Bing-ality

Microsoft Bing since its launch has been considered the primary competitor to the behemoth known as Google search. It is a valiant effort in a very lucrative market space. However despite the immense opportunity,the term success has so far eluded Microsoft Bing.  When you look at Search Engine market share the numbers continue to improve for Bing as it hit over 17% in April, however the revenues have so far failed to materialize.  In Q2 of Fy13 for Microsoft’s Online Services Division lost money, $283 million.  In Q1 Google generated over $11 billion in revenue.  Granted Microsoft’s OSD is not just Bing, but all the other online services such as MSN and Outlook Mail.  The flip side of course is we really don’t know how Bing as a stand alone business is doing, despite the market share increases.

The history of Bing some may say is one of failed opportunity.  I am not so sure it is so much that as it is understanding online reality.  Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer often have said they blew it on search and I have often said they would never have figured it out.  Even if they had I am not so sure they would have been willing to take the financial risk to challenge Google at the time (remember we are going back to the 2002/2003 time frame) .  In his short stint at Microsoft Ray Ozzie provided the best analysis of Google.  He stated that they were using their immense revenues to fund software development projects that would compete against Microsoft. It was an indirect model, where ad revenues funded software engineering.  As has been shown Google has a lot of revenue to fund these projects.  It was difficult for Microsoft to grasp as they for so long have lived off of volume license revenues.

In the past decade it took a long time for Bing to come to the forefront.  First Microsoft toyed around with  Live search.  It was not a well named product.  Certainly not as fun as saying, “Google”.  But globally it did ok and when you looked at the top 100 websites, Live did appear in the top twenty.  It just did not have an ad word business model set up that could compete with what Google was doing.  Microsoft was slow in understanding the competitive threat that Google posed, if not holistically, at least opportunistically.  My view is Microsoft viewed it as another software market to conquer rather than the threat it was to existing businesses, namely Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows.   This is just another market space in which we are entitled to own.

As things progressed so did Microsoft’s desperation ending in an audacious bid to acquire its competitor Yahoo.  Luckily for Microsoft and many grad schools across America this would end in the ego of Yahoo founder Jerry Yang as he made every attempt to kill  the deal. In the end this may have worked out for the benefit of Microsoft as they entered onto a partnership rather than spending $40 billion on an acquisition that may have been doomed to fail. While Jerry Yang seemingly failed business 101 which is to increase shareholder value, not decrease it.  He is now a case study for business graduate school history.

What has happened as these events have unfolded  is that Google has systematically found other business opportunities to augment and promote its search business and increase revenues.  Namely using the mobile phenomena to launch Android.  This has led to great headway in the mobile phone business and the tablet.  In 2013 it is projected that there will be 800 million Android devices sold.  None of these devices will have Bing as the default search engine.  In addition there will be 300 million iOS devices sold in 2013, again none will have Bung as the default search engine.  I only wrote this to share with Steve  as he seems to be unaware of this fact, but hey, he is a numbers guy.

So what does Bing do?  For starters that Apple iOS number is key.  One of Steve Jobs last talks to the Apple faithful at their corporate headquarters was about the evils of its key competitor Google.  There is no question that there is no love lost between the two.  Apple has tried to compete with Google head to head.  The failed Apple Maps comes to mind.  In my opinion a rare case of me saying, “Whose stupid idea at Apple was this?”  Google owns that space and barring some catastrophe, I do not see them losing in that space.  So with all that hate and failure what if Bing was the default search engine for Apple iOS?  Instantly Bing would have access to 300 million users.  Granted this would be a bizarre twist of fate, but Microsoft is not in a position of power in this space and Apple would like nothing better than to hurt Google.  If Bing can meet Apple’s high quality standards they could have a very compelling play in this space and be considered attractive to Apple.

