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The Dwindling Force That is Microsoft

In my vast and large Twitter stream today I ran across a link to Reddit that was discussing issues with Microsoft and their apps.  I always take these kind of things with a large grain of salt, but what I read had me interested.  I followed up with someone who I knew would know more about it, and read a few more articles on the subject.  I have been using Microsoft products for a long time, but I never knew just how messed up things were inside the company over a decade ago.  Furthermore, the damage done by some of the decisions below are mind-blowing.

Here is a snippet of a long post on Reddit.

But if you look at Office, it’s a feature mill. Office hasn’t created any new, interesting technology for well over a decade. Every release adds more eye candy, uses more memory, and is slower. That’s because Office is not run by engineers, it’s run by PMs. Office has never, ever figured out how to integrate with the web. They’ve tried, over and over, but every technology that they have tried has been chosen and pushed by PMs, not by engineers or anyone else who understands how people actually want to use Office these days. So, seriously, you could put the absolute best engineers in the world in Office, and you would still get more of the same – more UI “features”, more bloat, more useless stuff.

There have been numerous internal projects which attempted to branch out in new directions. I’ll never forget seeing a demo of “NetDocs”, more than 10 years ago, at a company meeting. Think Google Docs, long before Google was even a household word. An internal group had basically that working, but it was quickly killed. People here joke that the worst thing you can do is to demo a technology at a company-wide meeting, because it guarantees that someone else will get your project killed. It’s not really a joke, it’s just a grim reality.

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I had never heard of NetDocs before, but apparently in 2000 Mary Jo Foley wrote an article about this product.  What killed the project is a window into why Microsoft is having the issues they have today.

The battle between the Netdocs and Office teams has been one of the fiercer ones, according to sources close to the company. The challenge has pitted Microsoft senior vice president of Office Steven Sinofsky and his troops against senior vice president of subscription services Brian MacDonald and his forces.

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Six years later Steven Sinofky was put in charge of the Windows team.  This article was written by Paul Thurrott when this happened.  Turns out Paul might have been on to something.

As expected, Microsoft announced a leadership change in its Windows division late last week. The company moved long-time Microsoft Office executive Steven Sinofsky over to the Windows group and put him in charge of planning post-Vista versions of Windows. Although I’ve never met Mr. Sinofsky and his reputation suggests he’s extremely capable, he’s the wrong person to put in charge of Windows. In fact, this reshuffling simply proves that Microsoft hasn’t learned a thing from the problems its Windows division has faced over the past several years.

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While much of this information is known by many, going back and looking at a single project like Net Docs is a little surreal.  It got me wondering what other great products did Microsoft squash during this time?  Microsoft has been living off the inertia of their user base for over a decade, and it shows everytime they have an earnings report.  Eventually that force starts to dwindle, and what will keep the train moving?  It might be something like Azure, or it might have been one of the many projects that were killed at the company due to mismanagement and hubris.

Lastly the same Paul Thurrott who was correct in 2006 wrote an article last week about the future of Windows and Windows Phone (http://winsupersite.com/windows/its-time-mobile-first-cloud-first-windows-best).  He got a lot of blowback from many who read his site.  The thing is, he was right once again.  If Microsoft won’t feature their own OS and won’t put their OS first, why should anyone else?  They aren’t.

Microsoft the Azure company, Microsoft the Xbox company, Microsoft the services company, but don’t call them Microsoft the Windows company.  That ship is leaving the dock, and it is going to take a lot to turn it back.