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Ballmer speaks of phone platform regrets

Ballmer speaks of phone platform regrets

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has admitted his biggest regret is failing to focus on the smartphone market in the early 2000s.

Outgoing Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer has stated that his biggest regret during his time at the company was not getting in on the now-massive smartphone market during the turn of the century.

A fixture of the company since 1980, when he joined Microsoft as its first business manager and 30th employee overall, Ballmer's bombastic personality certainly kept him in the headlines. From the enthusiasm he showed for Windows 1.0 to his unique presentation style, Ballmer could never be accused of keeping his feelings a secret - even when those feelings resulted in alleged chair-throwing and death threats against his company's competitors.

With his retirement looming, however, Ballmer has turned introspective during his last call to investors and analysts and has offered an insight into what he feels is his biggest disappointment during his time at Microsoft: the missed opportunities in mobile.

'If there's one thing I regret,' Ballmer explained during the call, 'there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows that we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device form factor called the phone.'

That simple mistake has caused considerable heartache for Microsoft: a failure to produce a compelling smartphone product to round out its Windows offering left the door open for Apple and its iPhone, which has boosted the company from bit-player to one of the richest in the world - with almost all of that cash coming directly at Microsoft's expense.

Microsoft isn't the only company to be caught on the hop by the smartphone boom, of course: Intel's new chief executive Brian Krzanich admitted the same during his first speech, echoing comments made by his predecessor Paul Otellini.

As his parting gift to the company, Ballmer has vowed to resolve the mistakes: the company's Windows Phone platform is enjoying considerable growth thanks to a smart partnership with Nokia, and now that the Finnish company has sold its phone arm to Microsoft itself the company has a real opportunity to gain a foothold in what some in the industry are terming the post-PC era.

As part of that, Ballmer unveiled the long-promised refreshed financial reporting structure during the call: the company is to be split neatly into two halves: Devices and Consumer, which will include Surface, Xbox, Windows OEM, Windows Phone, Office consumer, IP licensing, Office 365 Home Premium, Bing, MSN and first-party games divisions; and Commercial, which will take care of Windows Enterprise, server products, non-consumer Office products, unified communications, enterprise services, Office 365 and the Azure cloud platform.

The new structure, it is claimed, will help Microsoft - and, arguably more importantly, its investors - see which areas are growing and which are not, as well as better matching its renewed focus on services and physical products rather than its traditional core competency of licensed software.

31 Comments

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barny2767 20th September 2013, 13:21 Quote
He is right they focused to much on windows XP and Vista for pc and turned them both into bloated and overworked operating systems. If they had just pushed 30% of the work that went into Vista to Windows Mobile 5/6 they could have ended up with a well supported and usable mobile OS instead of a complicated, under developed and unsupported platform.

Also a few less people trying to make Vista an innovative OS might have improved the OS in the end.
Corky42 20th September 2013, 13:29 Quote
You would think a company as big as Microsoft could have split the work force fairly easily, it must take a lot of people to develop a OS.
Guinevere 20th September 2013, 14:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by The MS Monkey Man
we weren't able to redeploy talent to the new device form factor called the phone

What a load of old crock!

Here's what he should have said.
Quote:
Originally Posted by The MS Monkey Man
We had a dozen different teams, huge teams, all working on different aspects of our software. Office, Windows, Server, Hardware, Development Tools, Mobile. I wouldn't let any of these guys work well together so they all fought to be top dog.

Each had their own way of working and nothing played well together. Developers for example were given half a dozen different APIs to just put user interfaces together.

Rather than try and build one really good way of working, I made each team build their own! It was like fight-night seven days a week! And of course they each had to support these systems for years so made these poor fools paste layer after layer of complexity into the operating system just to get everything to work.

The only things we ever agreed on was that people were going to be using traditional desktops and laptops FOR EVER and that focussing any energy on mobile was pointless.

Even if we had wanted to work on anything mobile, I didn't have the people spare. With 500k developers maintaining and patching the security holes in the "house of cards" software layers I had them build, you really think I could put a few dozen of them to work on something nice?

In conclusion: We messed up our operating systems, we messed up our developer APIs and tools, we messed up our customer relations.

And then we messed up the entire company.

Now where's my pay-off? I've got a private space industry company to start.
Nexxo 20th September 2013, 14:57 Quote
I would go as far as saying that not only wouldn't he let any of these guys work well together, he actively pitted them against each other through the stacked ranking system, so they all fought to be top dog while sabotaging each other.

Windows Phone 7 and 8 happened despite Ballmer.
Bloodburgers 20th September 2013, 17:23 Quote
Its a shame because as a former ios and android user i REALLY LIKE (insert thumb up here) WP8. some nice features and well thought out in the main. It is still a fledgling by some accounts but i think if it were pushed sooner they may well have a significantly larger market share.
Nexxo 20th September 2013, 19:00 Quote
I just switched from an iPhone 4 to a Lumia 920 myself. I think it is utter cheesecake. It's functionality is so beautifully thought out; it is so elegant and clean. Live tiles are crazy powerful.
longweight 20th September 2013, 19:27 Quote
I love WP8, there are still lots of stupid flaws but they will be ironed out in the coming months hopefully!
CowBlazed 21st September 2013, 00:18 Quote
I have an original WP7 (LG Optmus 7) and have loved the platform since. Despite running on a single core the interface still runs more smoothly and is more fun to use then any current competing mobile interface.
That being said I won't be getting a WP8 phone next because of the many empty promises Microsoft has failed to deliver on in the last 3 years and just generally the platform progressing much too slowly with little to no support from the various MS divisions.

