After months of aggressive moves by T-Mobile US to lure customers from other carriers, No. 2 operator AT&T Inc counter-attacked on January 3 by offering to pay consumers to switch from T-Mobile. Days later, No. 3 ranked Sprint Corp promised big discounts for family and friend groups. On Wednesday, T-Mobile upped the ante, saying it would pay hefty exit costs for converts. The moves by Sprint and AT&T come after No. 4 U.S. operator T-Mobile, a long-time industry straggler, was able to report three full quarters of customer growth after four years of losses. While discounts are always welcomed by consumers, the intensifying competition is a new challenge to a U.S. industry long used to imposing its will on consumers, and analysts fear it could result in the loss of billions of dollars of revenue. How sad is it that articles such as this are able to be written? Do you mean to say that due to actual competition between the wireless carriers for the first time in years that their record profits are at risk of declining? Ridiculous. Furthermore, how sad is it that Ms. Carew is able to write an article like this couched around the idea that Wall Street is concerned, yet very little mention about how this could be a massive benefit to customers.
This is the sort of damage that can be done to your organization when you let a "sales guy" be the CEO. David Auerbach, at Slate writes:
The stack rank was harmful. It served as an incentive not to join high-quality groups, because you’d be that much more likely to fall low in the stack rank. Better to join a weak group where you’d be the star, and then coast. Maybe the executives thought this would help strong people lift up weak teams. It never worked that way. More often, it just encouraged people to backstab their co-workers, since their loss entailed your profit. The entire performance review process at Microsoft encouraged horrendous office politics that enabled backstabbers to profit at the expense of the companies performance. The stack rank was a zero-sum game—one person could only excel by the amount that others were penalized. And it was applied at every level of the organization. Even if you were in a group of three high performers, it was very likely that one of you would be graded Above Average, one Average, and one Below Average. Unless your manager was a prick or an idiot or both, the ordering would reflect your relative skills, but that never came as too much comfort to the hard-working schlub who just wasn’t as good as the other two. Quotas. When review time came, and programmers would fill out a short self-assessment talking about their achievements, strengths, and weaknesses, only some of them knew that their ratings had been more or less already foreordained at the stack rank. The ones who knew could sometimes be recognized by their flip comments on their performance reviews, like the hot-tempered guy who wrote every year in “Areas to Improve,” “I will try to be less of an asshole.” (That guy is awesome). This sort of organizational dissembling skews your psyche. After I left Microsoft, I was left with lingering paranoia for months, always wondering about the agendas of those around me, skeptical that what I was being told was the real story. I didn’t realize until the nonstacked performance review time at my new job that I’d become so wary. At the time—inside Microsoft—it just seemed the only logical way to be. So ex-Microsoft employees are likely to be temporarily bad employees at other companies they work at until they realize the rest of the world doesn't work like the horror that is working within the Microsoft organization? Yikes.
Google is famously managed by engineers with a strong emphasis on engineering as a company value (whether they actually live up to that is an entirely different discussion). Apple famously holds design and designers in high esteem.
Microsoft? For the past 10+ years Microsoft has been managed by their Salesman in Chief. Ballmer was a sales guy with an MBA. A lot of Microsoft's defenders love to point out how Windows is still the best selling OS in the world or how Microsoft's revenue numbers have done nothing but go up over the past ten years. To take these statements at face value and out of context of what the rest of the technology industry has done since Ballmer has reigned at CEO is extremely naive and short sighted.
Ballmer did what sales people do best: he sold their existing products. Sales people do not create. They take products that have been created by others and through social skills (which Ballmer arguably had) persuade others to buy. But when you then take a person such as this and put them in charge, it can have disastrous consequences. I would argue that people with a sales background are very badly suited to run a technology company. Now, that is not to say that a person with a sales background can't make a great CEO - I'm sure there are many who have founded and ran great companies such as Macy's, Sears, etc. No, my argument is that sales people do what they do best, and that primarily is protecting their existing territory while trying to sell as much of it as possible. Microsoft has essentially been playing defense since Ballmer has taken over. And their weapons with which they've defended with (Office & Windows) have slowly began to lose their effectiveness. Microsoft cannot defend forever, especially when Google and Apple are both on a warpath. Microsoft has been crippled for years. There are dozens of stories of creative products that began to get traction within the company, only to be squashed by the Windows or Office divisions as soon as that product started to look like a potential threat to their sales. Countless stories tell of political fights within Microsoft between those two divisions and how the bureaucracies of those two products would shut down or cripple any initiative that they perceived as a threat to their own budgets.