There is also a bigger question of “if Not Microsoft than who?”.  Competition  that is not challenged is a threat to the greater benefit of society.  They can dictate terms, which is never a good thing.  When we look at companies that are able to challenge Google there are few with the cash reserves to do it.  One of the few would be Microsoft.  And frankly they owe it to us all.  Fundamentally competition is a good thing and maybe Bing is competing, it’s just that Google is pushing their game to a higher place.  If that is true than Bing needs to set a higher bar, not just compete at parity.  Faster more accurate search is nice, but we are reaching a point where for the end-user it is becoming increasingly difficult. to distinguish in milliseconds.

Another factor is much of Bing’s success is tied to other products like Windows 8, Surface and Windows Phone.  To successfully get people to switch alla Coke versus Pepsi, is not so easy as there is a lot more tied to it than just switching a can. The effort Microsoft must put in will take years, which in technology is worlds away.    So far it has been slow in coming and market share has increased at a snail’s pace.  This may drain Microsoft’s cash reserves but the reward is high Once yo have been great there is always a thirst to be great again and I think that more than anything drives Microsoft.  To get there search will be a key cog in the engine.  Information rules the world and if Bing is not successful Google very well could rule that world.  Bing is in a tough place but it is a fight worth fighting.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann July 10, 2013

The Cultural Phenomena of Technology

It is one of those things that begins with a whisper and then continues to grow louder into the wildest of crashing waterfalls. Sometimes it confronts us in a very direct way and other times it sneaks up on us spreading like a virus throughout society. It penetrates our lives and influences others around us. The beneficiaries are our day-to-day modern society that adopts them and adores them. The victors are the people and the companies who make them. In fact we can quantify the victors with the monetary term of billions of dollars.  Those who try to stand in the way of these cultural phenomena’s are simply pushed aside and deemed not relevant.  We deem these to be the companies we refer to as competition.  In the industry this is a big deal and though sometimes accidental many times it is brilliance, such as Steve Jobs.  In the end it is about creating emotional connections and  not negative emotions but positive ones.  Looking through history there have been some big moments (and winners).

The first I remember of this type of phenomena was the build up to the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 95.  It was funny at the time as the product was continually being delayed.  When the name was announced people even began to wonder if it would even ship in 1995.  But at the time Microsoft was the darling of the industry.  Even when it seemed destined to fail in the end it always seemed to succeed.  Windows 95 would turn out to be the greatest testament to the ability of the company to succeed.  When the product finally shipped it was to mass hysteria never seen in the industry.  People lined up at midnight waiting for doors to open to a new world of wonder. It brought the idea of technology into everyone’s home.  It was exciting and a fulfillment of a vision that Paul Allen and Bill gates had as young boys.  It was really the dawn of the new age of technology and every significant technology launch has been compared to the launch of Windows 95.  The main competition, Apple, could only sit, watch and wonder, “it should have been us”.

The second phenomena that occurred I did not become familiar with until, then CEO of Novel,l Eric Schmidt left his post and joined a small company known as Google.  Google was a search engine provider and certainly not the first, but it would turn out to be by far and away the most successful.  It was not long before it seemed everyone was searching the web with  Google, as it was far superior to what was on the market.  Google’s impact beyond the technology was it changed the market dynamics and how companies made money.  They were in many was also the first to demonstrate you can not only make money on the web, you can make tons of money on the web.  The growth of Google was so accelerated it was almost hard to comprehend.  While they are making all this money they also became part of our cultural linguistics as Google became a verb.  By the time Microsoft finally launched a technological viable competitor in Bing, they were no longer visible in Google’s rear view mirror

When the iPhone stated to be discussed the whispers started early and grew loud and clear.  I had a friend working at AT&T at the time and he said everything at the corporate office was driving towards the launch of the Apple iPhone.  When the iPhone launched in 2007  it would turn out to be a huge success on many fronts, from the device to the apps, creating a new market, a new ecosystem.  As time went by what was amazing to watch was the extremely personal relationship that would develop between people and their technology.  People really get addicted to these phones and it more or less becomes an extension of the individual.  One thing Apple was always great at was creating a product that fostered loyalty.  The iPhone would do this in spades.  So much changed with the iPhone in how we as a society interact with one another, the iPhone was a truly powerful technical and social breakthrough.

