Former Microsoft VP Says Redmond Can't Innovate

There are those who claim that Microsoft has been too slow to bring innovative products to market --- and now an ex-VP joins the chorus, delivering a devastating critique. It makes for eye-opening reading.

Dick Brass, vice president at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004, wrote an Op Ed piece in the New York Times today in which he charges:

"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?

"While Apple continues to gain market share in many products, Microsoft has lost share in Web browsers, high-end 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."

Brass portrays a cut-throat culture in which innovation is squashed due to turf battles, egos, and outright internal warfare. Brass was responsible for working on tablets and e-books at Microsoft, and he gives examples from trenches. He claims that even though tablet PCs had support of top management and had cost hundreds of millions in development costs, it was sabotaged by others. For example, he claims that when ClearType was developed by his group, the vice president for pocket devices told him he would only support the technology if the ClearType project was transferred to his control.

I'd bet that there's more than a little score-settling going on in Brass's account. But there's likely a good deal of truth as well. His conclusion is devastating, when he claims that Microsoft:

"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, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left."

If he's even close to being right, Microsoft clearly needs to do something to foster innovation, not squash it. With Bing, it's shown that it is clearly capable of innovation --- now it needs to do something to encourage that company-wide.

This story, "Former Microsoft VP Says Redmond Can't Innovate" was originally published by Computerworld.

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