Is Microsoft’s “Wave Of Innovation” Bye Bye Ballmer?

You gotta love the new media. Finally, there’s a way to monitor the monitors. I’m a self-avowed, dues paying, card-carrying, experienced Apple Watcher™. By default, that makes me a Microsoft Watcher™, too, right? Well, it’s what I do.

BallmerThe following is an outliine of a recent series of events, characters, situations, quotes, and blunders that tell me that Apple will continue to do well, and Microsoft is learning how to weather a storm. Or two. Or a dozen.

My case in point is Windows Vista (formerly code-named Longhorn, and soon to be referred to as Windows XP Pro Service Pack 4). If you haven’t heard, don’t worry about it, but Vista won’t show up now until 2007. Remember 2004? Then, in succession, 2005, 2006, and still no successor to Windows XP.

Why? What happened? Arguably, Microsoft is the richest company in the world (check those profit margins and cash in the bank), with more engineers than Apple has customers.

Why can’t they deliver on an update of Windows? After all, little bitty, insignificant-market-share Apple has updated OS X about four times in five years, with another on the way.

Can you say Copland? Copland was a project to create a new operating system at Apple back in the 90s. It was designed to be the end all, be all, monolithic Everything Inside™ cool OS, and still be backwards compatible with Mac OS 7.5.x and Mac applications.

Except it didn’t happen that way. Why? It’s too complex. It might be easier to put a man on the moon, than build a new operating system from scratch that has everything, and everything else, and still more, and be compatible with what’s already running on 350-million PCs.

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Uh, didn’t Apple do that with Classic and Mac OS X? Yes. Didn’t that give them a clean slate to introduce the chocolate coolness of Cocoa and XCode? Yes.

Why can’t Microsoft do the same? Because they haven’t weathered the same storm that Apple went through with Copland to get to Mac OS X. Now, Microsoft is up to their collective asses in substantive dirty water.

And dirty laundry. How so? Because Chairman, co-founder and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is in charge of software, and his five year report card is being compared to Microsoft’s flat-lined stock price. F. Dead.

How so? Because CEO and Peter Boyle look-alike Steve Ballmer spends less time leading the company than he does running the company into the ground. Five years. No new Windows. No change in the stock price.

So, what does the dynamic duo do in such a situation? Just days ago, Ballmer told Forbes that Microsoft will roll out “an amazing wave of innovation” with a dozen new products this year.

One of them won’t be Windows Vista, and your guess is as good as anyone else as to the others.

“My children—in many dimensions they’re as poorly behaved as many other children, but at least on this dimension I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”Not to be outdone by his Young Frankenstein bodyguard, Bill Gates says, “Security issues have made it more imperative to get up on the latest technology.” Oh, really?

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How about this? “The big issue nowadays isn’t performance; I mean, we perform super, super, super well.” Wasn’t it Cleopatra who said, “Performance is in the eye of the beholder, Mark”?

Meanwhile, the Empire displays a strain and stress the public has never seen. Microsoft employees openly call for Ballmer’s resignation and more accountability with each Windows Vista delay. The head hunted are now the head hunters.

To counter the bad publicity, Ballmer goes on the offensive, which, for him, appears to be child’s play. How so? He admits to brainwashing his children to avoid Apple’s iPod and Google searches, in favor of Microsoft solutions.

When asked if he owned an iPod, Ballmer responded gleefully, “I do not. Nor do my children. My children—in many dimensions they’re as poorly behaved as many other children, but at least on this dimension I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”

What else? Microsoft faces tens of millions of customer who don’t like their products, while Apple basks in tens of millons of customers (arguably a smaller number) who border on fanaticism.

What’s wrong with this picture? How did the world’s largest, richest, most powerful software company get this way? They’ve never had to weather a storm, work through a true crisis, or bet the farm.

That would appear to be on the day-to-day To-Do list for Apple, but Microsoft doesn’t have that kind of experience or intestinal fortitude, hence the problems grow, become baggage that never gets handled.

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Witness a recent show where Microsoft demonstrated new features in Windows Vista. The technology press, the same folks who write about Apple and iPod and Mac in glowing terms, were outright derisive, bored, annoyed, bitter.

Microsoft’s new slogan is “People Ready.” Apparently leadership at the Redmond Giant wasn’t ready, as two days later they announced that Windows Vista wouldn’t be ready for users until 2007.

Is Windows rattled? Yes, as is much of Microsoft these days. What innovation can a Microsoft customer expect in the next 12 months? Many customers and Microsoft employees request innovative changes at the executive level, starting from the top down.

It won’t happen, and Microsoft won’t die, either. But it’ll be fun watching what happens. I’m an Apple fan, a Mac user, and a Microsoft Watcher™. It’s what we do.