It is difficult for companies to compete against these type of movements in a direct head on manner.  Microsoft has more or less tried this with Bing against Google and not seen very good results.  The biggest challenge is not the market share but the cultural awareness they are up against.  It is not even a technology gap so much as the successful technologies of today are internalized by users, who purchase and use certain technologies without much thought.  It is as if they are predisposed to certain choices, they are conditioned . It is hard and I have yet to see a marketing plan that says with our latest release we need to brainwash society and condition them to use our stuff.  I would be most entertained if someone would try doing this as I think it would be an eventful exercise.  As we have learned over and over again just because you have the better technology does not mean that you win.  Part of the challenge when competing with these social titans is that it is not good enough to create a better technology because even if you do, you have to ask, “Now what?”.  You need not only a better product but a better vision.  Vision should proceed the product, not follow it.

I am waiting for the next phenomena and it may be just around the corner.  We are nearing the age of the robot and I am warily awaiting the device that becomes a consumer phenomena.  It may also be something not so dramatic.  It could be a new social networking innovation.  Perhaps Google Glass is bigger than we think or know?  All we know is software is becoming pervasive in nearly everything we touch.  As Bill Gates said, “It is where the magic happens”. Like all things in tech it is not predicting the future, but timing it.  For any company the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to become a necessary fabric of society. To be wanted. A basic, necessary and powerful human emotion.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 29, 2013

Microsoft’s ultimate threat – Google

When I first joined Microsoft in 1991 we were a company rapidly ascending to the top of the mountain.  We were a company trying to fulfill our destiny, “A PC on every desktop and in every home”.  To climb that mountain required laser focus.  To have people day in and day out committed to accomplishing that goal.  To do this required Microsoft to build a  great set of products.  It also required focus on what was happening  in the industry.  We needed to know at all times what our competition was doing and how it was impacting the market. The potential threat to the Microsoft bottom line.  This was driven into every employee  from the top, from the top man, the founder and chairman, Bill Gates.  Time and time again he would hammer home his fear that a company that was younger and hungrier would come along and clean Microsoft’s clock.  That Microsoft would fall behind in the game.  Every employee understood that and worked hard to prevent it.  But time and growth can be cruel lessons of missed opportunities and so what Bill feared has happened.  It did not happen overnight, but slowly and surely it happened.  A silicon valley sweet heart, named Google came along and slowly they have increasingly encroached on everything Microsoft thought was their birthright.

When Novell CEO Eric Schmidt announced he was leaving his post in Provo, UT.  It was in many ways welcomed.  Eric was well known from his days at Sun Microsystems.  Eric was highly regarded, it was actually more  surprising he took the helm at Novell to begin with as they were rapidly sinking at the time he took over. During a meeting with Bill Gates, while he was commenting on Novell, he felt they were in very capable hands with Eric at the helm.  Google was known, but nowhere near where it has ended up.    In tech circles it was viewed as a interesting and exciting move.  Schmidt was a talented guy who was leaving a dying company to go somewhere where their was a future.  It was good to see him land somewhere worthy of his talents.  He would also serve as a capable mentor to Google founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. There were a lot of search engine players in those days (Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos etc..).

Google would rise as they changed the computing paradigm with the web search engine.  It was this new business revenue model Ray Ozzie would reference in his landmark memo while he was at Microsoft.  Google was using their incredible ad revenues from search to fuel software development in other areas, among them Google Docs.  This should have served as a great warning to Microsoft executives, but instead they seemed to just read the search revenue piece and seemed to miss what else was going on and focused on the obvious.  They focused on search, not heeding Ray’s words about the funding “other stuff”.  Those being Google Maps, Android, Google Docs, Google Cloud, Robotics, Google Glass  etc..In the end what we  got was Bing.  Google has used search to be a disruptive technology company, one that changes the playing field and in doing so change the balance of power. To simply follow their lead is to risk certain death.

