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.

  • zelrik

    I dont think Ubuntu is failing, it’s selling well on netbooks still. They are growing slowly because Canonical is a small company with no deep pockets that’s all.

    More on the topic of the article, I think the whole IT industry is more and more against M$. Intel, Qualcomm, Nokia, Freescale, HTC, Dell, IBM, ASUS, Acer, LG, Levono, Google, Adobe… They all either offer or consider alternatives to MS products (in either the desktop or mobile market) and we all know who wins when it’s 1 vs the rest of the world. That why M$ is changing its practices, they dont try to crush companies anymore, they are looking for partners.

  • zelrik

    I dont think Ubuntu is failing, it’s selling well on netbooks still. They are growing slowly because Canonical is a small company with no deep pockets that’s all.

    More on the topic of the article, I think the whole IT industry is more and more against M$. Intel, Qualcomm, Nokia, Freescale, HTC, Dell, IBM, ASUS, Acer, LG, Levono, Google, Adobe… They all either offer or consider alternatives to MS products (in either the desktop or mobile market) and we all know who wins when it’s 1 vs the rest of the world. That why M$ is changing its practices, they dont try to crush companies anymore, they are looking for partners.

  • zelrik

    I dont think Ubuntu is failing, it’s selling well on netbooks still. They are growing slowly because Canonical is a small company with no deep pockets that’s all.

    More on the topic of the article, I think the whole IT industry is more and more against M$. Intel, Qualcomm, Nokia, Freescale, HTC, Dell, IBM, ASUS, Acer, LG, Levono, Google, Adobe… They all either offer or consider alternatives to MS products (in either the desktop or mobile market) and we all know who wins when it’s 1 vs the rest of the world. That why M$ is changing its practices, they dont try to crush companies anymore, they are looking for partners.

  • you-so-called-journalists-go-F

    There’s nothing wrong with Steve Ballmer. What’s “wrong” is entirely with Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, and their perverse relationship where they are simultaneously trying to kill each other, while conspiring together to screw Microsoft (still their “Prime Directive”). It’s amazing how nobody’s asking why Google can clone the iPhone as part of their next major corporate roadmap, without so much as a word from Apple (or for that matter, Michael-backstabber-DELL and all the other “Android partners”). To those who know what’s happening behind closed doors: you’re going to be outed Steve & Eric, Happy New Year!

  • you-so-called-journalists-go-F

    There’s nothing wrong with Steve Ballmer. What’s “wrong” is entirely with Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, and their perverse relationship where they are simultaneously trying to kill each other, while conspiring together to screw Microsoft (still their “Prime Directive”). It’s amazing how nobody’s asking why Google can clone the iPhone as part of their next major corporate roadmap, without so much as a word from Apple (or for that matter, Michael-backstabber-DELL and all the other “Android partners”). To those who know what’s happening behind closed doors: you’re going to be outed Steve & Eric, Happy New Year!

  • you-so-called-journalists-go-F-yourselves

    There’s nothing wrong with Steve Ballmer. What’s “wrong” is entirely with Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt, and their perverse relationship where they are simultaneously trying to kill each other, while conspiring together to screw Microsoft (still their “Prime Directive”). It’s amazing how nobody’s asking why Google can clone the iPhone as part of their next major corporate roadmap, without so much as a word from Apple (or for that matter, Michael-backstabber-DELL and all the other “Android partners”). To those who know what’s happening behind closed doors: you’re going to be outed Steve & Eric, Happy New Year!

  • Now Microsoft have attacked the Google Nexus One strategy saying that other mobile device manufacturers will not want to work with Google. WRONG.
    Google is offering manufacturers access to a powerful OS which has been denied them by Apple’s iPhone strategy. Because the Android system is open, I think Microsoft are totally wrong and reading five different newspaper articles and their associated comments make clear that so does everybody else.

  • Now Microsoft have attacked the Google Nexus One strategy saying that other mobile device manufacturers will not want to work with Google. WRONG.
    Google is offering manufacturers access to a powerful OS which has been denied them by Apple’s iPhone strategy. Because the Android system is open, I think Microsoft are totally wrong and reading five different newspaper articles and their associated comments make clear that so does everybody else.

  • sludge

    Personally, I’m getting sick of seeing the CEO’s like Ballmer and Jobs doing the product presentations (albeit Jobs does it way better) at big shows.

    The paradigm needs to shift away from putting such importance on the company “big wig” (or “big baldy” in Ballmer’s case) showing off the goods. How about some of the underlings/developers who have some stage presence and or conviction doing the presentation? How about getting real actual users talking about how product X has helped them do their job etc.? Then at least some of the comments might be believeable….instead of PR spin.

    On the brighter side, as long as Ballmer’s big ego makes him think he has to be the one with his big paws all over the tiny slate pc- Microsoft will keep shooting itself in the foot. And in the end, that is good for the open-source community and projects/initiatives like those of Google. I don’t see Google marching out the “big wig” to introduce products. It usually is a team effort and results in both a better presentation, less ego and testesterone (remember Ballmer’s sweaty developers, developers…ad naseum presentation), and shows that the company is not a one person operation or cult of personality.

  • sludge

    Personally, I’m getting sick of seeing the CEO’s like Ballmer and Jobs doing the product presentations (albeit Jobs does it way better) at big shows.

    The paradigm needs to shift away from putting such importance on the company “big wig” (or “big baldy” in Ballmer’s case) showing off the goods. How about some of the underlings/developers who have some stage presence and or conviction doing the presentation? How about getting real actual users talking about how product X has helped them do their job etc.? Then at least some of the comments might be believeable….instead of PR spin.

    On the brighter side, as long as Ballmer’s big ego makes him think he has to be the one with his big paws all over the tiny slate pc- Microsoft will keep shooting itself in the foot. And in the end, that is good for the open-source community and projects/initiatives like those of Google. I don’t see Google marching out the “big wig” to introduce products. It usually is a team effort and results in both a better presentation, less ego and testesterone (remember Ballmer’s sweaty developers, developers…ad naseum presentation), and shows that the company is not a one person operation or cult of personality.

  • Google does use developers/product managers to demonstrate their new products (aka betas) and I suspect you are right that it has greater impact on the community than one of the baldies.

  • Google does use developers/product managers to demonstrate their new products (aka betas) and I suspect you are right that it has greater impact on the community than one of the baldies.