In New Job Steve Ballmer Forces Windows on the L.A. Clippers

on October 3, 2014

I was fascinated to read a recent article about Steve Ballmer and how, in his role as owner of the L.A. Clippers, he has told his entire staff to get rid of their iPads. From now on they will be a Microsoft only facility. I was especially interested in this part of the article:

 “Most of the Clippers on are Windows, some of the players and coaches are not,” Ballmer said.”And Doc (Clippers coach)  kind of knows that’s a project. It’s one of the first things he said to me: ‘We are probably going to get rid of these iPads, aren’t we?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we probably are.’ But I promised we would do it during the off season.”

To his credit, he is trying to make the online experience at their arena work via Wifi and Bluetooth with any device. But for his staff, it is all Microsoft, all the time. Of course as owner of the Clippers he has the right to do this. But it is his total lack of understanding that we are no longer in a homogenous device world and are now in a heterogeneous world where people or users make the choice of the product they want to use and actually hire them based on personal needs and preferences that surprises me. IT has had to embrace this BYOD approach for some time and have made it work in most cases.

It was his blind loyalty to Microsoft and Windows that kept Microsoft from being a leader in smartphones and tablets. Everything had to be Windows based even though Windows was not an optimal OS for a smartphone. Instead, they spent years trying to push the round peg of a desktop OS into the square hole of a smartphone device while Apple and Samsung created mobile operating systems from scratch and left Microsoft in the dust.

This blind loyalty also caused him to miss an opportunity to make MS Office the de facto standard productivity tool outside of the Windows world and forced Microsoft to create subpar versions of Microsoft apps that worked poorly on other operating systems. This crippled any real chance for the applications group to win big in a heterogenous computing world where Microsoft no longer sits at the center and the biggest growth in personal computing has shifted to pocket computing dominated by Apple and Google.

This push to force Windows on his new company just says to me Ballmer still does not get it. I am also certain his coaches and players are not about to give up their iPads and will use them behind his back while being forced to use Windows-based products during business hours whether they like it or not. Yes, I know he is the boss and he can do anything he wants but to force them to use Windows only, I believe, will frustrate his staff.

The good news is there is a new sheriff running Microsoft and from what I have read and heard from folks inside, their new CEO Satya Nadella is not as narrow-minded as Ballmer and in fact has become more focused on creating great products around their own brand as well as make all of their apps world class on other operating systems, too. This says to me Nadella actually understands we live in a heterogenous world and will embrace it as part of his goal to make Microsoft relevant again.

To me this is a big deal. When I first went to visit Microsoft in the early 1980’s, the company had less than 100 employees. In fact, I was one of the first actual analysts invited to meet with them in their early days and was one of the first they reached out to when they formally created an analyst relations group in the early 1980’s. This means I got a ring side seat to watch Microsoft develop and grow. In fact, many times in the 1980’s, Ballmer would call me up and ask me to lunch when he was in town to run by some new project or effort they were doing in order to get my feedback and ultimately to try and get me to support it.

During those days, Microsoft was the only game in town. That is how they grew. The good news is because they were so focused on Windows and Windows apps they grew the company exponentially. The bad news is they were so focused on Windows they missed the major rise of operating systems beyond the desktop and laptops. This has left the company scrambling to even be competitive in the world of mobile where all the real growth has shifted to in the last 7 years.

Satya Nedella’s approach to the market embraces heterogeneous computing and is important but he also walks a fine line when it comes to Windows. Windows 10 hopefully buys him some much needed grace in the eyes of the consumers and IT and by making all of their apps “world class” on multiple operating systems keeps them in the game. However, with the PC market shrinking and mobile rising, Nadella really has hard task ahead thanks to Ballmer’s narrow minded strategies.

Windows will probably work well for the Clippers management and team. Although, I have a sneaky suspicion from the comment of Clippers coach Doc Rivers they would have preferred to use their iPads. As boss, Balmer has the right to push the tools he wants the team to use. But it would have been interesting if he had to deal with his IT the way most of the IT world has to today by supporting BYOD and innovating around that reality. Instead, the Clippers are a recipient of the old school thinking of Ballmer and will just have to work with what he has given them.