Microsoft has released with some success their cloud based version of Microsoft Office with Office 365 .  In the meantime Google Docs has slowly plodded along improving its feature sets and capturing the low hanging fruit. start ups who do not want to pay a few for Microsoft Office.  They are also starting to make headway into larger enterprise accounts.  With a simple flat fee structure of $50 per desktop, enterprises are talking notice and either considering Google Docs or going to Google Docs.  Companies like Office Depot, Roche and Dillards have already signed on.  Keep in mind if Google takes 10% market share that is over $1 billion to Microsoft bottom line that they lose.  It is no wonder Kevin Turner issued a ultimatum of no losing to Google Docs.  It will be interesting to see how that goes.  Corporate CIO’s would be foolish not to consider Google Docs.  It is the first true contender to Microsoft with a sales force and money to back product development.  Worst case for a CIO is they knock the price of MS Office down.  I cannot think of an instance these days where a CIO is not being asked to do more with less.

The Chrome book has been an interesting development.  It really takes us back to the early days of the internet and what Netscape founder Marc Andreessen said about Windows, “Netscape will soon reduce Windows to a poorly debugged set of device drivers”.  The problem was at the time was not the vision necessarily, but launching an attack against a competitor who had billions when Netscape only had millions.  A second point was ubiquitous bandwidth was not available yet.  Most people at the time did not have DSL services let alone wi-fi in their house.    It was still  28.8kb modem.  Fast forward to today and a couple of developments have changed that has created a new landscape.  The first is we are always connected.  It does not matter if we are in our favorite cafe, at home, at work or at the beach.  We can access the web, we can call our friends, text them, post what we are doing to Facebook, tell people what we are thinking via Twitter.  What device do we use?  Laptop? Tablet? Smartphone? Chromebook?  It is about price and convenience.  The second is Microsoft has decided to compete against its traditional OEM partners with the  launch of SurfaceRT and SurfacePro lines of hardware.  One thing Netscape struggled with in their day was access to Microsoft’s OEM channel.  Give these recent strategic decisions by Microsoft, Google will not find it as hard to gain access to this channel.  They will arrive in a much stronger negotiating position.

Android which is a huge success poses two problems: 1) The mobile OS 2) The developer.  On the first front projections are that in 2013 800 million devices will ship with Android.  How many will ship with Windows 8?  Microsoft will not catch this juggernaut anytime soon.  The mistakes made by Microsoft are many in mobility.  They got hit by Apple’s iPhone, were slow to react, watched as Google ran past them, and fundamentally did not understand what was happening in the market place.  Google in the meantime has been laser focused on building a Android ecosystem that rivals that of Apple.  They have more importantly focused on consumers mobile lifestyles,  To the point, as far as competition goes in the mobility space consumers and industry analysts do not think about Microsoft.  I sometimes wonder if my old friends in Redmond realize what an insult that last statement was.  There was a time everybody thought of Microsoft when competing in a market.  Now Microsoft is just trying to get noticed.  The biggest announcement over the past couple of years has been their exclusive partnership with Nokia, another fading star.  As Google Exec, Vic Gudotra said when this partnership was announced, “Two turkeys does not make an eagle”.  It kind of sums up Microsoft mobility.

On the developer front, Google is a huge hit with the dev community.  Google’s premier dev conference, Google I/O sold out in under an hour this year.  Last year it was twenty minutes.  As I wrote in last July’s blog post “Google I/O and the giveaways“, Google knows how to treat developers.  Like royalty.  They have the advantage of being an internet company who knows that the internet is the development platform.  That sounds obvious but it seems some are slow to learn. Microsoft is still intent on promoting and protecting its “Windows Paradise”.  That was the refrain used back in the day when Microsoft was competing against Netscape, but tat world no longer exists.  The numbers I have heard around applications written for Windows 8 for that launch are horrifying – less than 5000.  The events Microsoft holds for developer are designed to reduce costs and treat developers more like welfare recipients.  As noted Google treats developers with all the care and feeding they could possibly want and it is noticed in the community.

