Concise postmortem of Ballmer-era Microsoft


#1

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#2

I must say I agree with Gruber’s main point:

Rather than … focus on making Windows as it was better for people who want to use desktop and notebook PCs, Microsoft forged ahead with a design that displeased traditional PC users and did little to gain itself a foothold in the burgeoning tablet market.

However, I have sympathy for Microsoft’s position. They’re not losing their market dominance. It’s that the market they dominate is gradually becoming less important. Still, unlike RIM, which had its market (business-oriented smartphones) completely destroyed, Microsoft’s core market is going to make them gagillions for years.

Quite frankly, they should probably become an income trust and cease spending tons of money on futile innovations that businesses are only marginally interested in. They’ve got at least 20 years of life unless they, like so many companies, bankrupt themselves way early because they cannot conceive that companies have a natural life-span.


#3

People keep saying the PC market is becoming less important but being in support I don’t really see it.

I see just as many PCs out there. People look at declining sales figures and jump to the conclusion it’s because of tablets. PCs last longer now.

Most people and businesses are using tablets and phones to augment and empower the PCs they have now not replace them.

Now I have to support 30 different devices including PCs.

The whole “oh my good the sky is falling we must disguise our desktop OS as something new” is what is wrong with Windows 8. Give me all the improvements of Win 8 without the idiotic Metro interface on a PC. At least make us able to shut it off at the push of a button. It’s all there just by default every file type is associated with a damn Metro app that is clunky and useless on a PC.

They need to make it operable as both, which would be trivially easy for them to do.

It’s jsut stubbornness and I’m not sure what the want the end goal to be.


#4

I don’t think Windows 8 was crude in the slightest. When I first saw it, I was blown away by the look. It is still much better than anything Apple has done except for iOS 7 which was really Apple playing catchup and Ives finally getting to jettison Job’s peculiar taste for skendomorphism.

The problem is that Windows 8 is like that kid at school who has to keep telling you how smart they are and how everything has to be done their way. I have been using Windows since NT 3.5 and the reason I prefer it to OSX is that it works the way I am used to. the problem with Windows 8 was Sinofsky’s attempt to force Windows users to buy Microsoft tablets by making their desktop machine work like a tablet.

Plenty of people in Microsoft knew that Windows 8 would be a disaster years ahead of the launch. There was absolutely nothing that was subtle or ambiguous in their usability testing. Everyone who participated in trials hated being forced to relearn the start menu. Not just some, EVERYONE.

Unlike the Vista fiasco, the Windows 8 fiasco wasn’t driven by a technical need. The reason system managers ganged up against Vista was that the new security model makes their jobs a lot harder. But it was a completely necessary change because Vista is a lot harder to break than XP. Windows 8 was completely gratuitous.

Most people can work out how to make Win8 work somewhat like Win7 or Vista in about 30 minutes. It is not that hard to do. But unlike Win7 or Vista you have absolutely no control over the start screen. You can’t drag and drop an item to your start menu and none of the obvious ways of creating start screen entries work. Oh and to turn the machine off you have to know three completely non-obvious incantations.

The problem with Win8 is that it is inconsistent for the experienced windows user and counter-intuitive for everyone. The fact that this fiasco was caused by one idiot (Sinofsky) and his boss who didn’t fire him earlier should tell people something about how free markets work in practice.


#5

Exactly. Imagine what would have happened if Windows Tablets had been simply a stripped down version of Windows desktop with built in Microsoft Office and Windows 8 desktop had just been new cosmetic skin on Win7 that allowed the tablet to be used as an extension of the desktop more conveniently.

The other huge drawback to Win8 is that you can’t run it on the Macbooks very easily. Yes it boots but you have to choose between bootcamp and VM mode. It is only licensed for use in one mode. No more switching back and forth.

That is a major pain for those of us who prefer Windows as a development environment but like Apple hardware.


#6

Fantastic article. Thanks for the link. The vision part of the end is fantastic, and something that should be emailed to every Microsoft employee, if not tattooed on their arms.

I remember waiting in class one Monday when our late professor, Steven Covey, finally stormed in. While a professor, he would do consulting gigs for Fortune 500 companies, and he’d gotten back .

He was mad as a hornet. He tried to get into the lecture but just couldn’t, so he stopped and said he had to get something off his chest.

He’d spent the weekend with IBM, which was then the most important company in the world. He said their president had lost his vision for the company (reached it, years before), but didn’t have the guts to step down or press forward with a new vision. He explained, took a question, and stated unequivocally, that IBM was going down.

Then he said, “Mark my words, in 10 years IBM will be a shell of its former self.” Stunned silence. This was inconceivable at the time.

Looks like Microsoft has suffered/suffering the same fate, unless they get a new vision, now.


#7

That’s assuming that Microsoft’s intent was to produce the best possible experience for desktop users, and not to have an advertisement for its tablet OS every time someone used Windows 8. You don’t fire the head of the call-center for annoying people during dinner, that’s part of their job.


#8

Well ironically now I think they have a better more focused vision than almost any other big tech company. I just graduated with a phd in applied math and while I was looking for a job it became apparent from various job postings that IBM is really the most active player in forward thinking research in AI and computing.


#9

My current experience with Windows 8 is that if you customize its Metro features, it punishes you by removing your administrator privileges from your user account (although it still refers to you as an “Administrator”). Then, you are unable to install Windows 8.1. I have been told by techs that the solution to the problem is to back up your data files and reinstall.

