updated 04:10 pm EST, Thu February 4, 2010
Past MS VP says infighting, fear of hardware hurt
Microsoft has largely lost its ability to direct the industry, former VP Dick Brass claimed today in a telling editorial. He believes the company is now a "clumsy, uncompetitive innovator" and points to the gap in performance between its core Windows and Office businesses versus everything else. Microsoft had its best-ever quarter due to Windows 7 but lost share in nearly every other category, including web browsers, premium notebooks and smartphone sales.
Even brands separate from the usual Microsoft fare, such as Xbox and Zune, haven't cracked the dominance of other products over several years, such as Nintendo's dominance with the Wii or Apple's control of media players through the iPod. The Windows developer has also been historically afraid of producing its own hardware and has clung to platforms like Web TV and Windows Mobile even when fully integrated platforms like TiVo or the iPhone have proven more effective.
Some of the deficit is blamed on publicly visible concerns like poor marketing and its monopolist reputation earned during the 1990s. Brass claims that much of the internal corporate culture has actively delayed or even thwarted innovative technologies. ClearType, the font antialiasing technique used in Windows XP and later, was reportedly stalled as Windows engineers and Pocket PC (now Windows Mobile) executives deliberately found reasons not to implement it until 2001, ten years after it was created.
Tablet PCs may have actually fared worse and effectively handed Apple's iPad the market, the executive says. From the outset, the VP leading Office was opposed to tablets and refused to make a stylus-friendly version of the suite, removing the "killer app" needed for the concept to take off. Microsoft also dismantled the separate Tablet PC group altogether despite an increasing amount of activity hinting at the iPad's unveiling last month. Windows 7 has significant levels of multi-touch input but only has some native app support.
As a result of the conflict, many of Microsoft's more important executives have left, Brass says.
The company has shown some signs of recovery and notably has received a strong critical reception for Windows 7. It's also expected to provide a much-needed overhaul to Windows Mobile with the launch of Windows Phone 7 and gave the Zune a major restart through the Zune HD. Integration is nonetheless considered an important factor, and critics have noted that the console, desktop and mobile platforms today share little in common and provide little incentive to switch away from holistic approaches like the iPhone and its symbiotic relationship with iTunes.