The Critical Path #92: Microsoft's Critical Path

Horace talks about Microsofts reorganization from Divisional to Functional, and the implications on their Windows and Mobile OS roadmaps. In doing so, he and Moisés touch briefly on the subject of last episode, Scott Forstalls ouster from Apple.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #92: Microsofts Critical Path.

  • r.d

    We basically know what happened with Scott Forestall.
    Scott was use to work with Steve Jobs directly. So he probably told
    off other execs like Ive and Hardware dude that wanted to retire before

    cook said he would fire Scott after IOS 6 ships.
    and Steve always sided with Scott for UI.

    The whole joking about leather, linen, felt is clear example of that
    disrespect that Steve Jobs himself signed off on.

    Even shipping of Maps depended on contracts with Google and Steve’s direction.
    It had to ship no matter what. Scott wasn’t going to sit and fix and beta test the data.

    The way Cook didn’t thank Scott Forestall for 20 years of service
    all shows the enmity.

    Avi retired, French Guy retired and it was Scott’s turn but it wasn’t

    handled properly by Cook.

    • Davel

      Maps was a disaster. What happened to the ‘don’t ship till its ready’ ethos?

      They promised elegance and excellence and delivered ugliness and mediocrity.

      • Space Gorilla

        Uh, Apple Maps works fine for me, it’s actually more accurate than Google Maps for my area, and I live in the middle of nowhere in Canada. I think you’ve bought into the media hype. Maps was not a disaster, not even close, but that meme generated page views.

      • rational2

        Maps works very well for me in the areas (within US) I have traveled so far. It’s search is lacking, but once we have the destination set, the directions are accurate and delivered well.

      • EmbeddedFaculty

        It’s a work in progress for sure. Directions to Tucson Airport take you to the west side of the airport Actual entrance is from the east. I’ve reported this many times through the app, and it sitll doesn’t work.

        But, ugliness is in the eye of the beholder. I like the look. But, like Reagan with the Soviets, I say,”Trust, but verify.”

    • Glenn

      Both Ive and Forstall reported directly to Jobs. But in his last keynote, an iPad update I think, Jobs went out of his way when demoing FaceTime with Ive, to mention that Ive was his best friend and soul mate. Further, in Issacson’s book, Jobs mentions that he has set up Apple so that no one can tell Ive what to do. There is the hint in that bio and in Ive’s comments at the Apple Memorial, that he and Jobs would sit around and bullshit ideas endlessly, with some of those evolving into products. In the next Apple Keynote, the one after which Jobs died, un characteristically, Ive was not present.

  • Walt French

    I agree with your comments that if Ballmer can pull this off, he’s a bit of a genius.

    Or said my way, it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell.

    The thing that amazes me is the reorg’s Job To Be Done. Supposedly, it addresses the famous siloing and legendary hostility within the organization. Maybe creating a Peaceable Kingdom where the Skype shall lie down with the Dynamics, would be a bit of a second coming of a Gates figure, or Ballmer pulls it off.

    But while everybody says the siloing is an issue, it seems to me not the bigger problem that Microsoft faces, which is how to deal with Apple’s (and before it, Google’s) disruptions.

    No matter how capable anybody thinks Ballmer is, I’ve yet to see anybody say that he has the vision to lead the company into entirely new businesses, businesses that others might have started but that Microsoft comes in to dominate, or even be a close second.

    Even if we give some props to Azure and Microsoft’s cloud effort, the list of sorry failures is long and growing. To my eyes, they were all predicated on the belief that because almost everybody had a Windows PC and almost everybody who mattered used Office, they would necessarily prefer a Microsoft solution, and/or want an e.g., phone, that synchronized up with Windows, no matter what other shortcomings it had.

    I mean, Microsoft has ALREADY had a “one Microsoft” approach to the customer. Rather than “mobile first plus legacy synch as a sweetener,” they built the pitch for Surface and WP on how easy it was to use Office 365 (which it wasn’t). Based their cloud service not on a way that would sell new devices, but as reinforcement of the old.

