Ballmer assails Microsoft finances, Windows Phone, Universal apps

Steve Ballmer's criticisms may be correct, but he's the one who's responsible for the problems

Ballmer assails Microsoft finances, Windows Phone, Universal apps
Credit: Masaru Kamikura

Yesterday, Dina Bass at BloombergBusiness reported on a couple of comments Steve Ballmer made in an interview after Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting. As you probably know, Ballmer is Microsoft's largest individual shareholder, with 4 percent of outstanding Microsoft stock. He's worth $25 billion and change.

Ballmer was brutal -- and correct. He took Microsoft to task for its dodgy reporting of cloud revenue, saying, "They should report the revenue, not the run rate … it's bull****." He also says that the idea of writing Universal Windows apps, which run on multiple Windows platforms, "won't work." Bass quotes Ballmer as saying Windows Phones should "run Android apps."

It's like déjà vu all over again.

Ballmer perfected Microsoft's financial obfuscation techniques. His sleight of hand has come home to roost.

Over the course of Ballmer's run as CEO, Microsoft changed its financial reporting so many times that I finally gave up trying to make sense of it. Back in the days before Ballmer had Microsoft buy Nokia, for example, his twisted financial reporting of Windows 8 sales, Bing's losses, and Nokia "platform support payments" had me pulling my hair, trying to figure out what was happening.

The (in Ballmer's terms) bull**** of Microsoft reporting run rates originated with Azure and Office 365, as best I can tell -- and back in Ballmer's time. Nadella's bean counters have added a few new creative accounting twists, but Microsoft's been hiding its true financial picture for more than a decade, making it impossible to track important trends. Ballmer's attack on the current state of reporting run rates is both spot-on accurate and more than a little disingenuous.

Then there's the Windows Universal Platform. Gimme a break.

Windows 8 introduced the Windows version of "write once run on any device" with Metro programs. Back in June 2012, I talked about the fallacy of a single API that could work across all Windows devices. It didn't work then, and it looks more and more like it won't work any time in the future. That's what Ballmer's talking about.

The push started under Ballmer's tenure, with the Steve Sinofsky-led Windows 8 effort. Yes, there's a new name -- "Windows Universal Platform" -- but underneath it lies the WinRT API, the "One Windows" paradigm, and the can of worms that carries Ballmer's imprimatur.

Without lots of Metro apps -- er, sorry, Windows Universal Platform apps, there's precious little incentive for anyone to pick up a mobile Windows device. Microsoft has been working on a port of Android apps to the Windows Universal Platform, but the project was killed in the past few weeks. As Paul Thurrott put it earlier this morning:

I exclusively revealed on a recent episode of the Windows Weekly platform that Microsoft's efforts to bring Android apps to Windows phones, called Project Astoria, had been silently killed, not delayed, and that team members were pushed over to a related Project Islandwood, which involves porting iOS apps to Windows. I've been told by multiple sources that management was not happy with the ease at which Android apps could be made to run on Windows phones, and that this ability would curb, not grow, the universal Windows platform. So they killed it.

It must be tough sitting in Nadella's shoes today. Although Ballmer's comments may have been off-the-cuff, having your largest shareholder cast aspersions on your second-most-profitable and best-known product has to hurt. Specifically attacking the one feature that could entice developers to re-embrace Windows looks to me like a swift kick to the gonads.

But the fact that Ballmer's criticizing Nadella for techniques that originated in the Ballmer era must hurt most of all.

That said, Ballmer's quite correct.

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