Watching Microsoft implode one product at a time is like watching a train wreck take place in slow motion. The nightmare just never seems to end. Thankfully, only a few more cars are left to crash into place and it'll be over.
Earlier in the week, Steve Ballmer talked with Richard Karlgaard of Forbes. The discussion largely focused on Ballmer's promotion of Windows 8, but Karlgaard also brought up a scathing Vanity Fair article, which many are describing as Microsoft's lost decade. Ballmer spun and twisted his way around questions as best he could, but there is little doubt that the executives at Microsoft are riding a large wave of desperation.
Ballmer and company are working the media at a feverish pace to promote Windows 8 and Surface. But the Redmond team continues to run into a jugernaut of tech media that is questioning their relevance in an ever increasing rate. To Ballmer's credit and his staff, no one has blown their top just yet, but the defensive posturing is certainly in the tone of Ballmer.
Forbes Karlgaard asked Ballmer about Vanity Fair's so-called lost decade article. "It’s not been a lost decade for me!" exclaimed Ballmer. "I mean, look, ultimately progress is measured through the eyes of our users... We have 1.3 billion people using PCs today. There was a time in the ’90s when we were sure there would never be 100 million PCs sold a year. Now there will be 375 million sold this year alone. So, is it a lost decade?"
Ballmer, speaking as a seasoned politician, builds a straw man argument, pointing to the growth of PC sales as evidence of a successful decade for the company. But Ballmer's answer completely skirted the question, as Karlgaard is pointing to Microsoft's failures regarding new invention and growth. A decade in which Microsoft watched Apple, Google, Amazon and FaceBook pass them by.
Ballmers answers should be raising huge red flags for any Microsoft shareholder or board member. Is Ballmer truly unaware of what has happened to his company? Is he playing games with the media, spinning as best he can? Or is Ballmer completely delusional, blinded by his own ego?
On Wednesday, during Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft's COO, Kevin Turner took indirect shots at the late Steve Jobs. Turner choose to assail Jobs vision of the post-PC era. "We believe that Apple has it wrong." Turner Continued "They’ve [Apple] talked about it being the post-PC era, they talk about the tablet and PC being different, the reality in our world is that we think that’s completely incorrect". Turner concluded with "We actually believe Windows 8 is the new era for the PC plus".
PC plus may be some clever marketing term, but the best my colleagues and I have been able to figure out, is PC plus means a traditional desktop OS worked onto a small tablet, with another OS called Windows 8 metro added to the mix acting as a hedge should one tablet version fail. That's PC plus.
Microsoft's denial of what's happened over the past 10 years during Steve Ballmer's reign, coupled with a new attempt at re-writing Apple's own direction is not healthy for the Redmond giant. Contrast this approach to Steve Jobs apologizing to developers for Apple screw ups and mistakes. Jobs and Apple were - at times - refreshingly brutal in their assessment of their own products and direction. Microsoft can't seem to take an honest look in the mirror for fear of what they'll see.
The losses for Microsoft since 2000 have been huge. Plays for Sure, was crushed by iPod's vertical hardware plus software solution. Years later Microsoft attempted to copy Apple with their ill fated Zune. Apple forged its way into the smartphone world with iPhone. In contrast, Microsoft squandered its Windows CE software and early presence in the mobile space. Nearly five-years after the first iPhone was launched, Microsoft is finally looking serious with their Nokia partnership. But the Lumia series Windows phones have thus far proved a massive failure. Again, Microsoft was years late to the table with a valid offering, but the product simply isn't compelling enough to make a dent in the market.
Surface is Microsoft's next foray into their "re-imagining" realm. Nearly three and a half years after Apple shipped its first iPad, Microsoft will be releasing their own version. If this story looks familiar it should. Late, not that compelling, and quite possibly irrelevant. This is Microsoft's lost decade. A entire season of the company's life that executives don't believe happened, or won't admit too.
The real question that must be answered at Microsoft is why? The answer goes beyond the massive egos and in-fighting that has gone on between the Windows and Office teams. The issues are systemic and largely are result of Microsoft's massive success of the 1990's.
Microsoft has failed, and continues to do so, because at the heart of the company (and Steve Ballmer) they believe they can be a success in any field simply because they are Microsoft. The mentality is so ego-centric it borders on delusional. The idea so cancerous, so blinded by self, it cannot be undone with minor tweaks and staff reorganizations. Steve Ballmer's self-delusion, that is Microsoft.