Then there is the area of taking risks.  Despite the billions of dollars spent by Microsoft on Research and Development, there seems little to show for it.  In a group that is funded to take risks it seems little are being taken.  Google seems to be doing nutty kinds of thing all over the place.  At South by Southwest they showed a prototype of the digital shoe.  Their Google Glass, though expensive seems to be getting lots of press.  In the bay area you can see Google’s experiments with robotic vehicles.  Google has ventured into the world of wi-fi attempting to connect cities via wi-fi service, in such cities as Kansas City.  Will any of these tie into Google’s revenue model?  As long as each has internet access you can bet that Google will figure out how to monetize.  A lot of Microsoft’s struggles in this area is cultural as it looks to protect today’s revenues while forfeiting the futures.  Steve Ballmer’s love of the Jack Welch GE model, though a legendary business lesson, does not play so well in the world of innovation.  It has become a quagmire, sort of Steve’s personally built Vietnam. Google at the same time despite their growing size, seem to have remained nimble and agile in how they go about their business.

Finally there is User Interface Design.  Yes the ever present UI – how we interact with the world of technology.  Google’s search engine has been applauded for the simplicity and elegance of its search interface.  For a long time it seemed Microsoft owned the ideas of interaction with the device.  But Microsoft became complacent and did not seem to update or change basic user functions.  With the launch of Windows 8 Microsoft finally killed the Windows 95 interface.  In the meantime we saw not only Google, but Apple and Facebook present us with much more elegant and friendly user interfaces.  Once you lose the advantage it has hard to catch up and in this case the defeat is generational.

Technology is in the end about survival.  To foresee the future and not just react to it, but shape and create the future.  The ability to stay relevant.  To push the boundaries of what is possible.  The easiest way to lose focus on what made you relevant.  Microsoft seemingly has tried to be everything to everyone over the past 15 years.  In the meantime those small start-ups who are young and crave success day in and day out have emerged.  Google seems to have the vision for what the future will be and their role that they will play in it.  Microsoft unfortunately treats Google as one of many competitors.  Google meantime has kept their eye on the prize…Microsoft billions in unchallenged revenue..Windows and Office.  Microsoft now finds itself in the precarious position of having to defend those empires.  More importantly since Ballmer has taken over the reigns from Bill Gates the desire to innovate has been lost and replaced with a culture of old school corporate politics. More concerned with maintaining existing empires rather than creating new ones.

Microsoft needs to refocus, starting by turning its sights to its most immediate threat: Google.  It needs Google more than it realizes.  It needs them to help focus the company.  To energize the companies employees, to rally them from product development to sales behind a common cause.  That was the way it was in the early days.  In those days the companies who lacked resolve faded quickly as Microsoft always looked 3-5 years out.  Companies like Lotus 123, WordPerfect, Borland, Novell etc..Microsoft was thinking ahead of the game visa vi the competition. But maybe I am asking too much of today’s Microsoft.  Maybe I am harping back to a day and a time that will never return again. Just maybe Microsoft is about to become another celebrated company that is more a part of history, rather than making history.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann March 25, 2013

Microsoft – Threats and Opportunities

It is an industry legend and the company, along with Apple that started the PC revolution.  It brought technology to our desks and to our homes. It created a lot of young millionaires.  It was a shining star in the technology industry.  That was now what seems a long time ago. The Microsoft of today is one  that is a lot different from the one I joined in 1991 as a young, wide-eyed, fresh out of college customer service representative.  Then everything was new as PC’s were just starting to take off.  We were wiping out the typewriter.  In those days we were still talking about our different lines of business at Microsoft in terms of making our first billion.  Today Microsoft has annual revenues in excess of 70 billion.  Despite this growth, at times Microsoft can appear like an old and tired company.  One longing for a past glory, a glory that likely will never come again.  When you look to the horizon there are storm clouds gathering that could lead to catastrophe, but at the same time there are opportunities that could lead to greater horizons. Let’s have a look at what those different threats and opportunities are.

