Strong opinions, weakly held

What happened to Microsoft?

How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline

I just got around to reading Kurt Eichenwald’s account of Microsoft’s decline in Vanity Fair. Microsoft has always held a grim fascination for me — when I first started writing this blog my number one topic was inveighing against Microsoft’s monopoly. Now Microsoft is just another information technology company. The article puts Microsoft’s drift down to two causes, a stagnation of its stock price that stopped the minting of Microsoft millionaires, and a stack ranking system that creates perverse incentives inside the company. My only criticism of the article is that it refers to Microsoft to being “cool” in the past more than once. As someone who was around at the time, I can guarantee that nobody ever thought Microsoft was cool.


  1. I’d argue when Windows 95 launched they were pretty cool. At least, I can offer myself up as – moderately embarrassed – proof that at least one person thought they were cool.

    It also seemed like a ridiculously great place to work for a very long time, but my impression of that may be due to Douglas Coupland.

  2. I think that the era of Windows 95 was pretty much the apex of “when things were going absolutely right”. Most of that was because for PC users, there really was no other choice for an OS other than Linux (which was not nearly as mature as it is now, but good enough for alpha-nerds) and OS/2 (which I used up until I got my hands on Windows 95 at which point I reluctantly conceded).

    BTW: Windows 95 had some “accidentally cool” things about it. The startup sound was created by Brian Eno! The CD came with videos by Weezer (“Buddy Holly”, arguably slightly cool) and the Bohemian-less Edie Brickell (“Good Times”, slightly less cool, but a nice song anyways).

  3. I don’t know. Has Microsoft as a whole really been that cool, innovative or original? When I think back to my memories of Microsoft, I think primarily of how ruthless and unethical they were in dealing with competition. Does anyone remember their strategy of “embrace, extend, extinguish” that they used to try and destroy Java (Visual J++), JavaScript (JScript) and integrating IE into the O/S to destroy Netscape? I don’t recall Microsoft ever being “innovative”, whatever that may mean. Their products tended to be bloated slow and crashy, although, by version 3 they usually caught up to and either steamrolled or surged ahead of the competition.

    Sure, they’ve had some great products, like Windows 95 and the Xbox 360 (which I love despite the maddening points system. Is 400 point $4 or $5 … argh!). But mostly they gained dominance by strong arming everyone, including their partners and biggest customers.

    I think Microsoft today is the most innovative they have ever been: – Metro (on Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 Phone) is the most original approach to a mobile O/S since smartphones were created (compared to the more desktop like UI of iOS and Android) – Xbox 360 is an amazing home media center, with games, video rentals, Netflix, songs, movies and more. – Windows 8’s touch-centric mobile+desktop UI is an innovative solution vs. separate O/Ses for tablets vs. desktop machines.

    And Microsoft is still raking in tens of billions of dollars each quarter. I think it’s too early to rule Microsoft as down and out. I’m excited to see Microsoft finally developing something original.

  4. The apex of Microsoft’s coolness was probably Windows 95, and I remember Apple running a full page newspaper ad that said C:\ONGRTUL.TNS. Still not that cool.

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