Steve Ballmer – the anti-Steve Jobs

ballmerby orcmid

Why Steve Ballmer Failed : 
[Via The New Yorker]

Steve Ballmer, the C.E.O. of Microsoft, finally figured out a way to make some money for himself: he quit. This morning, Ballmer announced that he will retire within the next twelve months. The company’s stock surged; Ballmer is now worth about a billion dollars more than he was on Thursday.


This is the paragraph that got my attention:

What has gone wrong? For starters, Ballmer proved to be the anti-Steve Jobs. He missed every major trend in technology. His innovations alienated people. When he tried something new, like Windows Vista, the public lined up around the block to trade it in. Microsoft missed social networking. It completely misjudged the iPhone and the iPad. It embraced complexity in product design just as everyone was turning toward simplicity. It entered growing markets too late. When was the last time you used Bing? In 2000, Microsoft made most of its money selling Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows. Today, it still makes its money that way.

He was a business guy, a salesman running a tech company. That hardly ever succeeds. 

Now where does MS go? It has lost so many of the people inside the company who could do much of anything. Anyone from outside has a huge, impractical corporate culture to deal with.

And, as the article discusses, it suffers from the innovator’s dilemma – it cannot let go of where its current profits originate, Windows and Office. It focussed on making software for desktops in a time when desktops were disappearing. It failed to come up with a useful plan to deal with mobile.

I wonder what will happen next.

One thought on “Steve Ballmer – the anti-Steve Jobs

  1. This is the comment that got my attention:

    I am not a tech person, not an insider, not someone who particularly follows the sector. All I am is someone who began his work life in 1979 and found a TRS-80 computer gathering dust in the sales department because nobody could figure out how to use it, and who was able to get it to do something useful – generate labels for a mailing list. It was not particularly easy to do, but because I was able to make it work I was given the responsibility to implement the company’s first real computer system, an IBM System/34. From there I went on in the systems world, first as an analyst, then as an IT head, riding the wave of PC implementations and networks, along with larger mainframe-based systems, grappling with all the issues they all had, before getting out of the IT side of things. For the last 15 years I have done other things, but of course have had to use PCs for my work every day, and have been an Internet user for nearly 20 years now.

    I am constantly amazed at the success of Microsoft. In all those years, first as someone responsible for buying their systems and now as someone who has to use them, they have never been my preferred choice. Their user interfaces have always been bad, clunky, and complex. The introduction of Windows 95, while a huge success for them from the business side, was for users in its early days sheer torture. We forget now how many problems it caused, how buggy it was, how many things just didn’t work right, and how deep you often had to get into the software to get it to do what you wanted it to do. Later versions of Windows slowly improved on that, but at the cost of giving up a degree of control and knowing what was actually going on. Their application software is, as has been said by others, ridiculously bloated and complex. I would guess most users never use and are likely unaware of over 90% of the capability of most MS applications. The ribbon interface is IMO one of the worst ever designed. The company I work for now still has trouble administering its Windows desktop infrastructure, to the point where mandated password changes every 90 days invariably make some aspect of your use stop dead in its tracks every time. We are now wrestling with a Sharepoint implementation, which is surely one of the worst pieces of software ever created for its ability to instantly cause non-technical users to lock up completely, unable to figure out even the first thing about it.

    To me it is someone reminiscent of another tech company, Blackberry, who created something unique and had huge success, despite a user experience that was very poor. The minute something came along that users could figure out easily – the iPhone – they started into decline. I suspect the same thing is happening with Microsoft. The sheer size of their market dominance means it will take some time, but I believe it will happen. MS is not alone in its inability to give users an interface that they like and understand – I look at Google’s ridiculous minimalist interface as the opposite of the MS style, but equally bad – but the company that can offer something that just works like Apple has done with its products will eventually prevail, I think. The odd thing for me is why Apple has not done that themselves.

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