Rudderless Microsoft

I’m a little surprised at the relative lack of concern over the fact that Microsoft is effectively leaderless right now. Part of this is because so many thought it was time for Ballmer to go. But think of the amount of virtual ink that has been spilled pondering the oh-so-concerning “news” that Tim Cook (are you sitting down?) is not, in fact, Steve Jobs.

Meanwhile, Microsoft doesn’t even have a CEO.

Yes, Ballmer is still ostensibly in charge, but he can’t make any decisions right now. Anything he does hangs under the threat that a new CEO will think differently. Yet, I continue to see pieces claiming that Microsoft has some secret winning strategy or inherent strength that will take it back to the top again. “Microsoft is huge in the enterprise” isn’t a strategy. It’s a moat. If Steve Jobs were alive and taking over Microsoft soon, their enterprise strength would be the thing he’d milk to gain time to figure out what the next great thing is going to be.

On a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber and Marco Arment talked about Microsoft and how it’s not “cool” like Apple is. It’s a douchey topic to cover (which is upsetting because John usually has me on to cover the douchey topics), but it’s true with one exception I can think of: the Xbox. The Xbox is perceived as cool and it’s a failing of Microsoft’s culture that it continues to try to lead with Windows in the consumer markets. Very few people ever bought Windows because they thought it was cool. They bought it because it was compatible with what they had at work and because it’s what ran on the cheaper systems.

It is very hard for an outside CEO to take over an organization like Microsoft. Even if you’re good, internal forces are constantly trying to sabotage you. So I’m torn between thinking Microsoft should find an internal candidate or one from outside. An outside candidate might shake them of this “everything is about Windows” mindset, but an internal candidate might work from a great position of support. By all accounts they seem set on an outsider.

I think it’s interesting no one is suggesting the flip side to what everyone incorrectly said Apple must do in the 1990s. That is, what if Microsoft bought one of the floundering PC OEMs — Dell or HP — and ended licensing of Windows? I don’t think that’s necessarily good advice — I doubt it’s even possible because of contracts. I just note that I’m surprised I haven’t heard it because tech pundits love to talk about “bold moves”. The opposite wasn’t good advice to Apple and we heard it as late as 2006.

Increasing component costs and pressure to cut its prices mean Apple’s best bet for long-term success is to quit the hardware business and license the Mac to Dell, analyst firm Gartner claimed on Tuesday.

That was incredibly dumb advice at the time and it gets dumber as the years go on, threatening to form a singularity of dumbness that will travel backwards and forwards in time, consuming all in its path. How come Microsoft doesn’t get the same level of dumb attention?

I don’t think Microsoft is going anywhere. I mean that in two ways: 1) I mean they’re not going away and 2) right now they’re not going where the puck is going. They’re sailing somewhat aimlessly through increasingly margin-less waters. And the degree to which Microsoft’s investors, boosters and followers are OK with that is rather baffling.