Think about the size of Microsoft for a moment and how many of those people create nothing. They don't code. They don't plan the next version of an application or operating system. They don't do research into the next big thing. They shuffle paper, make personnel evaluations, and generally, do nothing but justify their own existence, and ensure they get that next promotion. They are remoras, clinging to the sharks, slowing them down, living from their scraps, and generally, just fucking up the program.
So why keep these people around? Why allow the rapid expansion of useless people? Because people without any real talent other than justifying their own existence are very good at whispering sweet nothings in the ears of power. What do you want to hear, they'll tell you just that. Of course you're doing a great job. No, we're doing fine. So what if the stock price hasn't been anything to enjoy for years and years. We need to expand into more markets, just like you think, you're brilliant Steve. The Zune, we'll eventually get it right. If the Plays4Sure people say we fucked them over, well, they just don't see the greatness of your vision Bill. We just need to find the right name for Windows/Office/Whatever Live, and we'll blow Google away. Google's got nothing you can't beat Steve. The problem is that our people just need some more help to get search right, so we just need to buy the right talent and assets and then we'll be able bury Google. The Xbox will eventually win. So what if the Wii is outselling us, Xbox Live will save us. You're brilliant Bill, you're the best CEO ever Steve.
Sound familar? The problem isn't that they're justifying their own existence. It's that the people in power buy into that bullshit. Because people like Ballmer, and even Gates love to hear that they're right. They need to hear that they can do it all. They need to know that they can reinvent every wheel and make it better. They need to know that every idea they have is the best. Why? Because at heart, they're insecure as hell, and they keep attracting people who are similarly insecure or feed into it.
Look at the public statements and actions from the top. Not the people doing the work, but at Ballmer's level, because no matter how many times Microsofties insist that Microsoft is not a monolithic entity, if their statements about playing nice with others clash with Ballmer's, who wins?
Right. El Jefe.
The classic Ballmerisms, his vague threats against Linux users show just how insecure he, and the rest of his team is. He can't actually beat Linux fairly, because Linux is playing a different game. He can't get people to buy into his fake-assed "studies" showing how Linux sucks, because Microsoft spent the 90s bullshitting people, and no one believes a goddamned thing that company says without a lot of verification. So he either has to play nice, win by making Windows that much better, or he has to try to get people to stop using Linux. Of course, he pulls a McCarthy, with a "list of patents" and vague threats.
What he wasn't expecting was for Linus and the rest of the world to say "Fuck off Frankenstein, either show us the proof or have a big cup of Shut The Fuck Up."
But that's Microsoft. The people in charge have so many issues with anyone else's good ideas that they will spend billions to reinvent an idea that works really well. The idea that they cannot, or should not own every market that might possibly vaguely relate to Windows is evil to them. The proposition that they should occasionally say "no" to money on the table, and instead figure out how to work with the people doing that work far better than they ever will? BWAAAHAHAHAAHAHAHA. No way dude. They're Microsoft. They muscle into established markets, kill off the innovators, and then bang, you deal with them, because they're the fucking prom king again.
But what if they had adults in charge. Not just old guys. But people who were secure in themselves. Who had the ability to say "no". "That's a neat idea, but it's not a good fit for us, it's not a part of our core competence. We'll work with the people doing it well so we make sure our stuff works with it, but we don't need to own everything."
I'm a big fan of the "What If" series from Marvel. They take established canon, and give it a twist, and see what happens. So..."What If Microsoft was run by adults?"
First, it would be a far smaller company. Far smaller. But they would not be any less brilliant or competitive. They'd just realize that what they do well is not everything, because no one can do everything well. They'd realize that they do certain things well. Operating Systems. Servers. Productivity Applications. The infrastructure that helps all of these work together. The side technologies you need in an OS, like digital media, html engines, etc.
They'd realize that while they do some damned good work, they are never going to be the only game in town. Which is okay. Because if they work well with others, I mean really and truly work well with others, then others will use their stuff more, and they win anyway. So things like the IE/Netscape wars wouldn't have happened the way they did. Oh, don't get me wrong, they'd offer great deals to ISPs and others for promoting IE, but without the threats. Without the strongarming. Rather than forcing the EU to make them share the SMB and other networking code, they'd do it voluntarily. They'd make sure that Windows Media worked on every platform it possibly could and damned well too, because rather than forcing you to use Windows to get the best Windows Mobile experience, you'd get that on every platform. Why? Because if Windows Mobile works better on everything than any other platform, then what does everyone use?
