Blow it up, Ballmer: Give away the Surface for free

With Microsoft slouching toward irrelevance, CEO Steve Ballmer has rightfully become rule-breaker-in-chief to change the game

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No, that won't happen overnight. By breaking the rule that Microsoft will defer to its partners (even though it didn't always play nice as a partner), Ballmer has announced the beginning of the end of the old business model -- and not a minute too soon. "There has been no real innovation from [PC makers] for the past 15 years. Microsoft's OEM partners have been an impediment, not an asset," says Chowdhry. "Microsoft should have done this years ago."

Breaking compatibility
As a PC user, I always liked the fact that my new computers ran nearly all of the old software I had around my office and that existing peripherals would continue to work on new machines. Contrast that to Apple, which hardly ever gives a thought to backward compatibility. When Apple decides a technology is a drag, it jettisons it and pushes customers to the next thing.

It's true that keeping compatibility in Windows led to bloated code and its attendant problems, but from a user and business point of view, it made perfect sense, as did keeping the UI more or less the same for generations of Windows. But Microsoft is bending those rules with Windows 8 and breaking them with Windows Phone 8.

In case you missed it, here's what Microsoft said about Window Phone 8: "Some of you have been wondering, 'Will we also get Windows Phone 8 as an update?' The answer, unfortunately, is no. Windows Phone 8 is a generation shift in technology, which means that it will not run on existing hardware."

That's certainly breaking a rule, especially given the high-profile launches of Nokia's bet-the-farm Windows Phone smartphones in the United States this spring. But because Microsoft's share of the mobile OS market is tiny -- 1.9 percent according to Gartner -- what does Microsoft have to lose by shaking up its struggling platform? I don't know if this strategy will work, but there's no doubt that nearly everything Microsoft had been doing in that market has flat-out failed. Breaking the rules is the smart move, even though it's likely to anger the installed base, such as it is.

Similarly, the Windows Phone-derived Metro UI in Windows 8 is a radical break with the look that started with Windows 95, although it will run on existing hardware. Along with many other reviewers, I didn't like the Windows 8 public beta when I installed it on a conventional PC. But I suspect that Microsoft will make some serious fixes and could even fork the OS: one version for the tablet, another for the PC. Nonetheless, copying Apple's model of bringing the desktop (OS X) and the mobile (iOS) operating systems much closer together is a move that had to be made.

It is, of course, very difficult for a company that has dominated a global market and earned billions and billions of dollars to make a radical course correction. But Ballmer is taking that on -- and he deserves our respect for doing so.

Here's to the rule breakers!

This article, "Blow it up, Ballmer: Give away the Surface for free," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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