Besides live tiles and the slick interface there is little reason to choose a Windows Phone unfortunately.
longweight 21st September 2013, 00:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CowBlazed
I have an original WP7 (LG Optmus 7) and have loved the platform since. Despite running on a single core the interface still runs more smoothly and is more fun to use then any current competing mobile interface.
That being said I won't be getting a WP8 phone next because of the many empty promises Microsoft has failed to deliver on in the last 3 years and just generally the platform progressing much too slowly with little to no support from the various MS divisions.

Besides live tiles and the slick interface there is little reason to choose a Windows Phone unfortunately.

Live tiles are a nice touch, there are far better reasons for choosing a WP8 device.
CrapBag 21st September 2013, 00:24 Quote
I have an android phone my daughter has a win 8 phone, I get on with both to be honest.
Krazeh 21st September 2013, 01:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CowBlazed
That being said I won't be getting a WP8 phone next because of the many empty promises Microsoft has failed to deliver on in the last 3 years and just generally the platform progressing much too slowly with little to no support from the various MS divisions.

What promises in particular have MS failed to deliver on in respect of Windows Phone? And how would you like them to progress more rapidly?
Snips 21st September 2013, 10:01 Quote
I actually think they have progressed WP at a better rate than iOS in recent years. It's only really iOS7 that has seen major changes when WP saw steady progress from 7 to 7.5 to 7.8 to 8, the changes were significant and welcomed. I'm not claiming superiority here, just stating it has made progress which you would notice if you had been there from the beginning of WP.
longweight 21st September 2013, 10:05 Quote
The Amber update has a couple of really nice features :)
Nexxo 21st September 2013, 10:07 Quote
With Terry Meyerson being in charge of all Microsoft OS, things can only get better. He had the balls to bury that atrocity that is Windows Mobile once and for all, and start from scratch with WP7, which was a genius bit of GUI design. WP8 was another major improvement. He is in the best position to create unity between the different platforms and drive innovation. WP8 with a touch of RT would be awesome.
longweight 21st September 2013, 10:08 Quote
Have you updated your 920 Nexxo?
Nexxo 21st September 2013, 10:12 Quote
It was already on Amber when I bought it from eBay. :D
longweight 21st September 2013, 10:21 Quote
Oh nice! I absolutely love the gesture feature.

Do you browse the forum in IE or do you use the Tapatalk app?
Corky42 21st September 2013, 10:28 Quote
Wasn't the early 2000's mentioned in the article around the time Vista was under development ? According to the wiki Windows Mobile's share of the market grew from its inception up to %47 in 2007 and then it started to tank, the same time Vista was release.
Nexxo 21st September 2013, 11:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by longweight
Oh nice! I absolutely love the gesture feature.

Do you browse the forum in IE or do you use the Tapatalk app?

I just use IE. I like to keep things simple. :)
longweight 21st September 2013, 11:35 Quote
Same here. I really don't mind that there are fewer apps as I have realised that I hardly need any and the ones that I do need are already on WP8.

Enjoying the wireless charging? :D
Nexxo 21st September 2013, 13:57 Quote
Haven't bought a wireless charging pad yet, but planning to.

Just updated my old iPhone 4 to iOS7, just to see what all the fuss is about. It's an improvement but I'm not won back over. The GUI is obviously designed for the taller screen of the 5 series; after my Lumia 920 it feels cramped and crowded. It also feels that like Android, it is ripping some GUI from Windows Phone. But then, everybody is these days.
longweight 21st September 2013, 14:25 Quote
It is definitely worth buying one, it means that I hardly ever have a flat battery as you can just put your phone down to charge it.

I also have iOS7 on my iPhone 4 and I agree with you.
Snips 21st September 2013, 19:08 Quote
The wireless pads are a stroke of genius. I have one by the bedside and one on my desk but because of the good battery life I hardly ever use the one on my desk. Have you seen the mod someone made of the wireless charger in the bedside cabinet? You just leave the phone in the set area of the surface top to charge. A bit OTT but genius ;)
Snips 21st September 2013, 19:11 Quote
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OgkX_ONN7M4

It's here for you ;)

#twosecondmod
Nexxo 21st September 2013, 23:03 Quote
Yeah, that's pretty cheesecake. I'm actually thinking that I should incorporate one in a computer case. Put your mobile on top, let it talk to the PC via Bluetooth or WiFi, while it charges at the same time.
CowBlazed 22nd September 2013, 06:42 Quote
Every pre-WP8 phone is stuck on 7.8 forever and incompatible with WP8 and most of the new apps and games. This might be normal for my Gen. 1 device but phones which came out only months before WP8 are also incompatible such as the Nokia Luma 900 and 800. This was despite Microsoft's promise to keep their phones updated together and their reasoning for completely scrapping all Windows Mobile code to start over. Yet they scrapped it all again to start over for WP8. Even worse may be the apps and games that are incompatible with WP8 despite promises that this would not be the case.

