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 dbarney@redmondmag.com.

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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