Sunday, 25 August 2013

Will the real Steve Balmer stand up.

[caption id="attachment_107" align="alignleft" width="240"]Steve Balmer (CEO Microsoft) Steve Balmer in 2012. (Official Microsoft Press Photo)[/caption]

The announcement that Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer is to retire is another pointer to the end of an era in the growth of personal computing. Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were at the heart of the Microsoft dream of having a PC in every home. More than a billion people on earth run the Windows operating system today, a huge number run Microsoft Office and vast numbers of businesses depend on Microsoft.

I have been reading a lot of journalistic comment on Steve Balmer's career at Microsoft. At lot of Wall Street seems to be pleased he is retiring. The tech community seems to hold him responsible for all the decisions Microsoft got wrong over the last 13 years but don't seem to credit him with making lots of money for Microsoft. Some people seem to hold Microsoft to a higher level of loathing than any other tech company. Apple, Google, Yahoo and almost everyone else has a more generous reception than Microsoft. Some journalists seem to enjoy putting the words Balmer and disaster in the same sentence. More than 90% of the world's PCs run on Windows and only 7% run on all the versions of Apple OS X put together yet people regard the current version of Windows as a disaster. An army of hacks writing about technology heap praise on Apple and Google while simultaneously cast Microsoft in the role of the 'dark side' of corporate power in the IT industry.

While Balmer was CEO, Microsoft did not make compelling products for digital music, did not address the emergence of consumption devices like the iPad, spent too long in operating system development cycles, missed out on the mobile computing revolution and came late to the new opportunities of the Internet. We all now 'google' things on the Internet rather than 'bing' stuff. On the enterprise field the area of virtualisation was something that was neglected for a long time.

Steve Balmer did oversee the success of the Xbox and the dominance of Microsoft Office as standard business productivity tool. Microsoft servers and enterprise tools are the backbone of most businesses. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar business without needing to address consumer products at all.

Unfortunately people expect more than this from Microsoft. Microsoft absolutely dominated computing in the 1990s and the bar was set very high. Labelling Balmer as a failure is wrong. I think a CEO that has more than a billion people using a key product for over 10 years has done a good job. Even if you regard Microsoft as some great satan in the IT world the numbers speak for themselves.

So is the real Steve Balmer the failed CEO of legend or something else? My own view is that Balmer did a good job of the non-sexy bread and butter products like servers, office and operating systems. Microsoft failed to be cool or be loved. Ultimately those emotional responses to Microsoft products are not there and it seems that this promotes the hostility to Microsoft.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Being Evil?

The question of the week for all Windowsphone users is perhaps is Google being 'evil'. The Google mantra is 'Don't be evil' but this week they banned the Youtube app for Windowsphone for the second time.

The whole story is a bit strange and Paul Thurott's Supersite for Windows is one of the best authorities for this. The shorthand for the situation is that Google have not created a Youtube app for Windowsphone. In the USA Windowsphone has just a 3% market share (elsewhere somewhat higher) so there are no commercial pressures on Google to do this. Although you might argue since Blackberry is now disappearing fast Windowsphone is the third ecosystem.

So to get over this little difficulty Microsoft created their own Youtube app for Windowsphone. Google blocked it because it violated their terms of service. By this they seemed to mean it didn't serve Google ads and didn't use the Google API. Microsoft said they were happy to modify the app but Google had not given them access to the API like other developers. The two sides then seemed to have a 'love in' and agreed to co-operate. All was well and a new app came out this week. However 24 hours later it was blocked again for violating Google's terms of service. This was a bit strange because they (Google) was supposed to be working with Microsoft.

Google's explanation was that the app wasn't using HTML 5. This was somewhat bizarre because, as Microsoft said, neither the Android versions of Youtube apps or the IOS versions used HTML 5. The excuse looks spurious and perhaps a little bit like kicking the small guy. In this situation small is correct.

Microsoft has a minuscule portion of the mobile phone market, a small segment of Internet search and no presence in the social media sphere. They are the new kid on the block. Their 90%+ share of the PC market gives them no advantage here. Google is the market leader and dominates the mobile space with Android. The Linux crowd and the 'free' software crowd might be cheering at Microsoft being pwned by Google but there is a problem.

Microsoft have spent 18 months targeting Google with some relentless ribbing about their 'free' business model. The talk about being Scroggled. They claim that the 'cost' of Gmail is that your private mail is read by Google and then keywords are extracted to drive ads to your mailbox. Unlike the security services reading your mail this is just a commercial activity. Microsoft have also run a 'bing it on' campaign where they allowed people to blind test the results of their Bing search engine against Google. I have never really heard of anyone 'binging' an answer but the idea was to point out how good Microsoft search was. The campaign also criticised Google's shopping results as really just being another set of ads where paid ads ranked results higher rather than the best match for a shopping query regardless of advertising.

Whether these criticisms are valid or not there is a clash of business models. Microsoft is the traditional vendor of paid for software and services. Google is the 'free' provider as long as you accept the advertising. It is fair of Microsoft to point out that with Google you are the product that they sell to advertisers.

The irony is now that for a long time Microsoft were the great satan in the software world. People wore the badge of 'free' software and 'free' Google services with pride. They felt liberated from big corporations and perhaps felt that Google was an ethical company that functioned with higher moral values. It must be a shock to these purists that Google is a big corporation and can act exactly the same. This is what seems to be coming out of this dispute.