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."