The Microsoft Death Watch: They Can’t Do Anything Right!

October 12th, 2009

Microsoft should have been basking in glory this fall. Windows 7, designed to fix all or most of the ills of Vista, has received lots of raves even before its debut. And that’s forgetting the possibility, a strong one in my opinion, that some of those stories exhibiting over-the-top enthusiasm were bought and paid for by Microsoft.

Regardless, all those reviews and those new ad spots showing how warm and fuzzy Windows 7 is for six-year-olds, should have been sufficient to guarantee a huge and positive reception for the new operating system. That is, until the bottom fell out, resulting from a totally unexpected catastrophe.

You see, the Sidekick failure clearly demonstrates that something is seriously wrong with Microsoft. Despite the fact that the Sidekick depends fully on the cloud for managing your contacts, photos and other stuff, they evidently didn’t keep their part of the bargain to provide competent support when they spent some $500 million to acquire that company’s inventor, Danger.

More and more reports are coming to light that key personnel from Danger have either left the company, or been redeployed to another department, such as Microsoft’s nascent Pink mobile phone project. Support staff has been severely reduced. To add insult to injury, former Danger CEO Andy Rubin actually left Microsoft to become lead developer for Google’s Android platform. If you can’t keep the key executives of a company on board, how will the newly-minted Microsoft employees left behind feel about the situation?

Now gutting Danger’s infrastructure support staff may seem sensible from the standpoint of corporate bean counters who haven’t a clue about what’s necessary to manage a complicated server network with the appropriate level of redundancy, but it comes across as a “customer be damned” decision.

Meanwhile, I expect lots of Sidekick owners will be dropping that accursed smartphone like a hot potato. Indeed, T-Mobile has reportedly halted sales of the Sidekick, which is small consolation for the million-plus customers who found themselves betrayed by this server failure. What’s more, there are already reports that customers are being allowed to dump their contracts and transition to a different smartphone platform.

Now amid the apologies, Microsoft won’t be able to make the excuse that they had no responsibility for Danger’s products and services, since they did acquire the company and its obligations. This massive failure raises some serious questions about the efficacy of Microsoft’s cloud-based initiatives.

You see, in trying to compete with Google, Microsoft is making Office available in the  cloud, joining their existing services that include email and calendaring. That’s all well and good if the system works, but the Sidekick fiasco casts serious doubt on such initiatives. Why should you entrust your stuff to an outfit that doesn’t care about you?

Now I realize that some of you might attribute the Sidekick disaster as more an indictment of cloud-based computing than the failure of any individual company. I suppose there’s merit in that point of view, since the technology is all quite new and the entire concept of cloud-based computing remains a work in progress, punctuated by occasional failures from other companies including Microsoft’s arch rival, Google.

At the same time, you can be sure that Amazon, Apple, Google and other companies with similar online services are busy shoring up their networks and doing what they can to reduce outages and make sure that nobody will ever lose a single file. That will take time, and I expect in a few years, such outages will be mostly history.

At the same time, the system will only function if the company behind the network cares about its customer and ensures the system is not just reliable, but has an adequate and well-trained staff on hand to keep the servers running and appropriately updated. Cutting personnel to save a few million dollars may make sense from the standpoint of your bottom line, but it doesn’t help if that reduces reliability, particularly when the inevitable failures do occur.

It’s a sure thing that the people who embraced the Sidekick may even now be kicking themselves for not abandoning the product when Microsoft took over. Worse, T-Mobile, despite a great reputation as a wireless carrier, is bound to lose customers and some of that hard-won reputation over this debacle.

Now for those of you who feel that Microsoft should be given a pass, let me ask you: How can you possibly rely on a company that charges excessive prices for its products, but doesn’t provide the reliability and security that you need? How can you depend on a company whose management, in the person of CEO Steve Ballmer, can’t utter a single sentence without coming across as unstable? How can you believe a company that simply can’t tell the truth, something that’s been demonstrated over and over again all these years?

In recent columns, I’ve suggested that Microsoft’s stockholders should be demanding a refund. That’s true for customers as well — and an avalanche of such demands may be the only way to demonstrate to Microsoft that they need to change their ways.

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11 Responses to “The Microsoft Death Watch: They Can’t Do Anything Right!”

  1. DaveD says:

    Looking at Microsoft today, I’m getting a sense of déjà vu. Apple was a mess in the mid-90’s getting lost with Copland (what was to be the future Mac OS) and found its way by buying NeXT. Microsoft had a failed start of Vista and had to reboot using their 2003 server OS as the new base. It has taken eight years to put out what appears to be a decent copy of Mac OS X with Windows 7. When Mac OS X 10.0 came out, it was s-l-o-w. Apple provided 10.1 as a free upgrade for 10.0 users. Microsoft did not do the same for Vista users. Why? It’s all about the money. The massive amout of money coming from Windows and Office needed to hide their losers.

