Don’t be dissuaded by the sight of Alec Baldwin’s smug mug on the cover: Vanity Fair‘s August issue contains a dishy doozy of a Microsoft story, chronicling rampant infighting and embarrassing strategic blunders. It’s not online yet, but we found a physical copy at this thing called a “newsstand.” And it’s a pretty handy gloss on how Microsoft managed to find itself embarrassingly far behind in anything remotely resembling mobile and, more importantly, how the company frittered away its King of the World status.
The article (which is worth reading in full and best enjoyed with a tub of movie popcorn) painstakingly outlines Microsoft’s flailing in mobile, search and–ouch–operating systems. Turns out a lot of those stereotypes about big, slow-moving companies are dead-on.
Perhaps most painful to watch is the ebook effort (inspired by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) that got canned because Bill Gates didn’t like the UI, which “didn’t look like Windows.” Wouldn’t want to taint that brand identity, we suppose. Instead, we got the underwhelming Microsoft Reader.
Nor was this an isolated instance, it sounds like: “Ideas about mobile computing with a user experience that was cleaner than with a P.C. were deemed unimportant by a few powerful people in that division, and they managed to kill the effort,” one of the founders of the ebook technology group told Vanity Fair. That does sound just a little like sour grapes, but then again, we don’t see Windows setting the smartphone sector on fire, either.
If the company long prided itself on its superiority to IBM, one former manager offers up a different comparison: “I see Microsoft as technology’s answer to Sears.” (We can already tell this is going to sting.) “In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it’s just a barren wasteland. And that’s Microsoft. The company just isn’t cool anymore.”
As a child of the 90s, we’ve got a little trouble believing Microsoft was ever entirely “cool,” but it was certainly popular and successful. Nowadays, well, things have changed.
Although, maybe there’s some way to monetize the entertainment value of CEO Steve Ballmer? Here’s what he told an engineer who left for Google in 2004, after hurling a chair:
“Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy!” Ballmer yelled, according to the court document. “I’m going to fucking bury that guy! I have done it before and I will do it again. I’m going to fucking kill Google.”
That’s probably not the best way to attract developers! developers! developers! to the company.