[FoRK] Anatomy of failure: Mobile flops from RIM, Microsoft, and Nokia

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun May 1 09:54:07 PDT 2011

On 5/1/11 7:20 AM, Gregory Alan Bolcer wrote:
> I was going to cite Cusumano (and UCI ex-professor Selby on Microsoft Secrets) to counter the non-competition model.  They 
> explicitly used to support a flowergarden model where they let multiple competing products grow to see what takes off (in the 
> 90's).  I personally know several ex-FoRKers that are directly in charge of innovations and contributions to products beyond 
> the two cash cows of Office and Windows.  (Being a good steward of Windows is no small success.) In fact, some of the greatest 
> FoRK lore comes from one or two of them marching into their boss's boss's office and demanding that the need to do X with 
> great success.

I know a bit of that, and I should know more of the lore.  It seems impressive to pull something innovative off in that 
environment.  I hope they can break out of Microsoft's typical project trajectory.  It sucks that Microsoft (frequently and 
probably mostly) sucks.  Everything that looks like it won't go away is a buggy, painful mess (Windows, Office, Sharepoint, 
...).  Even Xbox, held out as one of their main current successes, is full of suckiness (see my experience helping my neighbor 
with a corrupted upgrade) and hasn't even made a profit yet.  With infinite money and many of the smartest people, there is no 
excuse for any suckiness, especially when a few people in a startup or a bunch of volunteers can often do it better, and 
frequently have.

It's not right to assign Microsoft credit without recognizing the more than balancing debit of unnecessary pain, inefficiency, 
delay, and cost.  Only by Microsoft recognizing and acknowledging this in a fully internalized way and doing something to break 
free of it will those who are trying to innovate there be able to be successful with any likelihood.

> The learned organizational behavior for Microsoft is simple.  Remember the Web?  MS came late to the game, ignored it for 
> years, and then spent their gunpowder to become a successful powerhouse.   It's the model they are copying with Bing in search 
> and Win7 in Mobile.

Except that they were mainly successful in extracting massive amounts of money from clients and holding back innovation.  They 
allowed massive breadth and depth of security issues which incurred giant indirect costs and limitations for everyone, huge 
inefficiencies in operation and maintenance, and the end result is that few people with any comfort with alternatives will spec 
Microsoft products for server use.  It was a win only for Microsoft's coffers.  And perhaps a faster evolution of security 
knowledge, culture, policy, and practice (CISSP, NIST, NSA, et al) to attempt to deal with a hopeless situation.

The problem with that model is that it depends on the first mover not being able to monetize, grow, capture the market, and keep 
innovating, plus the strength of monopoly presence to leverage the Microsoft "alternative".  It is a bad model, not reliably 
applied and relatively powerless against real competition like Apple and Google.

A similar kind of problem is illustrated by the WS* W3C standards.  Both Microsoft and IBM took a simple, clean idea of doing 
XML RPC, inflated and infected them with semi-proprietary ideas, and created a bloated mess that hardly anyone seems interested 
in using anymore.  Microsoft, for one, essentially got DCOM in WS.  Both Microsoft and IBM made massive amounts of money on 
development tools, middleware, and servers which are mostly now abandoned or underused.  And completely uninteresting for lean 
scalable web services.  It seems alluring at first because the tools hide everything that is going on.  Until you deploy and it 
crawls in ways you cannot fix because the basic design had no consideration for efficiency.

> I think upward mobility has always been centered around closeness to Gates and Ballmer, so that's nothing new.  The rest of 
> the stories about the political animals that have taken over seem to support the Peter principle.   Maybe it's been too long 
> since they've shaken things up.  I think once MS options stopped being worth something, the culture definitely changed.

The restrictions imposed on internal innovators in service of maintaining Windows dominance and similar "we are going to prove 
we were right in the past by blindly refusing to start from scratch" has doomed many exciting innovations at Microsoft.  It has 
worked well for the world to have some successful competition caused by this gap, but it still causes massive pain for those 
saddled with Microsoft products.  This is wasteful, unnecessary, and, overall, represents a colossal fail by Microsoft in 
general.  All of this flows directly from Gates, Ballmer, and the Microsoft board, and the culture they created.

> Greg
> On 5/1/2011 1:23 AM, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> Still, Ballmer needs to do something to shake Microsoft from what, at
>> best, seems to be a textbook case of corporate ennui: MIT's Michael
>> Cusumano, who has featured Microsoft in several books, including the new
>> work Staying Power, sees a company hopelessly stuck in neutral, in no
>> small part because Microsoft has a weak board and no one expects Bill
>> Gates, the company's top shareholder, with about 5% of shares
>> outstanding, to oust the CEO, who was the best man at his wedding.
>> "Ballmer has been a good steward of Windows, and that's about it,"
>> Cusumano says.
>> Is it too late for Microsoft? Certainly the company has made it harder
>> for itself by squandering big leads. But it's still early in the
>> competition for the tablet market, and the fight for majority rule in
>> the phone sector began in earnest only four years ago with the first
>> release of the iPhone. Companies with bigger hurdles to overcome than
>> Microsoft (which sits on an amazing $44 billion in cash) have reinvented
>> themselves. Apple may be the most famous comeback in technology, but
>> Motorola (MSI) and Netflix (NFLX) have also come back from near-death
>> experiences. The reason: strong leadership, and a willingness to cast
>> off the past in favor of an uncertain but promising future.
>> sdw

More information about the FoRK mailing list