Monday, June 19, 2006

Cringely's cruel verdict on Gates

Cringely is well known as one of the most interesting and well connected tech pundits. That's not to say he's always right, in this league batting 300 is respectable.

Here he empties both barrels into Microsoft and Gates.
PBS | I, Cringely . June 15, 2006 - Taking One for the Team

... Microsoft has spent five years and $5 billion NOT shipping Windows Vista. This reflects a company deliberately built in the image of its founder, Bill Gates -- a single-tasking, technically obsolete executive with no checks or balances whatsoever who fills the back seat of his car with fast food wrappers. So Bill has to go, because as an icon, he's great, but as a manager, he sucks.

Part of this is Gates, personally, and part of it is his entourage -- a meritocracy based as much on historical proximity to Bill as anything else. That inner circle has to go, too, and if it doesn't go -- and go immediately -- the required change won't really happen because the one true Bill will just be replaced by a dozen or more Bill clones.

... while Ozzie and Mundie are each capable of failure, it is important to remember that GATES HAS ALREADY FAILED, so coming back isn't really an option, though he may not yet get that.

... The other attribute that Microsoft has historically lacked is ethics, which also comes directly from the cult of Bill, with its infinite shades of gray. Microsoft has to this point generally thrived by stealing technology from other companies. But now it is at the point where there isn't that much left to steal, so Microsoft is faced with operating in a whole new manner -- actually inventing stuff. This requires discipline -- not just discipline to do the work, but discipline not to backslide and steal a little of this and that when the going gets rough.

... So IF THEY DO IT THE RIGHT WAY, look for Gates to move his office to the Foundation immediately, look for several dozen of his closest and oldest associates to leave the company in the next four to six weeks, and look for Steve Ballmer to leave, too, within a year....

I think he underestimates Gates' unique talent for shooting his own horse, but I also think that Microsoft's last real technical achievement was Windows 2000. Microsoft is cursed by its monopoly -- without real competition there's no way for the company to direct itself, and it's demoralizing to get paid well for crummy work. Gates would be a happy man today if the Clinton admistration had succeeded in dividing up the company; his support for Bush blocked that option. That was a Faustean bargain with classically satanic consequences.

I bolded the comment about the challenge of invention. From 1990 to 2005 the best corporate strategy was to be quick to copy. I think it still works in many industries, but it's been tapped ou t in the Wintel world. Apple's too alien to steal from effectively and Dell, HP and Microsoft have crushed all the innovators. Both Dell and Microsoft are now staggering because they've effectively crushed internal innovation ...

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