    This might indeed temporarily shore up Redmond from defections, as The Faithful wait it out, looking to see how the WP and touch-friendly Windows8 app stores flesh out. But it seems pretty clearly NOT intended to attract brand-new users to their old brand, and the defections towards iOS and Android and a host of web-based solutions, continue to mount. Neither the status quo as of two days ago, nor the best possible outcome of the reorg, seems to specify how they’ll keep from being leapfrogged again and again and again.

    I work at a company that’d be devastated if MIcrosoft products disappeared tomorrow; I suspect the majority of the Fortune 1000 is so entangled. But if Microsoft keeps ceding battles in connectivity, mobility, interface to non-corporate types, services that cube-dwellers want to use the moment they go home and so give up mobile access to Outlook and our databases, companies will HAVE to do it, as a Plan B or “diversification” strategy.

    • James King

      The flaw with Microsoft is that it views design and engineering as one and the same. It’s an easy mistake to make. Think of this analogy:

      If I needed someone to build a bridge, I’d most likely hire an engineer rather than a designer. A good engineer will build a bridge using sound mathematical principles. The resulting work is likely to be generally pleasing to the eye but most of all it will do what it is built to do.

      Now what if I asked the engineer to build the bridge but limited him to only a small pool of resources? An excellent engineer is likely to build a bridge of supreme elegance and form. The lesser amount of resources are likely to inspire a greater level of focus and creativity. A great engineer could turn a bridge building process with few resources into a masterpiece of engineering which is likely to also produce a bridge that is stunning aesthetically because of the creativity needed to solve difficult problems with fewer resources.

      I think this thinking permeates Microsoft. Engineers believe in the elegance of their solutions because problem-solving generally requires high levels of intelligence, creativity and critical thinking skills. So the assumption is that anything created by a skilled engineer will be 1) functional and 2) generally elegant or intuitive.

      But here’s the problem: software engineers build systems from the inside to the outside, or from back-end to front-end. The problem is that the general public only uses the front-end and only expects the back-end to work. What engineers generally don’t seem to understand is that the problems related to building a system as opposed to USING a system do not correlate. A particularly creative solution designed to solve a problem when BUILDING a system may translate to additional complexity when USING that same system.

      That is what designers are for … they approach the problems of creating a system from the FRONT-END which, when done properly, simplifies and guides back-end development. UI and UX designers conceptualize the system from the USERS’ perspective rather than the ENGINEERS’ perspective. This is what Microsoft lacks. Even within its new reorg, Microsoft has not created a functional area of its organization dedicated to UI or UX. I think this is a serious flaw.

      Microsoft has to discover the value of FRONT-END design if it is going to change its culture (if that is even possible). It needs more right-brain thinking. But that has to begin at its executive level. Microsoft drove out the one exec in its rank that had right-brain thinking in spades, J. Allard. This reorg is probably a good first step but Microsoft should probably start trying to find new types of leaders.

      • Davel

        The problem with Microsoft is they are an enterprise company. Many companies have different needs and so Microsoft’s products are flexible if not always easy to use.

        Apple on the other hand is a consumer company. Their customer is the consumer. This allows them to focus on those necessary features and solutions that work, are repeatable and are simple.

        Microsoft solves differ problems. This is why I don’t think they can be as successful in the consumer space. You can have all the reorgs you want, but their fundamental customer is the enterprise which demands an infinite ability to solve slightly different problems and they have legions of technologist to help them get there. Complexity is not that big of an issue because they budget for it. A consumer cannot deal with complexity.

      • Panos

        Just some thoughts…

        If we see the consumer vs enterprise company discussion, it seems that the interesting question that rises is “what is enterprise now” and “how it changed over the years”. Meaning that in most areas/sectors, enterprises (as a closed powerful system that gathers and restrain value) are NOT the only way that things are done nowadays.

        Users-producers are in a way the new enterprises, meaning that anyone can find a way to be productive outside the classic enterprise/company structure (e.g. applets, media,software, even hardware – peeble, ouya).

        At least users-producers affect the way things are done in general, meaning more front-end, simpler, easier, more clever, more disruptive (due to lack of recourses) etc. And sooner or later this “new” way becomes the “mainstream” way and into the “classic enterprise’s” way (regardless their customers, consumers or enterprises)

        So who are really the Microsoft’s customers?