    News about the lackluster reviews of Win Mobile 6.5, the smartphone with Danger project falling apart, and Bing going Gong, Microsoft is becoming (borrowing the phrase) a sack of dog’s mess.

    The Zune HD has been available for sale for nearly a month. I checked the popularity ranking on Amazon’s Top 100 Electronics and it is at number 58 as of early this evening. Sort of a sign as to where it is going. Hopefully in the next few months or within a year, we can see how the OLED display is holding up. If I were in Microsoft’s shoes, I wouldn’t like to read about any OLED display “black screen of death” after setting aside $1 billion to cover Xbox’s Red Ring of Death.

    Time will tell.

  2. Karl says:

    I really can’t stand T-Mobile so they get whatever customer lost they deserve.

    I really hope that Microsoft did have a back up strategy in place if the SideKick server(s) went down and it was just a freak accident that the back up strategy also failed. I know even with the best laid plans issues still may arise so this might just be a case of bad luck…. really, really bad luck.

  3. Blad_Rnr says:

    I love the title of your column: Microsoft Death Watch. 🙂

    Microsoft, I believe, is a bloated company resting on it’s laurels. They can’t seem to do anything right because of the bureaucracy of middle-managers and a CEO who has no vision. Apple may work their people to death, but that’s because Jobs understands that lean, focused companies are better than bloated, disparate companies trying to fight wars on multiple fronts that they can’t win. Apple chooses their battles carefully and reaps the rewards.

    Microsoft needs a new CEO. He has no clothes and he is betting on an OS in Win7 that WILL NOT SAVE THE COMPANY. We are in a recession/depression and it just won’t happen. It’s too expensive and Windows users were burned by Vista. And they have to pay for this upgrade? Shame on MSFT.

    My $.02.

  4. Al says:

    Steve Ballmer may well be the worst CEO of a major corporation in recent years. I mean look at his track record. Zero, repeat zero, meaningful successes since he took over. Vista, Yahoo, Zune, RRoD, WinMo, Pink, now Danger. That’s a sorry ass procession of stillborn, stunted and sputtering projects.

    The only other CEO’s I can think of who were as bad is Rick Wagoner of GM (“Forget the warnings that oil prices will be rising, we’re building the Hummer!”) or that Nardelli guy of Home Depot (“I don’t care that the stock price has been sinking precipitously throughout my stewardship, give my my bonus!”) who then jumped to Chrysler (“Chrysler is viable so the government should give it money, but oh, by the way the current owners of privately held Chrysler aren’t putting down another cent.”)

  5. dobe says:

    I always hated Microsoft, and criticize it all I could.
    But the death of an icon and essence of all what’s wrong in corporate America (won’t use the true name, not to offend anybody…) will only prove the worst nightmares of Capitalism. Nothing here can sustain itself anymore, except total communism like monopolies. Look what happened to GM, Chrysler, if that is not communism, than, I don’t know what is!

    Well Apple will finally win an epic battle, but just to turn rogue, once feeling the lack of pressure, or after first major change in management. God forbid, if it will get in to the trouble one day, and it will be to big (not to mention only one computer company) to fail… see the resemblance to recent events?
    Something better change here and SOON!
    Not sure “dog eats dog” philosophy works anymore, when there are just two dogs of the same species left.

  6. SteveP says:

    @ dobe

    You don’t know what is.

  7. dan says:

    “How can you depend on a company whose management, in the person of CEO Steve Ballmer, can’t utter a single sentence without coming across as unstable?”
    that’s it.
    Balmer is to Microsoft as Bush was to the US.
    after a relatively short period, anything non-Bush started looking better and better.
    apparently that’s what the Nobel Peace Prize committee also thought.

  8. “Microsoft Death Watch.” Love it. And they’re scared spitless.

    How many Sidekick users lost data?
    How many Apple users lost data from the Guest account bug?
    I’ve seen more bleating headlines focussing on Apple. Why?

    • @Partners in Grime, Out of over a million Sidekick users, I don’t think there’s been a valid estimate.

      The Guest account bug in Snow Leopard is peculiar. It’s probably not a large number. Macworld’s Rob Griffiths tried to duplicate the bug — which involves a Guest account created in Leopard and then an upgrade to Snow Leopard — and wasn’t successful.

      So it goes.


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