    Microsoft reminds me of Russia as it attempts to relive the glory days of the Soviet Union, when they were once a SuperPower.

    • FalKirk

      I think that’s a possible parallel.

      In a conversation I had elsewhere, I said that Ballmer and Microsoft reached the mountain top and didn’t know where to go from there. They’ve fallen a long way since then. The graphic showing that they only have 14% of the market (instead of focusing on the 90% of the desktop market they own) is a great sign that Microsoft knows it should be using the strategy and tactics of of the challenger, not the strategy of the unbeatable king of the mountain.

  • Dan

    Tonnes of lecturing on what they shouldn’t have done, but no insights on how they should have reacted. E.g. What do you propose they did wrt to search? On that basis I don’t see where you are adding any insight of how they should have ducked when instead they dived.

    You also avoided mention of azure which goes up against aws, yet it’s one of their bet products and doing very nicely. Was that because you weren’t aware of it, or because it undermines your argument.

  • Exsoftie

    Billg had a simple strategy for businesses back in the desktop days (pre-internet) — a “unified macro language” that developers could use to craft custom business solutions out of Word and Excel components (expressed as Visual Basic). Then Access with its heterogeneous data access capabilities killed off dBase, etc. to conquer the desktop database market. Instead of building on that success, they decided to go after the “enterprise” market, and in the process crippled Access in favor of SQL Server, got rid of VB, and apparently decided the loyalty of the developer and small business community wasn’t worth the effort. They ignored the silent evidence of their initial, overwhelming success in the desktop arena (millions of small-scale, non-enterprise-level working apps), and instead of building on that base, devalued it and let it die off. There are plenty of examples of failing to consolidate victories in warfare as well (Alexander, Napoleon). It’s one thing to conquer, quite another to build anything enduring on your victory (something the Romans did well, for a while).

    • Scott Humble

      I can certainly understand that. As an extension of Office, VB macros have been a powerful tool that has allowed many business to develop custom tailored solutions. These types of applications have been used extensively by nearly every kind of business.

      However, these solutions are normally developed in isolation through a specific business unit. While this may be an appropriate use case, the solution wasn’t built to scale. In a small business, that normally isn’t an issue. But for anything above and beyond that, they are not optimized for scale.

      Eventually, other business units hear about the original solution and it cascades from there. Before long, the original solution turns into an interconnected string of VB macro spreadsheets that become critical to business operations. I know of enterprise finance departments that are run like this.

      To make matters worse, they are often developed and managed outside of standard IT operations. As a result, they are not subject to change control and high availability is limited to whether they are using managed storage.

      For business units that recognize the limitations of trying to use Excel as a database, they may have used Access. This is certainly a better option as a sustainable solution that can scale but it has similar limitations.

      It doesn’t take much for one of these solutions to become critical to business operations. When those are self managed by business units, it is taxing for those resources and it puts the business at risk. Those risks span areas such as basic security to disaster recovery by they also limit business agility over the long term and they can incur significant costs.

      In the end, many businesses have dug themselves into a hole. It isn’t as deep as Lotus Notes but it is very similar. It all comes down to the level of engagement between the business and IT. When left with no alternative, business units will develop their own solutions. If there is a perception that IT isn’t a solutions partner, there is probably some truth to that.

      When I work with a new client, I will actually use the this as a gauge to determine whether IT has any real relationship and understanding of the business. Where there are a myriad of local SQL databases and VB macros, there is a good chance that IT is disconnected and reactive. Sadly, that is the rule and not the exception.

      At that point, it turns into a 12 step program. The problem won’t just go away by vision scoping a cohesive solution and presenting them with a scope of work to build and implement it. IT has to recognize that they are disconnected from the needs of the business.

      Helping them reach a state where they can deliver predictive and dynamic service for the business is considerably more complex than the technical solution itself. That is a much larger discussion than VB macros in Office but their use in the enterprise can be used as a gauge to qualify the disconnect.

      From my point of view, Microsoft hasn’t abandoned the original intent behind this solution but they do recognize its limitations. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter whether you use an Access DB or a SQL DB. If they are unmanaged, the business may achieve limited short term benefits but in the end, businesses want sustainable solutions and increased agility.

      Naturally, everyone wants that without going through the 12 step program. To say the least, it’s complicated. More than likely, Office plug-ins will traverse into a sandboxed app model with Azure and SQL being accessible for more complex and custom solutions. Private and public cloud solutions can help provide agility but analytics and scale may suffer if they are developed in isolation. It’s a tough nut to crack.

      If you need to put something into a table, there is a good chance that someone else will benefit from that information. If you use it for operations and analytics, it needs to be in a managed DB and be subject to oversight. If you need to automate it and it becomes a source of record, it has strategic implications that needs to be subject to vision scoping.

      Most businesses seem to struggle with that so the problem and the solution isn’t just a matter of installing a tool or subscribing to a service. I don’t know what the right answer is but from my experience, Microsoft isn’t sitting on their ass while they wait for someone else to figure it out.

      • Exsoftie

        You amplified one the points I was making, but didn’t elaborate on. To wit, excessive focusing on the failure cases and ignoring the silent evidence countless millions of applications that tick along just fine, under the radar. Not everything needs to be under the IT umbrella–that doesn’t scale either. IT’s response to the business needs of their constituencies is more often than not absolutely abysmal. If it wasn’t, then there would be impetus for amateurs to attempt to fulfill business needs with jury-rigged solutions. And while it’s true that many of these applications don’t scale, that is not the fault of the software, but of the application architecture. Ignoring and disrespecting this huge constituency of middling application developers was a major strategic blunder on msft’s part. At one point there were more Access applications out there than applications created in all other software packages combined. How bad could Access/VB have been to garner those kinds of numbers? Sadly msft’s strategic direction was driven more by self-destructive internal politics with business units in (sometimes) direct competition with each other to the detriment of the company as a whole. So it’s not really surprising (to those of us who have been around since the beginning anyway) that msft is where it is today. Sad, but given its dysfunctional internal culture (well-documented in Vanity Fair last year), how could it have turned out any other way?

        • Scott Humble

          Semantics aside, I would agree with most of those points. Striking a balance between an environment that fosters innovation and agility vs one that is secure and compliant is no small task. You are also right about the internal politics at Microsoft. Nadella seems to be keying in on a number of areas that have been pain points. Only time will tell. However, I do remain optimistic about their future.

  • SpecialNewb

    Uh, PlayStation 3 not 2. PlayStation 2 was the champion of its era by far, MS only won with the PS3 / 360 era.

  • nemo

    This is a well written essay which demonstrates that the author is a clever guy.
    However, I’ve been reading the classics of military strategy for many years and I could easily cobble together a series of impressive looking quotes in support of the exact opposite of each of the assertions made in this essay. It’s not that hard.
    By the way, the essay would have been more interesting if it had also quoted from Napoleon Bonaparte and John Boyd. Have you heard of them? The former was a genius and the latter helped to formulate the strategy for the liberation of Kuwait.
    Anyway, in overall terms, this essay demonstrates yet again that much that is written about business “strategy” is just plain nonsense which is intended to confuse fools into paying lots of money to managements consultants who need a second yacht.