Maybe Steve Ballmer finally got the message that Microsoft is drifting toward irrelevance. Monday's announcement that his company is going after Salesforce.com with an aggressively priced online version of Dynamics CRM was welcome news. It follows on the heels of a series of gutsy decisions he's spearheaded lately:
- Making efforts to put some version of Windows on the ARM platform.
- Giving the shove to Bob Muglia, head of the Server and Tools group.
- Being willing to take the heat by not announcing a tablet at CES.
- Permitting the release of Office OneNote for iPhone (though not iPad).
[ See why InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard thinks Muglia's dismissal is a bad sign of Ballmer's increased fears of being replaced. | Keep up on the lastest tech business insights with InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog and Twitter feed. ]
I'm far from convinced that all of those moves will work well, but you got to give the Wild Man of Redmond credit for initiative. When a company has a long-term problem, management has to send the message that business as usual cannot continue. Ballmer has done that.
Still, his reign has been mighty short on inspiration and long on what China's Chairman Mao Zedong referred to as "monks tolling the bell," the bell being Windows and Office, of course -- two products that represent the vast majority of the company's revenue and profits.
Since Microsoft is halfway through its fiscal year, let's give Ballmer a midterm grade of C, up from his usual D+.
If you have nothing good to say...
When is it smart to keep your mouth shut? Anytime you have nothing intelligent to say. And when is time to not announce a product? When you don't have one that's any good. Microsoft is way, way behind in the tablet market, and that fact is certainly not a tribute to the company's leadership or strategic planning.
However, facts are facts, and I give Ballmer credit for not playing the smoke-and-mirrors game with a vapor product, as he did the year before at CES. If a product isn't good enough, don't launch it. That coda has been a hallmark of the Steve Jobs era at Apple. Maybe the Wild Man of Redmond was paying attention; silence is certainly not his style.
It's worth noting that one of the big reasons there's no viable Microsoft tablet is the company's misbegotten belief that users were clamoring for input by pen. Wrong -- what makes the iPad so successful is its multitouch screen, the same technology that makes the iPhone a joy to use. Windows was never designed with touch in mind, and Band-Aid efforts to change that haven't gone well.