Editorial

Editorial: Microsoft's mistakes may lead to its recovery

Microsoft entered the PC business for the first time last month with the launch of the Windows RT-based Surface tablet. While Microsoft has still not said how many of the devices it has sold since its launch, the company's CEO, Steve Ballmer, did admit this week that perhaps Microsoft should have released a tablet like the Surface sooner.

The admission came as part of an answer to a question posed by a Microsoft stockholder during its annual meeting on Wednesday in Redmond, Washington.

"I remember five or fifteen years ago Bill Gates holding up something and saying this is the future of computing, some tablet," the man said. "That idea was so far ahead of its time and now we are playing catch-up with the iPad."

Ballmer was then asked, "...what are we doing to encourage an atmosphere that supports innovation, the things that are going to be coming next?" In his response, Ballmer seemed to admit that Microsoft should have brought a product like the Surface to market much earlier than this year. He said:

Bill did hold up a tablet many years ago. And not because we don't have good hardware problems but sometimes getting the innovation right across the seam between hardware and software is difficult unless you do both of them. And maybe if we had started innovating, which is what we really did was Surface, we are innovating on the seam between hardware and software. Maybe we should have done that earlier, maybe that tablet shift would have been sooner but we are also building a big business working with those partners and serving a lot of needs.

Ballmer said that he felt Microsoft was very innovative in terms of its software development and that the company was now "really pushing forward aggressively" to combine hardware innovation with its software products.

Many have believed that Microsoft's move to launch its Surface tablet now was simply a response to what Apple had done. However, this week's frank admission from Ballmer shows that the company – and its leaders – have come to the realization that it has perhaps been too complacent for a long time.

Ballmer pointed out to another shareholder this week that the company has continued to grow its business, both in revenues and in profits, over the last decade. However, it has also seen other companies, most notably Google and Apple, take the lead in technology divisions outside the Windows PC industry.

Microsoft has tried and failed to compete with Apple in the past in other areas (such as the failure of the Zune), but it has succeeded in other parts of the industry. Microsoft launched its Xbox division in 2001 and now Microsoft is arguably the biggest force in the gaming console industry. Its Microsoft Office division is still number one in the productivity software business, even with free software such as OpenOffice available for anyone to use.

Now Microsoft needs to do what it did when it launched the Xbox, and continues to do with Office. Many people didn't believe the company could compete with Sony and Nintendo, but it did with the Xbox, thanks to offering features that the other two companies could not, or would not, add in their consoles. The Office team has embraced the cloud with SkyDrive and added even more features for users on the go.

It has already made the Surface tablet a more durable product than any other product like it on the market, and the Windows RT version comes with Office RT out of the box. That addition has made Surface a bigger-value proposition out of the box than anything that Apple and Google have offered for their respective tablets.

What's next? Ballmer has already indicated that he would like to see more links between other Microsoft products. We are already seeing that happen with Skype using Microsoft account sign ups, even on the iOS version, and of course with Xbox SmartGlass apps. I'm sure he would like to see a living room with an Xbox console connected to a TV, along with a Surface tablet and a Windows Phone device all connected to each other.

Ballmer seems to know that Microsoft has been slow in the past to be leading the technology charge, but that doesn't appear to be the case anymore. It may take a couple more years, but it seems clear that Ballmer has made - or will soon make - decisions that will keep Apple, Google and other companies up at night as it launches even more products and services in the months to come.

One thing is clear: the components of Microsoft's enormous empire are coming together and integrating as never before. Will the company finally succeed in conquering all corners of the tech world? Watch this space...

Images via Microsoft

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23 Comments

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Microsoft's mistake was leaving the hardware innovation to manufacturers. There's a reason why Dell and HP are having serious issues right now. I don't think Microsoft has been asleep at the helm, they've been more focused on enterprise services and I think that was the right move, they would be more screwed now if they didn't. The catch up they are doing in the consumer market is a lot easier to handle. Consumers are not typically loyal and there is still time to get in this market especially with the work they've applied to enterprise which should help long term as part of the ecosystem.

Balmer Said, "I remember five or fifteen years ago Bill Gates holding up something and saying this is the future of computing, some tablet,"

What Ballmer did not say, "Bill copied the awesome Apple Newton handwriting recognition and 'pen as a mouse' metphor and are presenting it as our own unique idea ".

Microsoft has been playing catch up with pen computing since the early 1990s...

NeoPogo said,
What Ballmer did not say, "Bill copied the awesome Apple Newton handwriting recognition and 'pen as a mouse' metphor and are presenting it as our own unique idea ".

???

Apple Newton came out in 1993.

Windows for Pen Computing came out in 1991.

And, of course, pen computing has a long history in the history of computer science, going back into the 1960s.

What is this obsession with claiming that Apple invented everything? It's bad enough that Apple itself does it.

TomJones said,

???

