Barney's Rubble

Ballmer's Apple Envy

Microsoft unveiled the "new Microsoft" without a lot of fanfare. In fact, it was played out in a simple two-page letter to shareholders, rather than the company's typical blowout, big-city event.

What used to be a packaged software company (remember when software came in boxes?) is now a devices and services company, says the letter from Steve Ballmer. "This is a significant shift, both in what we do and how we see ourselves -- as a devices and services company. It impacts how we run the company, how we develop new experiences, and how we take products to market for both consumers and businesses," Ballmer explained.

Two issues are worth noting. First is that Microsoft truly sees the cloud taking over. If Microsoft can make as much or more money as on-premises gives way to services providers, that will be an amazing feat. But this is just the type of opening that kills old companies and births new ones. Here Windows Azure and Office 365 are doing the heavy lifting, and I'll be watching these two pretty carefully.

The devices mandate is more of a shock. Microsoft isn't just dipping its toe in with Surface -- it's ducking its whole head in!

It's pretty obvious to me that Ballmer sees the unrivaled success of Apple, which builds hardware around its software and produces products that just plain work. I've bought a lot of Macs, an iPhone (for my son Nick), an iPad (taken over by Nick and his sister Kiley, who use it as the family camera) and iPods. The only devices that let me down are the sketchy iPods (the iBreaks). And once these suckers go south, there's no choice but to toss 'em. You can technically replace a dead-in-the-water battery, but in my experience it never works.

Microsoft also saw how stable and impressive the Xbox is, and now wants to replicate that success with PCs.

I, for one, welcome the change. I'm really starting to think that Microsoft-built machines without the Intel legacy could be just the way to get rid of all this flaky Windows behavior. I mean, does it make any sense that Windows is now more than a quarter of a century old and my Windows 7 machine goes south when on too long, leaving me to recover all my crashed Office docs? This is more embarrassing than an Adam Sandler comedy. Have you seen "Jack and Jill"? Rotten Tomatoes ran out of fruit with that one!

What do you think about Surface? Does Microsoft have a compelling cloud story? Answers to each are welcome at

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Wed, Dec 19, 2012

MS has dropped the ball as far as enterprises are concerned, focusing on the consumer maket with Win 8. A few design changes with a simple choice on instalation to choose between the classic desktop or the touch Metro interface would have drastically changed the reviews (& usabilty) before hand.Combine that with the recent price rises for coporate licences in UK/EU, don't they know about the recession ! I also have no issues with Win7 on multiple machines other than hardware or buggy driver related issues, best OS thus far.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Charlie Boston

Doug keeps saying over and over that his Windows 7 machine crashes just to get a rise out of his readers. By now I'm sure he realizes that it's not typical.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 sj

for a "tech" writer, Doug's not too "techie." He's either got bad hardware or a virus. Win7 is as stable as any modern OS with working hardware.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 RichAZ

I agree with Dan's post. MS has been unbeatable in the Enterprise with its office and management tools. Nothing beats Active Directory and group policy for managing your users and devices. Its solid. They should pay attention to the consumer market but should keep their business users happy first.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Rich

I agree windows has been really stable. The only time it has issues is with uncertified drivers and poorly written 3rd party software that is not making use of the .Net framework. Antivirus causes many issues. Hardware problems is next common being hard drives and memory failures. Its very rare for it to be an actual OS issue. Should let someone tech savvy look at your system.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Nige Pembrokeshire Wales

I believe we are at a very important crossroads both in the way we would like to do business and the traditional methodologies familiar to us all. It will not be long before the infrastructures are available to get everything on demand andi mean everything. Currently we are fighting over hand held devices next stage Personal HUD and it goes on but as you can see the natural progrssion is not in software but in how it is presented. So I would say to anyone thinking that Microsoft is following Apples lead, your absolutely right because the public like the presentation much like the invention of the PC with early windows, what comes around....... I think you get the cycle.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Dan

It's funny you say that. I've been saying for over a year that Microsoft is absolutely green with Apple envy. And it sucks. What Microsoft is forgetting is that Apple is not and has never been an Enterprise software company. Apple is a consumer technology company only. The snarky "Mac" guy in the commercials can say how lame spreadsheets are all he wants. The world runs on Windows, not Mac for a reason. But Microsoft's decisions lately have been 100% about consumer software and it is doing some serious damage in alienating its corporate user base with Windows 8 and other new products. They could have done a much better job of moving into the consumer market without disrupting the business user base. But no... Must. Be. Like. Apple....

Tue, Dec 18, 2012

My answer is: I'm moving to Linux.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Jim NYC-Metro

I thought it might be useful to add that I never see my servers crash or lockup (well maybe once) and I have XP machines that are almost never rebooted. Servers and XP and WIn7 all only restart when an occasional patch requires it. With WIn 7 this is seldom and more with XP and WS2003, WS2008 and R2 have run for 3+ months between restarts for a patch. In the old days of NT 4 I had most boxes running for most of one year. These were database boxes that would never get updated as they were critical. Hardware has mostly been an issue with WIndows crashes. Compaq and now HP and to a degree Dell produce server hardware that is pretty stable.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 JIm NYC-Metro

I have never seen a WIndows 7 machine crash. I am now seeing lockups on Windows 8 laptops with touch screen. I amconvinced that it is a flakey touch screendriver. Nothing gets trashed but we have to force a power down and restart.

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Chris Texas

They will need to pay better attention to the details on their hardware. Little things like the rear-facing camera that needs to be able to compete with the 5-megapixel iSight camera that is all over the Apple equipment. Why have a fancy picture gallery in the OS if the device has no tools for image capture?

Tue, Dec 18, 2012 Bill Southern California

Doug, If you have a Win & machine blue screening you needd to take a look at your hardware. I manage more than 200 of these setups in SMB enviroments and I can document only 5 incidents of Blue Screens. 2 were video card failures (fans died), 2 HD failure related. The other one was pure cockpit error caused by the local admin allowing the user to install anything he wanted (a CEO in this case), result was major malware infestation. You seem to be becoming a Mac Fanboy. Bill

Tue, Dec 18, 2012

Microsoft is the buggy whip manufacture in the days of a Model T; trying to sell a buggy whip as a combination convince the horse to stay out of range and auxillarly braking mechanism. I suspect that they're going the way of Commodore. Ballmer even looks a bit like Jack Tramiel.

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 tom

What's up with your win7 machine Doug? I recall you complaining about it before, and so maybe its time to figure out exactly what's going on. Is it blue screening? Do you have a kernel dump we can look at it? Is it just locking up? Let us know dude.

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