Microsoft at CES 2010 – what’s happened to Steve Ballmer?

Was that the real Steve Ballmer on the stage for the keynote speech at CES 2010 or a PR wonk clone? Holding a small HP tablet in his big hands his presentation was like a poor Steve Jobs presentation without the pizazz or the theatre. The device looked silly and so did Steve dressed in his purple V-neck sweater and it wasn’t helped by the close of Steve’s hands trying to fiddle with the tablet – boy, did it look uncomfortable and pretty useless.

What was worse was the platitudinous utterances from him which sounded like they had been written by some satirical Web 2.0 website that writes sentences out of a combination of tech cliches.

“This industry really stayed focused and continued to invest, work hard and bring new technology to the market place we really made an impact on people’s lives around the world… From the largest screen on the wall to the smallest screens in people’s pockets, we are delivering the entertainment people want.” Well the industry might be, but Microsoft sure as hell is not!

Microsoft have a real problem: they just seem so irrelevant to the tech world. Let’s face it: what do they do but try and cram some version of Windows onto a device and the only version that works is the PC version of windows. I am running Windows 7 on my netbook and it is sooooo unexciting. I mean, it works and all but there is nothing in it that is cool and since my version is the basic version, I have to upgrade to get any of the exciting stuff – that is I am assuming that there is something more exciting in the other versions, right!

In reputation terms, it is all so negative. Commentators and reviewers are continuously dissing their products. Partly the problem is a product problem, partly it is presentation. Steve Ballmer is a generation out; Microsoft need a new evangelist and a new vision that combines the multi-device model of the present. When I compare my version of Windows 7 with the advertising campaign, it does not fit at all. That’s a big problem.

At the developer level, nobody is meaningfully talking Windows and microsoft development methodologies any more. Three years ago every Indian IT student was learning  MS, now they have moved en masses to LAMP.

What should Microsoft do? At the most radical level, they need to move beyond the paradigm of Windows in both product and cultural terms. They need to reinvigorate themselves in terms of what they do and how they talk it. It is amazing how they have squandered the Xbox franchise in the past year. Just when it looked they had put some clear blue water between themselves and Playstation, they have killed it through their poor networking strategy. Lo and behold the kids are reverting to Playstation 3. Whilst the Ubuntu netbooks failed, it is likely that the Android versions wont as people acclimatise themselves to Android on their mobiles.

In the 90’s Microsoft pooh-poohed Sun’s “the network is the computer”, now they need to reinstall something similar into the company and build products around it. Reinventing reputation is a long game which requires courage and steadfastness from senior management. Microsoft: find somebody who believes in the future franchise and go for it!

Reputation is what people are saying and thinking about you. In the tech world, reputation is about the positive attributes of conversation and also share of mind. Microsoft needs to measure and address both of these.