That's right. Microsoft wins, only with quality and excellent product. They win because they have the best damned product out there. No putting the arm on people. No bullshit like crippled WiMP players. No making you use Silverlight, and to just view a fucking movie on the internet only. When the media companies said "We want this draconian-assed DRM or we won't let you have access to our content", Microsoft would be able to pull a Jobs and say "Who the fuck are you kidding? You clowns can barely spell Internet, and you think you're going to run it? Let us explain this to you, you have already lost. Your content is being downloaded by everyone with anything faster than dial-up, the genie is not only out of the bottle, but he's snorting coke off of a stripper's tits he bought with your stupidity. We will work with you, but we are not going to treat our customers like fucking thieves just because you morons got facials from RIAA and the MPAA, and forgot that you control them, not the other way around, and you're embarrassed about it. We agree that copyright and the rights of the artists and other creators need to be respected, but we are not going to use them to ass-rape the people who make all of us all of our money. Now stop being douchebags, and lets make us some infrastructure and a shitload of money, and as a bonus, not make people hate us."
That would be bold. That would be brilliant, and they'd own a market with an infinite income potential. Not because they force you to use their stuff. But because they were just the best way to do things.
OS/2? Would have never happened that way. Instead, picture Microsoft saying "Look, we're just too different of companies to do this. It won't work out, so good luck guys, but no." Would OS/2 have succeeded without Microsoft? No, IBM was too damned incompetent to market shit to anyone smaller than GE. But they wouldn't have wasted the time with it either. Instead, OS/2 would have failed on its own, and Microsoft would have still done NT.
Office? Oh, Office on Windows would still be the better product, because they would have that OS control that they simply can't get anywhere else. But you'd have more resources for Office for the Mac, because Microsoft would realize that if you have 20 million Mac users running Office, and happily, they win, because if Office:Mac kicks ass, then why do you care about anything else?
Office:Linux...yeah. Think about that. Instead of a Ballmer only working with Linux at the point of a gun, you'd have a Microsoft realizing that Linux was going to be a success, so why not make an assload of money off it? Office:Linux. Or any other platform that has staying power and a user base.
In essence, instead of Microsoft becoming the big bully kid in "Salem's Lot", careening from getting his ass beat by Mark Petrie, wondering what happened, and unable to realize that he was no longer dangerous, except accidently, they'd be the spider. Networking protocols, electronic media, productivity applications, computer operating systems at the server and client level, but that's it. No Xbox, but Direct X...on every platform. Because every time someone wrote a video game, Microsoft would get a licensing fee. No Windows Mobile, but ActiveSync everywhere. So every time you wanted to use your cell phone with any OS with a user base worth a damn, Microsoft makes money.
Instead of the bully, Microsoft becomes the spider. The Kingpin. Each move is made carefully and deliberately, like a chess master, or a pool shark. No flailing about, but calculated precision. No "good enough" but "excellence in all we do". It would be a smaller Microsoft, but a richer one. They'd be the ones trading at Google prices, because instead of watching FireFox and Safari slowly but surely take the lead in standards support and openness, the IE engine, open sourced, would be the choice, because it would be the best there is. Instead of using ActiveX to bind you to Windows, it would be used to tie you to ActiveX, on whatever platform you want. Because again, every time someone licensed it, Microsoft wins again. Instead of fearing the rise of Google, they'd welcome it, because Google's success would mean more success for them, only with a lot less work. Licensing is always a better margin than doing it all yourself. Really.
They'd be a smaller company, with fewer, if any remoras. But they'd be the center of it all man. Because instead of fearing some other company dominating a given market, they'd set aside fear, analyze the company and the market with confident calculation, and if it wasn't in their core competence, they'd instead figure out how to work with that company and that market, and turn it into yet another license to print money.
That would kick some ass. But because Microsoft is not run by confident men and women, who understand that sometimes, by saying no, you still win, it won't happen.
Because of the personalities of Gates and Ballmer, and the people they work with at their level, Microsoft as the blundering giant? Hoping to to buy talent and capability because they no longer trust the huge amounts of it they already have? It was inevitable.
Microsoft is walking the same path IBM walked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The only question now, is who will be Microsoft's Gerstner to fix the morass that Ballmer-as-Akers is building?