Google:  No company has the potential to hurt Microsoft more than Google.  They are threat numero Uno.  Ray Ozzie addressed  this in one of his first memo’s at Microsoft.  Google was using its ad revenues derived from search to fund software development projects, like business productivity applications.  Google  was changing the playing field and redefining the competitive landscape.  Google’s bet is pretty simple.  We live in a connected world, a world that is getting evermore connected with each passing minute.  If we assume we will have ubiquitous connectivity 24/7, whenever and wherever we want we need a simple device that can connect us, ala a Chrome Book (kills Windows).  Then you just need some cloud based applications for business productivity like Google Docs (kills Office).  Then you have just shaved off $25 billion in Microsoft’s earnings.  Not to mention ISV’s would flock to Google and the city of Redmond would file for bankruptcy similar to Detroit.  I assume someone in Redmond has figured this out, but these days when Microsoft is competing on so many fronts it seems hard for Redmond to prioritize.

Three Screen:  One of those great ideas that at a high level made and still makes sense.  Who can provide an experience for the PC – Phone – Television and it is all integrated?  Microsoft has the teams and technology to do it.  When this was first discussed it was around 2007.  The problem?  The TV platform was still nascent and Windows Phone 6.0 was a piece of junk.   Microsoft has since then released a new user experience in Windows 8, added a compelling tablet, and now have a competitive smart phone.  What is missing is TV, the holy grail of user experiences.  The three big companies – Microsoft, Google and Apple are all trying to create an experience that changes the consumer paradigm.  This is a big bet by all involved but the rewards could be immense.  If one figures out the TV experience and then can seamlessly integrate with other devices, well then the world will be their oyster.

Apple:  The obvious villain.  Microsoft versus Apple.  Gates versus Jobs.  Despite all its recent success I think Microsoft’s failing here happened because of one single reason:  Microsoft was not focused on the consumer.  They became like the Republican party and did not understand basic demographics.  While Microsoft was focused on the enterprise a new generation of consumers was being born and raised, with technology present from the first day they opened their eyes.  In the old days the belief was you were a software company or a hardware company.  Apple changed that school of thought and created a new market, an experience company.  Though I maintain Google is the biggest competitive threat, I think what Apple did really hurt Microsoft as a company. Not just financially but psychologically   It seemed every time Microsoft tried to say anything negative about Apple they looked foolish.  The “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” ad campaign was so dead on and the response from Microsoft was so minimal.  Apple humbled Microsoft and remains a significant threat to their future.

Enterprise Customers: If you can think of one major impact Steve Ballmer had on Microsoft it was the transformation of the company from a consumer company to an enterprise company.  It made sense from a Steve standpoint.  Enterprises sign large deals to long-term commitments and provide a stable cash flow.  They are predictable.  Consumers are fickle and change directions quickly, loyalty is earned, but never guaranteed.  So the enterprise business has grown to tens of billions o f dollars.  That being said there still is room to grow in the enterprise.  Sharepoint became a billion dollar business and Lync looks like a sure bet to join that crowd as well. The Microsoft Azure Cloud offering could turn the corner and potentially be the largest new business.  An interesting area is consulting services.  Efforts have been made in the past to make this more of an IBM global services model.  This would go against Microsoft’s partner driven model, but these days that seems under threat anyway.  If they did do this I have no doubt this could be a multi-billion dollar business.  If Microsoft decided to focus on the enterprise excessively that would be a successful venture.  The risk of course if Microsoft ignored consumers they would be at risk, since so much of enterprise IT is being driven by consumers.