Then there's all the missed opportunities amongst the Microsoft divisions and missteps along the way. I'll give you one example which paints a picture of how things have progressed at Windows Phone in the last 3 years.

It wasn't untill the 7.5 Mango update (late Oct.2012) about 2 years after the phones launch that they were finally able to integrate MSN messenger into the phone. At the time of launch this was a much requested feature. Previously users were directed to using a sub par 3rd party app which was not able to properly run in the background as is needed for messaging. Like every other 3rd party app it was unable to use the proper phone APIs.

Some months later MSN Messenger is scrapped all together as Skype is announced to take over and to be integrated for WP8 phones, with the mostly useless MSN messenger remaining on 7.8 phones.

My biggest issue definitely has to be how other Microsoft divisions seem to not care to support the Windows Phone division. Xbox game integration was a huge missed opportunity with no real IP support and only a push to get popular iOS games initially and then Nokia had to sign a deal with EA themselves to bring some real games over and dodge the much maligned xbox validation process which keeps most games from being updated for months.

When other Microsoft software was being released such as Glass and some other projects they were released on Android and iOS first and usually to better success then the later WP implementations.

Like I said I love using the interface and do have many good things to say about the WP platform in general but after 3 years with the ways things have moved at a seemingly snail's pace and the lack of cohesion amongst the Microsoft divisions I don't have much optimism for the future of Windows Phone.
Nexxo 22nd September 2013, 09:07 Quote
Microsoft divisions historically haven't cared for each other. Blame the stacked ranking system. The reorganisation is meant to address that. Terry Meyerson created WP7 almost despite Ballmer and he is now in charge of all operating systems. Expect a lot tighter integration of them in the future. Myerson has a reputation for being belligerent, but he also has strong vision and gets things done. Of all people at Microsoft, he may be most like Steve Jobs.

WP7 phones not being upgradeable to WP8 is a non-issue. Most people upgrade their phone every 2 years. IPhone 4 (launched June 2010) barely runs iOS7 (it does, but rather slowly and many of its USP features don't work). And how many Android devices can meaningfully run Android 4? The HTC Desire (launched 2010) cannot handle Ice Cream Sandwich, launched 2011.
Krazeh 22nd September 2013, 12:26 Quote
Pretty sure MS never promised that Windows Phone 7 handsets would be upgradeable to WP8. It was always the case that WP7 was an interim step between Windows Mobile and an OS based on the same kernel as the rest of Windows. I'm also pretty sure the Mango update was announced less than 6 months after WP7 was launched and released within 12 months of the launch. It was then a year later that MS announced it's plans to merge Live Messenger with Skype in 2013.
Snips 23rd September 2013, 12:00 Quote
I think the Lumia 900 launch and then WP8 announcement were somehow connected and most thought it would be upgradeable. I'm sure it was let out that it would be upgraded and then the 7.8 announcement confirmed it wouldn't be getting WP8. My son has a 900 and I have a 925, the differences in OS aren't really that massive.
Nexxo 23rd September 2013, 19:28 Quote
By the way: Microsoft's Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 launch event is all over the internet.

It's looking good for the Pro 2: 75% better battery life on the Pro 2 (7-8 hours), more than doubled compared to the original with the new Power Cover, combined with better performance (10 hours?). Wider range of choice in memory and storage (for a price).

Surface Pro/Pro 2 dock. Nice.

Surface 2 is thinner, lighter, faster, and comes in a snazzy magnesium grey.

Meanwhile: thinner Type Cover and Touch Cover, with backlight (compatible with original Surface models)! A few new, nice colours. Touch Cover sensors have gone from 80 to over 1000 to make for more precise and forgiving typing.

Also a small rod-like device that magnetically attaches to these covers so they can be used as wireless keyboards. Nice touch.

Another nice touch: a Touch Cover specially for mixing music, garage band style. Could open a market for more custom input covers.

It all starts to feel like Microsoft is hitting its stride in terms of developing the possibilities of these devices.
sixfootsideburns 24th September 2013, 19:12 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nexxo
I just switched from an iPhone 4 to a Lumia 920 myself. I think it is utter cheesecake. It's functionality is so beautifully thought out; it is so elegant and clean. Live tiles are crazy powerful.

I've heard the same thing. The company I used to work for used Windows on our colleague mobile phones and the newer phones seemed so choice. My phone was an old piece of crap, but if I had stayed and had a chance to upgrade I would have been thrilled to check it out. They were definitely late to the game but that doesn't mean theres no room left in the market. It's just a harder road now than it might have been.

I've never understood why people are so intent on shitting on Windows phones rather than rooting them on. More diversity in the market place is only better for the consumer.
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