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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday January 28 2007

Another memo from me to me.

I am confused by the New York Times.  I get emails from it every day, but am never sure if links saved from previous days will go on working.

Anyway, here are some attempted links to NYT pieces:.

Ballmer becomes the boss of Microsoft, while Gates wanders off into the foggy realms of mere philanthropy.

My gloss (not the NYT’s): A great two man team dissolves.  Will Ballmer become an unchallengeable boss, to whom nobody can say Bollocks, the way Ballmer could to Gates?  If so, I predict that Microsoft will slide down inexorably from its current semi-leadership spot.  (Does Gates see the writing on the wall?)

And another piece about who owns genes.  That link may soon not work, but presumably this piece, which the NYT piece links to, will still be reachable.

I write weekly bits for CNE about intellectual property, but after about two years of this I feel as if I am merely confused about the topic in a more informed way.

Quote from the NYT piece:

Important questions must also be answered about who can legitimately “own” or control our personal genetic information. And no one has yet been able to address economic, social and legal questions raised by the patenting of genetic resources taken from developing countries.

This month, for example, Peruvian farmers protested against the biotech giant Syngenta, which genetically modified a common potato variety so that the potatoes are sterile unless a chemical is applied.

Risk concerns aside, farmers say they want to know why the company can charge a premium for adding a few new genes to a potato variety - yet they cannot, in turn, demand a royalty from Syngenta for using the “property” that they and their ancestors have been “genetically modifying,” by traditional means, for centuries.

Important questions indeed, but not questions that I know how to answer.

I think the verdict on Ballmer is already in, and the verdict is that he is a terrible CEO. He has been the CEO of Microsoft for five years or so and has been running the company with Gates lurking in the background as “Chief Software Architect. In that time Microsoft has failed consistently to produce a new version of one of its two most important products. Don’t buy the spin that Windows Vista is two years late, by the way. When XP (which was itself a fairly minor update of Windows 2000) was released in late 2001, Microsoft was talking about the next major revision of Windows, which was codenamed “Blackcomb” and would have all sorts of great new features. In mid 2001, Microsoft announced that it would take a while to get Blackcomb’s features right, and that therefore there Blackcomb would not be released until late 2003 or 2004. In the mean time, an intermediate version (codenamed “Longhorn") with a much smaller number of extra features would be released in late 2002 or early 2003.

See this news story from 2001.

That was the first that was heard of “Longhorn”, which was last year renamed Windows Vista. It is not two years but four years late. In 2003 Microsoft gave up completely on everything it had done so far for Longhorn, and started again, using the Windows Server 2003 codebase (which is fairly closely related to XP) as the starting point. In the two and a half years since then, Microsoft has dropped many (some would say most) of the new features that were intended for Longhorn, just in a desperate attempt to get something out the door.

Somewhere along the line Microsoft managed to convince most journalists that the “late 2003 or sometime in 2004” schedule for Blackcomb was in fact the original schedule for Longhorn/Vista, and that therefore Vista is only two years late and not four (although even this shows creative subtraction skills). The truth, though, is that for the product on which Microsoft’s success rests (and which it was able to produce a new version of every year or two in the 1990s) Microsoft has taken five years to produce a substandard version of an update that was supposed to take one year, and in doing so has spent countless billions of dollars and has had to give up and start again once along the way. (At the same time Apple has with vastly fewer resources managed to produce a new version of its operating system every 18 months or so, and this means that right now Apple’s OS/X is a substantially superior product, when I don’t think it was in 2001). This is a debacle. The strength of Microsoft’s market position has meant that the scale of the debacle has failed to be appreciated in a lot of circles, but it is truly an enormous one.

Microsoft has done a bit better with Office (it is only three years since the last version, and Office 2007 is a much more major revision to Office 2003 than is Windows Vista to XP), but this debacle happened on Ballmer’s watch. Microsoft has attempted to get into a few other businesses and in some instances (the X-Box most notably) it has sold a lot of product but at great cost and without really establishing market leadership (the X-Box department is massively loss-making for now, which might be worth it if the X-Box evolves into the device at the centre of everyone’s living room, but for now it is a cost centre). In other instances (mobile phone operating systems for instance) it has spent vast amounts of money failing to sell significant amounts of product. (I personally have a mobile phone that runs Microsoft software and in some ways I rather like it, but that makes me wildly eccentric).

The industry has moved on. The stock prices of all tech companies stagnated in 2002 and 2003, but the companies that have actually had their acts together (Google, or Apple for that matter) have had their stock prices rally strongly over the last couple of years. Microsoft’s has stagnated. Ballmer’s personality has alienated a lot of actual and potential employees.

Gates having a hands on role basically meant that Ballmer was protected. (Wall Street does respect Gates). Gates gone means he is no longer protected. Ray Ozzie (who in the days when Microsoft did not dominate in Office software was largely the man at Lotus who was responsible) was brought in from outside basically to run things, and he will likely be CEO within a year or two.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 29 January 2007

Well, I got my answer.  NYT links don’t work after the first day.

Arguably, it should be the other way around.  Not on the first day, when it’s all news.  But then later, a permanent free archive, to which the blogosphere can link.

As it is, this blogger says to hell with it.

I realise this will be very old news to lots of people.  But part of being a blogger is correcting your ignorances in public, and not minding.  Ignorant is not stupid.  But pretending not to be ignorant when you are ignorant is stupid.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 31 January 2007
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