Former VP Calls Microsoft Clumsy, Uncompetitive

A former leader Microsoft spoke out this week, saying that Microsoft has become a "clumsy, uncompetitive innovator."

Dick Brass, a vice president at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004, wrote yesterday for in an opinion piece of the New York Times his account on several incidents at his former company that point to the stifling in the execution of creative ideas.

"Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator," Brass posed. "Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason. … While Apple continues to gain market share in many products, Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers, high-end laptops and smartphones. Despite billions in investment, its Xbox line is still at best an equal contender in the game console business. It first ignored and then stumbled in personal music players until that business was locked up by Apple."

Brass says that Microsoft's image has never recovered from the antitrust matters in 1990s and that the company's marketing has been "inept," pointing to the Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld commercials.

Although Microsoft posted a $6.7 billion profit for the past quarter, Brass says the bulk of that comes from old, traditional Windows and Office products.

Brass relayed a story where his group developed ClearType, which is a method for LCD screens to better display text on screen. Alleged internal competitive forces made the technology's growth harder than it should have been.

In a second example, Brass says that his group was developing a tablet PC in 2001 that relied on stylus input. The head of the Office group at the time, who was characterized as being resistant to stylus, supposedly refused to modify the productivity software to work properly with the tablet.

"To this day, you still can’t use Office directly on a Tablet PC. And despite the certainty that an Apple tablet was coming this year, the tablet group at Microsoft was eliminated," Brass explained. "Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cutting-edge place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest."

Brass does clarify that internal competition is common at great companies and that it can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. Brass doesn't believe that it worked as intended at Microsoft.

"At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence," Brass wrote. "It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left."

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  • ta152h
    This isn't just for Microsoft.

    When I was at IBM in the late 80s and early 90s, they destroyed the company with this type of nonsense. The reason we use Windows now is because of IBM internal issues, and has little to do with Microsoft.

    Bill Gates actually wanted to create OS/2 for the 386, but IBM said it had to be for the 286. Why? Because their hardware division was selling a bunch of 286, and IBM didn't want the PC line overlapping into higher margin areas like the AS/400 line, or later the RISC/6000 line.

    So, OS/2 couldn't multi-task DOS apps (286 didn't have Virtual 86 mode, so the processor had to be essentially rendered unconscious and brought back up into real mode every time you task switched into the "penalty box" as the DOS compatibility box became known), and Windows/386 could. People care more about this than all the advanced features of OS/2, and eventually IBM got frustrated with Microsoft and told them to stop supporting Windows so well. Microsoft refused, IBM and Microsoft broke up. Microsoft was working on OS/2 3.0, which was what became Windows NT (which, we derisively referred to as Windows NotThere). As we all know, Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista/7 isn't the greatest. OS/2 was, in my opinion and many others, so much better.

    Whenever companies pull this crap, it's almost invariably to their detriment. The whole arrogant presumption that if a group in your company doesn't create it, your other product will not be impacted by the technology dismisses the inevitability that someone else will invent it! Microcomputers moved upstream anyway! IBM just didn't benefit from it, other people did.

    It's almost always (I hate sbsolutes, thus the "almost") to let your company create something that marginalizes a product you're making. There are bright (and for that matter, stupid) people all over the world, and they'll do it if you don't.

    Intel, to their credit, rarely, if ever does this, so this is not a shot at them. But, if we look back just a little ways, we remember how Intel didn't want to create a 64-bit extension for the 386 instruction set, because it would compete with the Itanium instruction set. It happened anyway, despite their arrogance. They learned quickly before it was very damaging, but it just goes to show even the most powerful companies, even today, are not immune to these lessons. It's a recurring situation, with the same result. Why don't they learn this?
    22
  • Other Comments
  • Anonymous
    Sounds like someone's posturing for a job at Apple.
    3
  • ta152h
    This isn't just for Microsoft.

    When I was at IBM in the late 80s and early 90s, they destroyed the company with this type of nonsense. The reason we use Windows now is because of IBM internal issues, and has little to do with Microsoft.

    Bill Gates actually wanted to create OS/2 for the 386, but IBM said it had to be for the 286. Why? Because their hardware division was selling a bunch of 286, and IBM didn't want the PC line overlapping into higher margin areas like the AS/400 line, or later the RISC/6000 line.

    So, OS/2 couldn't multi-task DOS apps (286 didn't have Virtual 86 mode, so the processor had to be essentially rendered unconscious and brought back up into real mode every time you task switched into the "penalty box" as the DOS compatibility box became known), and Windows/386 could. People care more about this than all the advanced features of OS/2, and eventually IBM got frustrated with Microsoft and told them to stop supporting Windows so well. Microsoft refused, IBM and Microsoft broke up. Microsoft was working on OS/2 3.0, which was what became Windows NT (which, we derisively referred to as Windows NotThere). As we all know, Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista/7 isn't the greatest. OS/2 was, in my opinion and many others, so much better.

    Whenever companies pull this crap, it's almost invariably to their detriment. The whole arrogant presumption that if a group in your company doesn't create it, your other product will not be impacted by the technology dismisses the inevitability that someone else will invent it! Microcomputers moved upstream anyway! IBM just didn't benefit from it, other people did.

    It's almost always (I hate sbsolutes, thus the "almost") to let your company create something that marginalizes a product you're making. There are bright (and for that matter, stupid) people all over the world, and they'll do it if you don't.

    Intel, to their credit, rarely, if ever does this, so this is not a shot at them. But, if we look back just a little ways, we remember how Intel didn't want to create a 64-bit extension for the 386 instruction set, because it would compete with the Itanium instruction set. It happened anyway, despite their arrogance. They learned quickly before it was very damaging, but it just goes to show even the most powerful companies, even today, are not immune to these lessons. It's a recurring situation, with the same result. Why don't they learn this?
    22
  • Humans think
    Quote:
    Although Microsoft posted a $6.7 billion profit for the past quarter, Brass says the bulk of that comes from old, traditional Windows and Office products.


    I don't see a problem about that. Microsoft has always focused on the software, and no very much on product development.

    At least Microsoft is giving power to the people (with some exceptions like throttling concurrent connections for botnet protection). For a large company it still insists on giving a fully operational operating system working on many platforms (unlike Apple) that does not depend on clouds (see Chrome OS) and does not yet condone the console bandwagon like Apple's appstore (iPhone, iPad). It's freedom is only surpassed by Linux, FreeBSD and the like.

    Sure it keeps many of its protocols locked and fortunately some people reverse engineer it but these practices are expected from an American (capitalistic/imperialistic/fill in whatever you want) company that wants to keep profits high.

    It seems though that the giant has become old and tired... Anyone remembers the civil war inside Apple Macintosh VS Rest of Apple. At the end the jar-heads, managers, counselors, marketing guys and advertisers always take command of the companies and guys with innovative ideas get pushed in the sidelines because when you start a company it is important to have good ideas but when they grow larger it is more important not to make mistakes.

    A friend of mine works in Google and he is thrilled by the working environment but ask yourselves what will happen when Google becomes like Microsoft...

    PS: sorry for large post
    6