On Steve Ballmer's "Retirement"

There's not much for me to say that hasn't already been said elsewhere, by better writers than I. But I feel compelled to pound out my two cents in anyway.

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.

Cisco to Cut 4,000 Jobs, Blames Weak Economic Recovery

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.

Why Microsoft Should Screw Its Hardware Partners

Mat Honan's first article at his new (old?) job over at Wired:

And then there are tablets. Microsoft isn’t even close to being a player in the tablet business, which is dominated by Apple and Android. (And, in all reality, Android is but a twee little sideshow relative to the iPad.) Many of Microsoft’s desktop partners have gone full-tilt toward Android tablets, so they’re already competing with Microsoft. So Microsoft’s best bet is to prove there’s a market in Windows tablets — which shouldn’t be hard given how abysmal Android tablets are.

Half of U.S. Homes Own Apple Products

Half of U.S. homes own Apple products – USATODAY.com:

"That's more than 55 million homes with at least one iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac computer. And one-in-10 homes that aren't currently in that group plan to join it in the next year. But Apple doesn't have to worry about brand saturation any time soon. Americans don't stop with just one device. Homes that own least one Apple, own an average of three. Overall, the average household has 1.6 Apple devices, with almost one-quarter planning to buy at least one more in the next year. "It's a fantastic business model — the more of our products you own, the more likely you are to buy more," says Jay Campbell, a vice president of Hart Research Associates, which conducts the CNBC survey along with Bill McInturff. "Planned obsolescence has always been a part of the technology industries sales model, but Apple has taken it to a whole new level.""

(Via USA Today.)

The iPad Is Unbeatable

Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate:

Imagine you run a large technology company not named Apple. Let’s say you’re Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Meg Whitman, Larry Page, or Intel’s Paul Otellini. How are you feeling today, a day after Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPad? Are you discounting the device as just an incremental improvement, the same shiny tablet with a better screen and faster cellular access? Or is it possible you had trouble sleeping last night? Did you toss and turn, worrying that Apple’s new device represents a potential knockout punch, a move that will cement its place as the undisputed leader of the biggest, most disruptive new tech market since the advent of the Web browser? Maybe your last few hours have been even worse than that. Perhaps you’re now paralyzed with confusion, fearful that you might be completely boxed in by the iPad—that there seems no good way to beat it. For your sake, my hypothetical CEO friend, I hope you’re frightened. He hopes, but I doubt it. If they were, they would be restructuring their entire companies in order to compete with this new market. As far as I can tell, they're still in finger-in-their-ears-saying-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you mode.

Greed and Entitlements

Federico Viticci, writing for Macstories:

More importantly, I’m baffled when I see people really getting angry because of a standalone app that was always meant to be that way. So here’s a tip for these people: next time you’re about to send a tweet to a developer, claiming that he promised a free and universal update and he’s now “stealing your money”, do your homework. Because if I can’t argue on economics, I sure think I’m pretty good at Google Search, which brought me to this page (screenshot). If I hear anyone complaining about paying $2.99 for Tweetbot for iPad, then we can't be friends anymore.

Why Best Buy is Going out of Business...Gradually

Larry Downes, writing for Forbes:

First comes the strategic bankruptcy, well in progress at Best Buy, where management’s sole focus is improving some arbitrary metric from last quarter, even when doing so actually interferes with customers trying to buy something else. The financial collapse comes later. But if history is any guide, the second part, once it starts, will be quick. Downes puts in writing what I've thought for several years now but never really thought enough about to put into words myself. Best Buy's customer service is horrible. Most store employees behave as if they were used car salesmen who try to peddle one or another bad product on their customers depending on which ever product management is trying to push that day. Whatever you buy they try to sell you an "extended warranty", which is how Best Buy makes a lot of their profits. When doing so, they promise (and sometimes lying to do so) that it will cover any possible circumstance. If you ever actually need to use the warranty however, there will be complete reversal from the sales pitch and instead find every reason that whatever circumstance you have encountered, is not actually covered under the warranty. Their entire business is predicated on scamming their customers. How is anyone surprised that they're now on a downward trend that will lead to their bankruptcy in the next 5-10 years?