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  • Can Microsoft Be Saved?

    June 2nd, 2008

    All right, I recognize that the title of this article is apt to inspire a number of strange responses. After all, Microsoft is still laughing all the way to the bank, with great profits and rising sales. However, there have been troubling signs for a number of years now, although the forces of inertia just keep them going.

    And, no, I do not intent to compare them to the “Energizer Bunny.”

    You see, it’s perfectly clear from this vantage point that Microsoft is having more and more difficulty getting people to take them seriously. The Windows Vista rollout was an unmitigated disaster, and you almost feel that they promoted it with half a heart.

    Now in the entertainment business, a movie company will keep a known clunker from the critics, boost marketing expenses, and hope that enough people will see it before they begin to talk about how bad it really is.

    Microsoft, however, wouldn’t even invest in a large-scale marketing plan to launch Vista. Yes, there were TV ads, and billboards and such, but can you remember them in the way you remembered the Windows 95 rollout that featured The Rolling Stones?

    In those days, people lined up to buy the latest and greatest version of Windows. Vista got a collective yawn, even from supposedly known Microsoft fanboys who complained about its sluggish performance and the woeful lack of driver compatibility.

    Now Microsoft, after putting out some ridiculous spin that Vista really is a success, despite the ongoing campaigns to keep selling XP a while longer, is taking the wraps off Windows 7.

    The known features, such as a touch capability and a Dock-like taskbar, seem to have been so obviously cribbed from Apple that you wonder just what Microsoft was thinking.

    On the hardware front, I suppose the Xbox 360 is doing all right, but the Zune is losing what little sales momentum it had. A recent survey from the NPD Group gave them 4% of the music player market, behind SanDisk, which had 11% and Apple’s iPod, at 71%.

    Indeed, Microsoft couldn’t even match the sales of the former partners it double-crossed when the Zune was introduced.

    Now the Zune isn’t a bad player. In fact, it’s probably fairly decent, but it strikes you as nothing more than an attempt to imitate the iPod of two or three years ago, and tack on a few extra features to convey the illusion that it is really superior.

    This is, however, pretty much what Microsoft has done all along. First promise the moon, then deliver something more down to earth with the claim that the next version will be a whole lot better.

    Unfortunately, for far too long, the tech press and customers alike believed Microsoft, or they were willing to accept a product that was almost as good, even though the superior version was already on sale from another company — Apple.

    When it comes to embracing the cloud, Google gets it, Microsoft doesn’t. In fact, their efforts were so pathetic they actually believed that buying Yahoo would somehow turn things around. What a colossal waste of money! Yes, the effort to make this transaction happen have failed so far, but never say never.

    But who is responsible for Microsoft’s also-ran status when it comes to innovation? Well, with BIll Gates essentially gone, you have to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Steve Ballmer, who easily conveys the impression that he has lost most of his senses.

    He can scream, cajole, and boast, but he has no clue about innovation, and it seems to me that most of the members of Microsoft’s senior management simply don’t have the smarts to turn the company around before it begins an inevitable decline.

    Beneath the executive levels, I’m certain that Microsoft has thousands of brilliant engineers and marketers who would be able to deliver incredibly compelling products if only given the chance. The question is whether the leadership can prove the leadership they need to harness their creativity, rather than build more overpriced junk.

    Surely, after squandering billions of dollars, Microsoft’s management must understand something is wrong in Redmond and that things need to change to keep the ship on course. Large corporations go through ups and downs over the years, and it is certainly possible for the world’s largest software developer to take a new direction and become a true competitor, one that can win in the marketplace, rather than with deception, with bait and switch.

    The question is whether Microsoft will wake up and realize something is wrong, or will continue to fiddle while everything around them goes up in flames.

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