Apple Newton came out in 1993.

Windows for Pen Computing came out in 1991.

And, of course, pen computing has a long history in the history of computer science, going back into the 1960s.

What is this obsession with claiming that Apple invented everything? It's bad enough that Apple itself does it.

Remember that NeoPogo is an Apple Fanboy and the RDF makes ALL Apple fanboys claim that Apple invented things they didn't.

Makes sense to me. They weren't able to deliver tablets earlier because the OEMs probably weren't capable of making them. That's probably why Microsoft went out and made the Surface hardware on their own.

In before "Start Menu blah, blah, blah..."

"Steve Ballmer, did admit this week that perhaps Microsoft should have released a tablet like the Surface sooner."

No kidding... I know many people here don't want these "toys", but they're not going away.

It does seem like Microsoft is starting to become "cool" as some would call it. Thing is, there's lots of complaints about Surface performance and Xbox Music problems. When I say problems, a few examples are (with the default options of cloud on and metadata/album updates on):
1. People's purchased music keeps getting split into multiple albums of the same name
2. If you sync music to phone and you also have cloud enabled, you'll get duplicates of some albums
3. Several more problems. Just look at the Xbox Music app reviews.

They really need to tweak a lot of these services to be more optimal and not have the above problems if they really want to succeed.

The Xbox Music platform needs a serious rework...the Zune software was so nice compared to this. I've found that by reinstalling the software, then immediately disabling the cloud sync feature, 95% of my problems with Xbox Music disappear.

Yep, I had the same experience. Disabling the cloud sync and the metaupdate feature fixed most of my problems as well. I know that in 2013 they will be adding features to cloud sync to handle your own purchased music. Hopefully the service is tweaked enough at that point to work as we should expect it.

Annoying part is on Windows Phone 8, the same checkmark is used for both metadata updates and SmartDJ. I want to turn off the metadata updates and still be able to use SmartDJ.

Lagrik said,
It does seem like Microsoft is starting to become "cool" as some would call it. Thing is, there's lots of complaints about Surface performance and Xbox Music problems. When I say problems, a few examples are (with the default options of cloud on and metadata/album updates on):
1. People's purchased music keeps getting split into multiple albums of the same name
2. If you sync music to phone and you also have cloud enabled, you'll get duplicates of some albums
3. Several more problems. Just look at the Xbox Music app reviews.

They really need to tweak a lot of these services to be more optimal and not have the above problems if they really want to succeed.

I've full embraced the Windows 8, WP8 RT and XBOX ecosystem. While messaging has been a pain, nothing compares to XBOX Music. A total mess right now. I too have turned off the "cloud" and just either make separate playlists, sync to my phone or do SmartDJ for now. What I want is total control of that cloud. And ALBUM ART!! About 60% of my albums on my phone (synced with the Desktop Windows Phone app) do not have album art.

Oh, and a much easier way for playlists too! Making a playlist in XBOX Music isn't exactly intuitive and maintaining it is a disaster. We need a WMP/Spotify like interface for the playlists.

erm, the 'catch-up' game they keep playing? It's clearly pointed out in the article?

I happen to agree with this article as well. I was there when the XP Tablet launched and I knew it would bomb as the software and industry wasn't ready for it.

The ideas are all there but Microsoft has had the worst experiences at launching those (sometimes great) ideas, Kin is another example.

I attended a MS session about WIN8 development in my country were someone said that MS expected that this "catch up" would take less time that the XBox. I think the XBox took about 7 years to pass PS, so they must know that this "cacth up" does not take one or two month but , perhaps a couple of years.

Neobond said,
erm, the 'catch-up' game they keep playing? It's clearly pointed out in the article?

I happen to agree with this article as well. I was there when the XP Tablet launched and I knew it would bomb as the software and industry wasn't ready for it.

The ideas are all there but Microsoft has had the worst experiences at launching those (sometimes great) ideas, Kin is another example.

What? Do you know what you are talking about? Do you want a list of high quality products and tools made by MS?

Luis Mazza said,

Used to be...

"We're going to be more like Apple"
Steve Ballmer

EdwinTheWise said,
What? Do you know what you are talking about? Do you want a list of high quality products and tools made by MS?

This is leading to nowhere. Of course MS has many great products. But it is also clear that they want a huge share of the consumer market pretty badly Deal?

Yes

Luis Mazza said,

This is leading to nowhere. Of course MS has many great products. But it is also clear that they want a huge share of the consumer market pretty badly Deal?

EdwinTheWise said,
Recovery from what?

No really from what? Does everyone think every company has to be Apple to be considered successful?

MS is doing well, making profits and expanding their business, They are not in bad shape like Sony or Panasonic so I still have to ask what exactly are they trying to recover from?

Seems it is only the usual hipster\apple condescending attitude towards MS that is really the problem with MS on the internet.