Mr. Ballmer, I think you’ve got the wrong tree

by alec on April 8, 2008

Over the last few weeks I've had the opportunity to talk with many people about the Microsoft / Yahoo! deal, and I have to say I've encountered a lot of skepticism.  The skeptics range from industry figures (for example, Rob Enderle compares Microsoft's decision to buy Yahoo! in it's fight against Google to the US decision to enter Iraq in order to fight Al Quaeda) to rank and file Microsoft employees who wonder what their company is all about. It's widely held disillusionment.  People are asking why Yahoo! when apparently Microsoft can't fix the problems with its existing products.

One employee, for example, has dumped his Microsoft stock and is actively buying Apple.  "At the last dip in AAPL", he told me, "I backed the truck up to the door and loaded up".  He wonders how Apple can "kick Microsoft's ass" in the smartphone market with a V1, when Microsoft is on V6.   Another wrote me to say "You're saying things I haven't yet figured out how to say. I'm continually frustrated by the lack of vision at the top. This is the only company I've ever been at where everyone knows what the problems are, but no one at the top listens or wants to fix it."

Yesterday should have been a massive eye opener. Google, following Amazon's lead, unveiled Google App Engine – their platform in the sky.  There are countless other startups vying for the same business: Heroku, Bungee, and Joyent for example. Where is Microsoft in all of this? Scrapping with Yahoo! over yesterday's business, the Microsoft employees with an interest in cloud computing having long gone

I love Microsoft, or at least the Microsoft I used to know.  I spent nine of the best years of my career working there, in the company of the best and brightest minds I've ever encountered in any environment. I'm frequently nostalgic for those heady days, and remain a die hard Office and Windows user in spite of nearly everyone I know switching to Apple products.  Increasingly, however, I find myself turning to products from companies that satisfy needs that Microsoft doesn't — iPhone as my telephone, and Joyent to host Facebook applications, for example.  

Right now, I worry that the company I used to know is lost. Anti-trust litigation may have broken the back of the OEM PC cash cow that the company has survived upon, but that's not the real issue.  The real problem is that the developer community, the strong backs upon which Microsoft built its empire, are looking elsewhere to solve the development problems they have today — increasingly web development problems. Developers are the canary in the coal mine.  When they lose interest in a platform, that platform business is in deep trouble. 

Google and Amazon, on the other hand, are focusing on the developer needs of today.  Databases, elastic compute clouds, and development platforms, rented by the compute cycle and hosted in the cloud, are allowing businesses large and small to quickly develop and deploy new technologies.  Development tools like Ruby and Python, and frameworks like Rails and Django are making it cost effective to deploy new services at a rate never seen before. 

As one developer said to me "Microsoft has always had undue distraction from competition and that's how they lose markets historically. All you have to do in order to beat Microsoft is go "hey look over here" and then do something else."  Google knows this.  Google's success in search is the distraction that will cause Microsoft to lose the platform, which is the prize that the team in Mountainview are clearly now playing for.

So I ask, in the midst of perhaps the largest threat that the company has ever seen, who really cares if the Chief Yahoo! and his failing business go to Microsoft?   Aren't there bigger issues that need to be faced?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Huslage April 8, 2008 at 2:09 pm

As a current Microsoft employee (since July 2007), I agree 100% with what you’re saying. This company has, in some respects, lost its way. There are internal “cloud” projects that are just beginning to help with app deployment and scaling, but those projects may never see public release.

The developer focus of Microsoft has not changed with the times, either. Most developers are more happy to work with simple, RESTful APIs than the overblown, monolithic junk that comes out of Microsoft these days. For a company that claims to know developers, they sure have missed the web service boat by a mile.

Yahoo is a last-ditch effort to “catch” Google. What Microsoft has failed to realize is that Google is not a search engine company. They are a broad-based technology company and will not be “caught” the way Microsoft’s “fast follow” strategy has worked in the past.

If Microsoft and Yahoo merge, it is the beginning of the end. Microsoft will continue to be stagnant in its growth and will eventually begin failing. Slowly, over a 10-20 year period, the company will cease to be and some brilliant people will be out of their jobs and find it very difficult to adapt to how the “real world” works.

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Markandey Singh April 9, 2008 at 7:14 am

This is one of the finest articles I have ever read. I am 100 n 10 percent satisfied with the arguments given. I wish Balmer to read this article.

I like to quote these lines which have the biggest impact.
“He wonders how Apple can "kick Microsoft's ass" in the smartphone market with a V1, when Microsoft is on V6”

“The real problem is that the developer community, the strong backs upon which Microsoft built its empire, are looking elsewhere to solve the development problems they have today”

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derk April 15, 2008 at 1:12 am

I think you guys' comment on Ballmer are spot on. I watched a few talk shows w/ him in there. Almost every time after the host mentioned a competitive product from other companies, his first reaction was to laugh at it as if sth negligible, which conveyed more of ignorance than confidence. And in this match up, Google looks like an ace a step ahead and keeps Ballmer off balance w/ every pitch. That being said, I'd like to ask your opinions on development community b/c I'm not sure Microsoft is slipping here.

What do you think of the latest SilverLight 2? I could be wrong, but I for one think it's better than any web app development solution out there, including these highly touted AJAX apps. It makes writing web apps as if coding Winform apps, which is huge. Outside of Flex/Flash, no other company has ath this fancy. And even Flex/Flash doesn't impress me as much.

I just went through a demo showing python controlled web pages at the Google Apps site. Granted it's more of proof of concept and Google is capable of providing more than that in future, but I still find its html-based approach outdated. If just to produce a drag & drop effect I have to put in a string of javascript hacks, what more hassle do I have to go through to make it really appealing? Not to mention too many hacks degrade the code into a bloated maintenance hell. SilverLight 2 on the other hand can do it like cake walk and capbale of doing LOTS, LOTS more and in an elegant manner.

We all know web apps are tiered, and to deliver a through and through decent app, we need a strong presence at every tier. Google is certainly doing a fantastic job on the business/data tier, but they need way better stuff than html/javascript on the front show off their clouding strength. I don't know what's next out of Google's pocket, may be a GoogleLight or G#, but it'd better be good b/c this SilverLight 2 sure looks like a giant step in the right direction.

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gail hughes April 15, 2008 at 2:21 pm

on the other hand silverlight 2 is a enterprise 2.0 rig up it’s a giant step but i am the giant, hang in there yahoo! keep up the good work google. owner of saas,soa and the internet application software that microsoft uses

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