Xbox:  Whenever the subject of Microsoft futures comes up people inevitably say the Xbox is the future direction Microsoft.  Probably because it is the one group that has a cool factor associated with it unlike the other door knobs, called Product Groups at Microsoft.  With that being said if Microsoft wants to revitalize and market its three screen vision Xbox has inadvertently taken the lead as the platform to bring all three screens together.  Xbox rose at Microsoft because it operated outside the corporate structure.  They were not part of Windows or Office’s legacy.  They were new, fresh and exciting.  In my view they should own all things consumer.  However the rumblings I hear over in Redmond is they are being brought more into the legacy corporate fold.  If I knew what the grand vision.of doing this was I may support it, but since I don’t all I can say is “leave well enough alone”. I would have expanded their playground rather than constrict it.  I would brand as much stuff “x” as I could; Xphobe, XMusic, Xwhatever..would have used the logo, but that is an opportunity I think Microsoft will bypass.

Focus or lack there of:  One thing that I think kills Microsoft and maybe the biggest threat is just what seems to be a lack of focus and cohesive message from the company.  I remember in one week they had a big Windows Phone launch followed by the Xbox Kinect.  The Windows Phone got absolutely no momentum out of the launch.  If a kid hears you launch a cool new phone followed by a big announcement around Windows Server what are they supposed to think?  The marketing folk at Microsoft view this as two different audiences so they don’t intersect, but in the end they do.  IBM does not have this problem because everything they do is targeted towards the enterprise.  Could they split the company into a consumer entity and a enterprise entity and create a wholly owned subsidiary…called Xbox?  Retain ownership while spurring creativity? Increasing overall revenues with a new focused approach? Just a thought.

There you have it, in many ways it’s the “is the glass half full or half empty” argument  In many ways a threat is an opportunity it is just a question of how you attack it.  Could Microsoft do to its competitors what they are doing to it?  Sun Tzu, the Chinese author if the “The Art of War”., written around the 500BC period., wrote “when confronted by superior forces one must change the battlefield”.  This is what Ray Ozzie wrote about when talking about Google using ad driven revenues to fund software development.  Microsoft needs to do two things: Seize the opportunities and take the leadership position and embrace the threats to provide for a brighter future.  Another option would be for Microsoft to read about history because they are history.  Your call Microsoft.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann January 30th 2013

Technology History Mistakes and Opportunities

In 20 years in the technology sector I have seen a lot of both good and bad strategic decisions. At Microsoft I was with a company that was on the good side and then was on the bad side. I saw many competitors make what were poor strategic decisions. Decisions that in the end would either sink them or put them in a place of constant struggle for success or viability.  I thought it would be good to look back on some of my favorite “stupid” decisions made by companies in the industry.

Lets head to Utah for bad decision number one: WordPerfect.  This was a company that when the personal computer first came onto the scene quickly became the number one player in Word Processing.  Competing against other notable companies like Wordstar, Wang, and Microsoft Word.  If one thing killed them off quickly it can be summed up in the acronym GUI (Graphical User Interface).  When Apple launched the Mac, Microsoft used it as an opportunity to learn about creating software for the GUI.  WordPerfect on the other hand dipped their toes in the water and when they did not see the sales they wanted on the Mac, killed it.  As Microsoft became more enamored with something called Windows, WordPerfect dug their heels in and supported DOS, where they were a leader.  The problem being Microsoft owned both DOS and Windows and had more or less stated Windows was the future.  Towards the end the only thing WordPerfect had going for it was free technical support.  Sounds nice from a  customer perspective, but if you looked at the costs, not sustainable.  WordPerfect over time just seemed to disappear.

Apple actually makes the list.  During the period where there was no Steve Jobs.  Early learning here is Steve Jobs killed  himself off when he hired Pepsi executive, John Sculley.  Steve’s pitch to John was, “Do you want to change the world or sell sugared water”.  As Steve learned people who sell sugared water don’t change the world.  However they are master politicians which led to Steve’s ouster.  Apple would go through several CEO’s  before Steve returned.  Some like, Micheal Spindler would start to pursue a OEM model where they license the software, like Microsoft.  A nice form of flattery, but not in the Apple DNA.  Steve would come back, kill this plan, and we know the rest.

