Is Ballmer Getting a Raw Deal?

by Chris Seibold Nov 12, 2010

A few days ago something very interesting happened and you probably didn't even realize it. Turns out that a smallish meteor passed between the earth and the moon. The object was small, 30 meters,  but coming that close to earth is a big deal. Why is it a big deal? A 30 meter meteor can cause a lot of damage.

How serious? For years people wondered about the Tunguska event, maybe it was a black hole slamming into the earth, perhaps it was an ancient atomic bomb, the speculation was endless and wacky theories abounded. When the analysis was finally complete it turned out the tens of millions of trees were sent to an early death buy a meteor roughly the size of the one that narrowly missed the earth.

That's just an astronomy lesson, the really interesting thing that happened a few days ago that you didn't hear about was the release of the Windows 7 phones. Long time Apple fans are undoubtedly feeling a little glee at Microsoft's latest non starter (call it schadenfreude if you're pretentious). While Apple fans are laughing everyone else is wondering who to blame for the recent spate of Microsoft miscues and the blame seems to be falling squarely on Steve Ballmer.

Steve Ballmer is an easy target. He says incredibly stupid things at times and you can't quite tell if he's just spewing marketing speak (if you're selling 56.6 K modems you'll find a reason they are better than 25 Mbps fiber) or if he sincerely believes that the Windows 7 phones have a two year jump on the competition.

How about a quick list of the very public Microsoft has whiffed on:

Bing was built to take on Google. The latest stats indicate that Bing has achieved a truly unremarkable share of just over 10%. Well, that's a little generous, Microsoft sites account for just over 10% and those include MSN and other Microsoft properties. Microsoft, for all the effort gets third place.

Having a search engine to call your very own is great but the reason Microsoft wanted Bing was to sell advertising. Microsoft put some effort into this and, ta da, third place again!

You remember when the iPod took off, right? It was constantly on the verge of destruction as soon as Dell (the Ditty), Sony or someone got serious about the business. Microsoft got serious with the Zune. The Zune has 2% of the market.

Windows Phones
Windows phone had a still have a huge slice of the market. But the slice is getting smaller everyday and it doesn't look like the Windows 7 phone is going to help out.

Tablet Computing
Remember when Steve Ballmer said Apple had sold more iPads than he'd like? The reason Steve was upset is because Microsoft has tablet computer tech. But the company's idea of a tablet computer is a computer with a touch screen. Consumers haven't responded but Microsoft's tablets do rule in some niches.

How can a company that destroyed Netscape when Netscape absolutely dominated the market miss so many times in a row? How can the mighty Microsoft who had people lined up to buy Windows 3 when it came out not beat a simplistic mp3 player? The answer is obvious, Ballmer is screwing everything and ruing a once great company!

Let's revisit the list but add some dates:

Bing—June, 2009

Adcenter—October, 2005

Windows Mobile—April, 2000

Windows Tablet—2001

Zune—November, 2006

What's interesting about that list? Turns out that Bill Gates didn't retire until 2008. So the death spiral Ballmer is supposedly responsible for happened before he was in charge. To be sure, Steve Ballmer has a lot of influence at Microsoft for years so postulating that he is at least partially responsible for the failures of Microsoft is fair. Painting him as the sole stooge behind Microsoft's increasing irrelevance to the tech world is over reaching.

The scariest part for the legions that loathe Microsoft? Maybe Bill was holding him back. Two years isn't much time when it comes to changing the course of a behemoth like Microsoft, perhaps Steve can turn everything around. Maybe he'll be able to send Apple back to making millions instead of billions, there is an off chance that Bing will surpass Google and so forth. But it just doesn't seem likely. Either way, when you're passing out blame don't give Steve Ballmer more than he has earned.





  • Bill Gates stepped down as CEO and Ballmer took over in early 2000 - over 10 years ago now. Gates was Chief Software Architect, yes, but Ballmer has been solely responsible for the company’s performance and strategy since then - and that includes hiring Ray Ozzie to replace Bill Gates a few years ago, which obviously did not go all that well.

    doogald had this to say on Nov 13, 2010 Posts: 4
  • excellent point doogald.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Nov 13, 2010 Posts: 354
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