Are days of innovation over at Microsoft? At least so it would seem if an ex Microsoft executive is to be believed. Dick Brass, who was with the company between 1977 and 2004, has spewed venom on the software giant's competitiveness
and corporate culture in a signed column in New York Times.
Brass has criticised Microsoft for not being able to
bring users the future, "whether it's tablet computers like the iPad, ebook
readers like Amazon's Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes, or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter."
Not surprisingly, the column left Microsoft fuming. Within hours of the
column going live, the company's head of corporate communications,
Frank X Shaw rebutted the arguments raised by Dick Brass in his official
blog. We bring you face to face with the accusations made by Brass as well
as Microsoft's response to it which makes for an interesting
No new products
Microsoft's huge profits $ 6.7 billion for the past quartercome almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago. Like GM with its trucks and SUV's, Microsoft can't count on these venerable products to sustain it forever.
"The problem comes when the [internal] competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive," writes Brass in the column. To support his contention, he offers a
couple of telling anecdotes:
* Microsoft's Clear Type display technology languished in the lab for years,
he says, because engineers in the Windows group "falsely claimed" it
made the display go haywire, the head of Office products said it was fuzzy
and gave him headaches, and the vice president for pocket devices was
said he'd support Clear Type only if Brass transferred the programmers to
* In 2001, the vice president in charge of Microsoft Office refused to
modify Word, Excel and Outlook to work properly with Brass' tablet.
Result: "if you wanted to enter a number into a spreadsheet or correct a
word in an email message, you had to write it in a special popup
box, which then transferred the information to Office. Annoying, clumsy and
"Dysfunctional corporate culture"
"At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It's not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft's music, ebooks, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left."
"Clumsy, uncompetitive innovator"
"Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason. Its image has never recovered from the antitrust prosecution of the 1990s. Its marketing has been inept for years; remember the
2008 ad in which Bill Gates was somehow persuaded to literally wiggle his behind at the camera?"
Losing market share
While Apple continues to gain market share in many products, Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers, highend laptops and smartphones. Despite billions in investment, its Xbox line is still at best an equal contender in the game console
business. It first ignored and then stumbled in personal music players until
that business was locked up by Apple."
Never developed a system for innovation"
Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers."
"No longer a cuttingedge place to work
"Perhaps worst of all, Microsoft is no longer considered the cool or cuttingedge
place to work. There has been a steady exit of its best and brightest."
However, software giant Microsoft has defended itself. Responding to Brass' accusations, Microsoft's head of corporate communications, Frank X Shaw, wrote that the company remains competitive and innovative..
Just cool ideas not enough
Former Microsoft employee Dick Brass argue that our better days are behind us, and using examples from his tenure to make the point that the company can no longer compete or innovate. His piece does represent a good opportunity to touch briefly on how we think about innovation."
"At the highest level, we think about innovation in relation to its ability
to have a positive impact in the world. For Microsoft, it is not sufficient
to simply have a good idea, or a great idea, or even a cool idea. We
measure our work by its broad impact."
Innovation at scale
To make his point, Dick generally focused on ClearType, noting that this technology was "stifled" by existing business groups. For the record, ClearType now ships with every copy of Windows we make, and is installed on around a billion PCs around
the world. This is a great example of innovation with impact: innovation at scale."
This should have happened faster. And sometimes it does. But for a
company whose products touch vast numbers of people, what
matters is innovation at scale, not just innovation at speed.
Xbox is pioneer
"Another point worth addressing is Dick's assertion
that Xbox is "at best an equal contender in the game
console business." Fact is, Xbox 360 was the first
highdefinition console. It was the first to digitally
deliver games, music, TV shows and movies in 1080p
high definition. The first to bring Facebook and Twitter
to the living room.
And with Project Natal for Xbox 360 launching this year, it will be the first
to deliver controllerfree experiences that anyone can enjoya
magical experience for everyone that Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and
Time magazine each named one of the top inventions of 2009."
"And in a world of software plus services, the groundbreaking part of our
game strategy is Xbox LIVE. Today, more than 23 million people around
the world routinely connect to the service to play games, chat, listen to
music, watch movies and much more."