Next up we return to Utah and Novell Netware.  When the computer network first became popular, Novell was the dominant player for our file and print services.  However one stupid decision killed the company.  Why just a file and print server and not a app server to?  I remember I was in a meeting with Bill Gates and he went off about why Novell did not do this.  He was stunned that they did not have the foresight to see what was coming in the industry. In his view had they just added application services, Windows Server would never have garnered the market share it did.  A second more technical item was Novell had a proprietary protocol called IPX/SPX.  They did not support the dominant internet standard called TCP/IP. Eric Schmidt, when he was at Novell worked on fixing this, but then this startup called Google came knocking and he left for greener pastures (much greener as it turned out). As I am sure you all know this internet thing became rather large and Novell played themselves out of the market.  Oops.

As we entered a new millennium things would change.  My old company, Microsoft, which seemed to do no wrong would make plenty of mistakes in the new century’s beginning.  They might say search was a big mistake, but as I have said they never would have figured it out.  Google developed a new software business model.  They did a classic Sun Tzu, when faced with greater numbers change the playing field.  Probably the first blunder was the mobile phone space.  Though they might say they were successful prior to the iPhone I never saw it that way.  THe Microsoft strategy was a smartphone was a business phone and they went head on after RIM.  I never saw it that way.  I saw smartphone’s just a natural evolution of mobile phones and as more intelligence was put in the phone, the smartphone would be a consumer phone.  Then the iPhone launched and that was the end of the Microsoft mobile story.  I know they have this Nokia thing going on, but as good as the phone is, everything I am reading is it is too late.

Going back to search the big loser was Yahoo.  Jerry Yang had a dotcom success story, but was really just pushed aside by a competitor with a better search engine and a better business model.  Google ate everybody up in this space.  They proved the age-old business adage, revenue is king.  It was not long before Yahoo was on the defensive in everything they did.  Google was the tech darling and Yahoo had fallen into the worst place in the industry:  Yesterdays News.  Even when they got a get out of jail free card in the form of a massive Microsoft takeover offer they blew it.  Jerry Yang managed to convince everyone they had a future.  With the recent news of a massive layoff and reorganization, all is but lost. Jerry Yang will be a case study in graduate school, and it will not be flattering.  It will be along the lines on increasing shareholder value.  But then Mr. Yang is an engineer not a finance guy.

Amazon was not a likely candidate to be the early leader in cloud computing.  Next thing you know everyone was left standing with their pants of the ground.  Some rode the wave very well, companies like VMWare.  But across the lake the from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters a  Redmond based power was scrambling.  Google was also behind in this space.  When I look at Cloud based posting these days I see many references for people with experience in Amazon Web Services.  I am not sure I have seen one for Azure (Microsoft’s cloud service). VMWare is always in the conversation with its virtualization software, it is always a good place to be, “in the conversation”.  Most companies building out cloud services usually have either Amazon or VMWare, if not both, as part of their cloud offering

Finally there was the tablet phenom.  When Apple founder Steve Jobs announced Apples plans to make and sell the iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying, “They will never sell those things”.  As it turns out they can sell those tablets.  In the last quarter they sold over 15 million of these items Steve said they could not sell.  In the meantime a slew of Android based tablets have hit the market and as for Microsoft, we wait for Windows 8.  Why do I feel like this will be the Windows Phone all over again?  When the new tablets hit the market will it be revolutionary or just another Tablet?  The market is already 3 years down the road and the company that changed people’s lives sitting on the couch and watching TV was Apple.  That is what technology has always been about, changing people’s lives.

In all the examples I have given one thing is clear.  To create these industry and societal changes it takes a leader who see’s beyond today and looks to tomorrow.  When we look at what I provided in each case we have visionaries that we all know Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Maritz, to name but a few.  In the also ran category you see companies always flat-footed and never embracing the future, but reacting to a race that has already began.  If you are racing Usain Bolt and you are slow off the starting blocks do you think you will win?  Even if you were that fast and physically fit you cannot make up a half a second in a sprint.  That is how today’s tech sector works.  Even if you were to catch up the industry has moved on to a new race.  To win you need to jump the gun otherwise you will be but a  distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 9, 2012