        Certainly not the users or the users-producers. But in the long run, not even the classic enterprises, that they will have to adopt and change into more consumer attitude enterprises, meaning do things the “user” way (not necessarily changing what they do, but how they do it).

      • Walt French

        It’s a funny definition of “over-serving” that finds Microsoft trying to provide such high-end, multiple database and multi-server data center, that your new wave workers become too intimidated to have hope of running their one- or twenty-person businesses on Windows (unless Windows is actually PART OF the business).

        So yes, Microsoft definitely tries to over-serve individuals, who mostly couldn’t care less about how to synchronize their PowerPoint presentations with their Marketing Department’s approval process — stuff that serves big bureaucracies as well as anything. And yes, this careful, cumbersome approach suits young/new entrepreneurs especially badly.

        But just as it’s a horrible misfit for some, it’s a requirement for others. The issue is that over the past 5 years, Microsoft has tried to lock in the innovators, who mostly want to be independent and able to change quickly. Totally different mindset. Microsoft has all the technical resources to serve those customers, but as long as it tries to put its heavy hand on the business, rather than create a NonWindows group serving individuals, it won’t realize what it’s missing.

      • Kizedek

        Interesting. But the opposite could be true. MS aren’t viewing them as one and the same enough.

        It is actually Apple that views them as one and the same, as part of the same process — “good design is not how something looks but how it works”. Ive as both engineer and head of design. Forestall/Ferderighi, etc. as both software engineers and head of UI/UX for the software they create.

        Why is it that “the general public only uses the front-end and just expects the back-end to work”? Because of Apple. Because Apple sees them as one and the same.

        It is Apple that views this functionally, as one and the same — make a product that is great in terms of engineering AND that is easy to use. This is normally the historical consensus.

        It is MS that still thinks of product creation in silos, not as one and the same: Use engineering guys for backend, use Metro guys for frontend because we have to do something “fun”… now who can make them work together? Hello? Anyone? MS is trying to make the oldguard Windows engineers work with the WindowsPhone/Metro/.net guys; and now with Surface guys, too. Probably because Windows and Office are not making as much money these days, so those guys will be defensive.

        And Apple does limit itself in order to achieve the impossible — number of moving parts, materials, power requirements, etc. The functions of “hardware” and “software” at Apple come together in “one team” around the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad or the Mac. The same guys meet together on Day 0 around each product to plan it from the ground up.

      • James King

        “It is actually Apple that views them as one and the same, as part of the same process” – Kizedek

        The reason that I disagree with this premise is that Apple is known to have distinct UI/UX and engineering teams. I don’t think Apple regards UI/UX and Engineering as “one in the same” so much as symbiotic processes and disciplines. Apple is also noted for designing its software from the user experience down vs. Microsoft’s back-end forward approach.

        The culture of Apple helps as it regards the cooperation between UX and engineering. The company was started with this basic symbiosis in place, the left-brained Wozniak and the right-brained Jobs. At Apple, the design and engineering teams have parity and collaboration is strongly encouraged. Based on reports, the opposite is true at Microsoft. Design teams are not held in the same regard as engineering teams and, as you pointed out, product creation takes place in “silos.” To my knowledge, Windows Phone is the first Microsoft product that was designed from the UI down. The ironic thing is that much of the underlying architecture of Windows Phone is incomplete which is why there were major archtitectural changes between WP7 and WP8 and there will be more still between WP8 and WP9. The culture of Microsoft has not enabled it to build software in a holistic fashion. The culture at Microsoft seems to be that the engineers are the superstars.

        The point that I was trying to make is that it is easy to see why Microsoft has ignored UI/UX. The assumption has been that a good/great engineer’s work will by its very nature be both functional and intuitive. But what Microsoft has not accepted is that the perspective of an engineer is not the same as a user, therefore, what an engineer is likely to build will be better suited for other engineers rather than general consumers. As another commenter pointed out, Microsoft’s main customer is the enterprise, and its software is designed primarily for trained professionals, people with mentalities very similar to software engineers. Apple’s focus has always been the common consumer, so it has always placed a very high priority on the user experience. However, people are beginning to crave the simplicity of their personal devices at work. The reality is that there are far more non-technicians than there are technicians. Microsoft products force everyday people to become experts in computer technology. In other words, Microsoft’s approach forces everyone to think like an engineer. Apple’s approach takes into account the fact that most people aren’t interested in becoming experts, they just want to get things done. It is a more intuitive process for Apple to add the additional functionality needed to get things done than it is for Microsoft to “dumb down” its products. I think that is why Apple has largely ceded the enterprise to Microsoft. It knows that making simpler but less feature-rich products has limited appeal in the enterprise. But it also knows that the bulk of the work that is done in businesses is done by average people of average intelligence. Apple is making a play for the enterprise but it is going through the front-door rather than the back door. Instead of winning over the CIO, Apple is winning over CEOs and SVPs, Exec Directors, and everyone else down the management chain. In the end, it is forcing CIOs everywhere to serve their constituents rather than forcing them to conform to the vision of the CIO.