It’s like a metaphor for America’s police state mentality: “We can’t secure our Anything from Criminals so let’s secure the Everything from Everyone.”


#10

I stopped reading midway. Why is it Mac-heads have an irresistible urge to rewrite history so that it makes more sense to them?

Google did not rush out Android “to pick up the commodity crumbs.” Android was originally an independent startup company that Google purchased when they saw the product. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much effort comparing the timelines in the Wikipedia articles on iOS and Android to see that they developed essentially simultaneously, and that this was just an idea that was in the air at the time.

Something like that always leaps out when I fall for clicking on a link to Gruber. Daring Fireball dares to get it wrong.


#11

I wouldn’t presume to put words in Ballmer’s mouth; I’m just a home user who’s been playing around with MS operating systems since the days of Win3.0. (Now that was a POS.)

Curiously, Windows had something called “Windows for Pen Computing” way back in 1991. It ran on Win3.1. It went nowhere. It was also available for Win95, WinXP, and its capabilities were built into Vista and 7. But tablets didn’t get popular until 2010.

Likewise, Windows came out with Windows CE, which was mainly used for PDAs, in 1996. There was a version aimed at smartphones that came out in 2003. But it never saw the “smartphone in every pocket,” “gotta have it” kind of success that Apple saw in 2007, when it released the iPhone.

So it took Apple to make both small, all-in-one pocket computers, and tablets, successful, leaving Microsoft to play catch-up. (The state of miniaturization, the ability to put a system on a chip, also probably had something to do with it.)

As far as Windows 8(.1) goes, the Metro UI has some compelling aspects to it. Lovely, multi-page views of news articles with unobtrusive ads. Weather reports with all the “weather porn” you could ask for. Full-screen maps. Free, downloadable games, nicely done, with unobtrusive ads. Etc, etc.

The problem with it is that it’s a tablet/smartphone UI that’s bolted onto a traditional desktop UI, and transitioning between the two is awkward. The visual difference between the two is jarring. Seeing parts of the Metro UI come up on the Win8.1 desktop when you mouse over to the upper right-hand corner of your screen is jarring. IMHO, Microsoft should have come out a different OS for tablets and smartphones, and left its successful desktop UI alone.


#12

“The world is in need of high-quality, reliable, developer-friendly, trustworthy, privacy-guarding cloud computing platforms. […] The next ubiquity isn’t running on every device, it’s talking to every device.”

Wait; isn’t that the mainframe?


#13

I’m not crazy about ModernUI, but thankfully using those apps isn’t necessary to gain any of the benefits of Windows 8/8.1, nor do any of the touch optimization cause difficulty for non-touch users. All the same hotkeys and behaviors work the same as they do in 7.


#14

Micorosft was in serious trouble before Ballmer took office. He then went on to run the company completely into the ground in every conceivable way (dev-teams, stackranking, mobile strategy, online division, vista, win8, reorganization, etc.). It was the boards and Gates mistake to let Ballmer run wild for as long as he did, they could’ve ended what everybody else saw to be a disaster right away and axed Ballmer. Now they’ve given the Job to somebody who might be capable (who knows) but it doesn’t matter. Microsofts new CEO now has the unenviable job of fixing a giant steaming pile of turd that Ballmer left for him. Kind of like trying to fix Yahoo or IBM.


#15

It is undeniable though, that Google was headed to market with ‘Sooner’, the Blackberry like device that they were actively showing before the iPhone launch. If you don’t believe me, ask Andy Rubin.

The touch screen optimised prototype was called, appropriately ‘Dream’. This device still had a vestigial keyboard, and made it to market as the sliding HTC Dream. It was 6-8 months (depending on carrier) until you could use an on screen keyboard on the Dream. Android 1.0 and 1.1 builds for that phone only allowed text input from the hardware keyboard.

To deny that the Android project at Google changed direction radically as a result of the iPhone announcement is disingenuous. Apple hit the market with a fantastic product, and there is no shame in the fact that Google refocussed Android.


#16

Microsoft have been as stubborn and thick headed as the most rabid creationist. The Modern UI on a touch interface is perfectly adequate but on a conventional desktop/laptop it’s a mess. This was obvious to me from the beta.

I am purposely undermining Microsoft “vision” on every 8/8.1 I build or fix by installing startisback


#17

Indeed, and influence goes both ways. The very article you link to notes:

“What the Android team had been working on, a phone code-named Sooner, sported software that was arguably more revolu­tionary than what had just been revealed in the iPhone. In addition to having a full Internet browser, and running all of Google’s great web applications, such as search, Maps, and YouTube, the software was designed not just to run on Sooner, but on any smartphone, tablet, or other portable device not yet conceived. It would never need to be tethered to a laptop or desktop. It would allow multi­ple applications to run at the same time, and it would easily con­nect to an online store of other applications that Google would seed and encourage. By contrast, the iPhone needed to connect to iTunes regularly, it wouldn’t run more than one application at a time, and in the beginning it had no plans to allow anything re­sembling an application store.”

But it was ugly and the interface was static, inflexible.

Both projects changed direction in response to the other, Android with regard to appearance and iOS with regard to functionality.

Gruber’s history, however, is essentially that Android didn’t exist until iOS showed the way. Then Google rushed to clone it. That is, as you say, disingenuous.


#18

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