Ballmer and Softies sacrifice sleep to catch iPad
FAM Microsoft's chief executive has come very close to telling investors he screwed up after years of writing off, belittling and underestimated Apple's potential success in touch-based computing.
Steve Ballmer told Wall Street he's under no illusion about Apple's success with the iPad and iPhone, and Microsoft's number-one priority is now to deliver touch-based computing pads running Windows 7 and that people want.
Microsoft's CEO said Apple has sold more iPads and iPhones than he'd liked and he's suffering sleepless nights in the race to catch up. So are the Softies. That's as good as admitting you know you misjudged the competition with a promise you're now committed to catching up.
"We've got a push right now, right now with our hardware partner. Some of you will say: 'When? When?' As soon as they are ready, they will be shipping as soon as they are ready," Ballmer told Microsoft's annual Financial Analysts Meeting (FAM) in Redmond, Washington.
"It is job-one urgency around here, nobody's sleeping at this point. So we are working with those partners, not just to deliver something, but to deliver products that people really want to go buy."
Ballmer said Apple had done an: "Interesting job of putting together synthesis and putting a product out in which they've sold more than I'd like them to sell - let me just be clear about that. We think about that, we think about that in competitive sense."
Microsoft's got the applications, refinements in ink technology, and it's working with hardware partners turning Windows 7 to pads, the CEO said. He hinted at Windows 7 tablets on Intel's Sandy Bridge family of low-power, multi-core processors with integrated GPU in the new year.
He tried to re-assert the supremacy of the PC as a general computing device, saying people struggled with their iPads for typing.
Ballmer also dismissed Google's Android and Chrome OS, the new threats to Windows on mobile. Android's growing fastest of all the smartphone operating systems while OEMs are buying into Android and Chrome on tablets.
"You will get a lot of cacophony, people do things with other operating systems, but we have the application base, we have the user familiarity, we have everything on our side if we do things really right," Ballmer told Wall Street's troops.
Ballmer should be careful. That's the kind of careful competitive analysis that helped open the door to Apple's touch-based computing effort with the iPhone and that led to the success of the iPad despite the existing availability of Windows tablets for consumers, business types and developers. ®
Too little, too late.
Microsoft is the new Novell. Novell was once the 800lb gorilla of networking, and then along came Microsoft to relegate them to relative obscurity. Novell dropped the ball, stopped innovating, and Microsoft produced a good-enough clone with just enough added blue crystals to take the lead. (It didn’t help that Microsoft isn’t inclined to play fair, but what company playing at that level ever is?)
Today, we are witnessing the death of the Microsoft client operating system. While it has the bulk of the market share in desktops and notebooks, this is largely a product of inertia. The constant game of “me too” and “catch up” has produced an impending death by a thousand cuts. Apple, Google and others, (Palm/HP for example) are simply out-innovating Microsoft while producing solutions that developers can live with and customers actually enjoy.
Microsoft has already lost the smartphone wars; nothing short of divine intervention will change that. The war for the tablet might be over before it even begins; we are about to enter into the Christmas season with no evidence of either an Android or Windows tablet that doesn’t royally suck in sight. While I’m not 100% sure, I suspect that being allowed to go unchallenged for an entire year is more than enough for Apple to establish itself as the king of this particular hill, capable of fending off all challengers handily.
So what’s left, the desktop? Traditional notebooks? I am sure there will always be a call for these, maybe even a fairly significant one. With VDI, cloud computing and a slew of credible alternative operating systems on offer, Microsoft stands to see a dramatic reduction in market share over the next decade. Apple has always been too expensive to realistically consider as a competitor for the desktop/notebook space, but Linux (in the form of Android, MeeGo, WebOS or ChromeOS) might finally be ready to start eating the low end.
Do your thin clients need to run Windows embedded? Once your corporate applications are recoded as SaaS apps deliverable through a browser, can’t at least some of those desktops be some flavour of Linux? Does Aunt Tilly require a home PC with a 350W+ PSU running Windows to heat her living room just so she can use Facebook and Gmail?
I don’t ask these questions or make these comments to attract flames, and I am not saying that this will all happen tomorrow. I am saying that in my opinion, over the next ten years, Microsoft will slowly fade out of the /client computing/ scene. I fully expect them to remain a server superpower, but I would be willing to bet that their desktop operating system versions will be used only by people requiring what we used to call “workstations” and by enthusiasts.
The real problem is the bloat. Microsoft couldn’t make a competitive operating system even if they got rid of Ballmer. The new black are these operating systems that can run cheerily on a 500Mhz processor with less than 512 MB of RAM. They are thin, light, have their own app store and will give the non-power-user all the computer they want in a package that eats less than 5 watts fully loaded.
Microsoft’s best embedded operating systems don’t even come close, nor do they get the kind of love or attention the flagship product does. If Microsoft wants to survive, then it’s time to say goodbye to the NT platform. NT is great for workstations, gamers or other demanding users…but until they can bring a credible lightweight operating system out as their mainstream they are cooked.
They could front something based on Windows CE (or buy Novell and just birth a mobile Linux like sane people,) but it’s more than just the OS. If you look at the gong show that is Windows Phone 7 they are so culturally indoctrinated into the idea of “copy the competition” they are not only copying the positive aspects (such as an app store) but the brutal mistakes (such as lack of copy/paste, lack of full multitasking, walled gardens, etc.)
If Microsoft want to play in so many different pools at once, they need to be capable of making products that are excellent on their own, interoperate beautifully with other Microsoft products but also interoperate with products from other companies. (Remember that they are competing not against Apple or Google…but the entire largely cross-compatible Linux/UNIX ecosystem.)
They lack two critical elements to pull off all of the above. The first is someone with a grand unifying vision that truly has the depth of scope necessary to understand how all of Microsoft’s offerings contribute to each other and thus to the whole. The second is management capable of actually executing and doing so on tight deadlines.
In the meantime, I will continue to wait around for a sub-$1000 tablet with 1366x768, SD card slot, USB and that either allows me to install whatever or want or can be easily rooted. Will Microsoft be capable of delivering, or will Android get there first?
Can Microsoft catch up to Apple?
It's too Zune to tell.
I see no evidence that Ballmer gets it
I'm still not convinced that Balmer gets it. To wit:
The Start button is as bad an idea on a tablet as it was on a smartphone.
Betting on faster and faster hardware compensating for 20 years of ever increasing bloat and kludges works right up until the market shifts to lower cost, lower power, lower performance hardware. At which point you may very well end up with nothing to sell and not enough development time to start over.
And before you even bring it up, the inability of your main operating system to run acceptably on lower performance hardware can not be alleviated by renaming and redeploying WinCE. It has a similar interface to Windows, which fails on touch interfaces (see first point above) and it doesn't run Windows applications, which fails on Ballmer's objective to leverage the MS application base. The worst of both worlds.
What MS needs is to start over with a new OS and a new paradigm specifically engineered for low power touch screen gadgets. Instead, they try to shoehorn one of their existing products into the new hardware platform no matter how inappropriate, betting on the "Windows" name to see them through. They just barely wrestled the netbook market away from Linux by giving XP another year to live and by redefining "netbook" as having enough resources to run XP, which, parenthetically, blurred the lines between "netbook" and "low end laptop" to the detriment of the things that made netbooks interesting -- price, portability, battery longevity.
In other words, Microsoft will win the tablet war by redefining a tablet as a pricy, rather awkward laptop that you can only really use effectively with the optional keyboard and mouse. Who knows, they might even succeed.