One prime example of this is the Courier project. In case you don't remember, Courier was Microsoft's early potential answer to iOS. A team within the company had developed a new touch interface that ran on a touchscreen tablet-like device. It was so far along that a demo video was leaked onto the web which received very high praise from most designers who saw it. When the Windows division found out about this, they used their political clout to have the project shut down because it did not run Windows. Most of the Courier team quit Microsoft to founded their own company. You can now see the fruits of their labor on the App Store, known as Paper. In fact, if you browse their company's about page you will see a who's-who of ex-Microsoft employees who all have innovative iOS and touch products to their name while at Microsoft who now no longer work there.
I do not know if Steve Ballmer is directly responsible for the fact that 53 exists, as a company, but surely if he is not, then his failure to prevent others within the company for driving employees like this out can be laid as his feet. Ballmer's corrosive policies has propped up the bureaucracies of Office and Windows at the expense of all other creative initiatives because he is too short-sighed or cowardly to attempt anything else for fear that it could harm their crown jewels.
The sad part is though, as John Gruber pointed out, all of the potential successors to Ballmer that showed any promise have all left the company in the past several years. From the outside it looked as if Ballmer himself was responsible for driving them out of the company for fear that they might replace him. And now, in the end, it looks as if even that couldn't save him from being forced out by the board. Good riddance.
If there ever was a time to bring in someone from the outside, and to not promote within, I think this is it. Ballmer has seen to that.
Don Clark, at The Wall Street Journal writes:
Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO +0.21% said it would cut 4,000 jobs, or 5% of its workforce, despite reporting an 18% jump in profit in the fourth fiscal quarter. John Chambers, chief executive of the big Silicon Valley technology company, blamed the decision largely on a disappointing economic recovery that is affecting particular countries and product lines in different ways. Oh? It couldn't possibly be because the quality of Cisco's hardware has been in steady decline over the past decade as their customer service has also declined yet their prices have continued to be the highest among all of their competitors. Nope. Couldn't possibly be that.
Ezra Klein, at The Washington Post writes:
As I understand it, the GOP has five basic goals in the budget talks: 1) Cut the deficit. 2) Cut entitlement spending. 3) Protect defense spending, and possibly even increase it. 4) Simplify the tax code by cleaning out deductions and loopholes. 5) Lower tax rates. The White House is willing to cut a deal with Republicans that will accomplish 1, 2, 3 and 4. But Republicans don’t want that deal. They’d prefer the sequester to that deal. That means they will get less on 1, basically nothing 2, 4, and 5, and they will actively hurt themselves on 3. So, rather than accomplishing four of their five goals, they’re accomplishing part of one. Some trade. Also, watch this bullshit:
These folks live in a Versailles bubble, modern day edition. But even they're not the ones with the real money. The real plutocrats outstrip even these jokers by exponential leaps and bounds. And they're the ones who drive public policy in this country. Charlie Pierce, TBogg and Xenos all each have good takes.
Like me, do you work in a corporate office environment or with clients who are Windows/Outlook users? Do you set your signature to a custom font/font size other than default plaintext? Ever notice that when receiving a reply from someone that your original email is default plaintext while your signature is formatted oddly? This is due to Mail.app's simplistic way of formatting (some would say sloppy) your email as it sends out, which Outlook interprets and renders badly for the recipient. Well, here's how you can fix that as well as a more detailed explanation of exactly what is going technically to cause this. Thanks of a friend of mine, Nancy Seeger for sharing this with me.
Dropbox just announced on their blog that all Pro account users are getting free storage upgrades. * 50GB $10 accounts now become 100GB accounts. * 100GB $20 accounts now become 200GB accounts. * a new 500GB account option will be available (pricing not announced) The changes go live tonight. This is great.