      • Kizedek

        Sure — symbiosis and parity are good ways to explain it. Either it is one long process with discrete functions within it, or it is several processes that flow into each other in some magical way.

        What it isn’t, at Apple, is a bolting on later as an afterthought of something simply because the core product guys never had to think about it and always relied on someone from another silo to think about it.

        When you said that MS thinks of Engineering and Design as one and the same, I took that to mean they gave due consideration to both. Now I see that you are essentially saying there is a complete LACK of design at MS. Or, that design only goes so far — never considers who and what the product is for. Agreed. I felt that MS was the one who “bolted” on later something from what they considered a completely different and isolated discipline.

        That these disciplines require different mindsets, I agree. But that is in the DNA of Apple: the meeting of science and liberal arts.

        With Apple, the two mindsets have to reside in the same teams (which doesn’t mean they have to both be present in one and the same person). The “function” of software includes engineering right up to final UI/UX. The “function” of hardware includes engineering right up through fit and finish and final use by all sorts of people. The iPad “team” or the iPhone “team” has to think about all aspects from the initial concept onwards.

        Apple is consciously making these two mindsets part of “one and the same process” for all practical intents and purposes.

      • James King


    • r.d

      Microsoft is shifting the Fortune 1000 to subscription and cloud computing.
      So Microsoft can separate that business tomorrow and everything will be fine as long as you pay thru the nose.

      Ballmers’ vision is not to cede leadership to Apple, Google, Facebook.
      If that means copying their ideas, business. That is Microsoft
      modus operandi except they are not able to kill the competition.
      That is the only difference.

      It is the rest that is consumer based that needs collaboration not competition. One vision. blah blah blah.

  • r.d

    Horace, If you are going to honor Dr. Bose.
    Please review this video.

  • Bill Esbenshade

    Great show Horace! Your comments always get me thinking! Just a couple points:

    Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are all trying to get into the device business, competing with well entrenched incumbents like Apple and Samsung. Microsoft is trying to follow the same hardware based profit model that Apple and Google use, making sustaining improvements to mobile devices and competing against consumption rather than going after new markets or the low end. This effort seems almost certain to fail, since incumbents almost always win when it comes to sustaining product improvements. Michael Porter also notes the difficulty of effectively matching all the existing activities, and the activity “fit,” that an encumbent enjoys.

    Google and Amazon are trying to subsidize their hardware through ad/content sales, but in the process they’re removing much of the motivation needed to move upmarket.

    Christensen notes the difficulty of competing with incumbents using the same business model and trying to make superior sustaining improvements

    • Walt French

      I would think that Microsoft figured its ability to bundle Office compatibility and file synch would be its disruption of the mobile business — that if users had a choice between comparably-priced phones or tablets, a large number would naturally prefer the ones with Office and Outlook wired in pretty tightly.

      So it’s interesting that what they (probably?) saw as a disruption, was nothing of the sort. Or maybe that they totally misread the mobile market, and are seen as coming up short in usability, ecosystem, simplicity and other attributes that Apple has promoted.

      I *DO* think that they’ve managed to disrupt BlackBerry; it seems like some of their success with WP has come at the expense of BB’s share. That’d be consistent with the idea that Office is potentially a game-changer for your mobile Enterprise type, especially if you’re selling not to the road warrior but to the CIO or one of his minions.

      But circling back to why I comment here: there are disruptions and there are disruptions! As you say, the majority of the WP definition is in terms of incremental enhancements to the iPhone model.