You won't believe what happened when Microsoft made Bill Gates its "Technology Advisor"

You won't believe what happened when Microsoft made Bill Gates its "Technology Advisor"

Summary: Bill Gates has been a hero of mine since I was a kid, but I can't get my head around the idea of him coming back to be more involved in Microsoft...

TOPICS: Microsoft
Nadella and Gates
Just the two of us, we can make it if we try... etc.

The news of Gates returning to be more actively involved at Microsoft as part of Ballmer stepping down and Satya Nadella stepping up had been niggling at me for a while until I managed to place my concerns.


One aspect -- actually not my biggest concern, I'll get to that -- is this strange implication that Satya somehow needs handholding.

Even in his own email on his first day as CEO, he says: "I’ve asked Bill to devote additional time to the company, focused on technology and products".

There's a thread running through the closing days of this transition which sounds very much like Microsoft believes Bill somehow needs to "save" them.

Why does Nadella need this help? Surely he knows what he's doing? Right?

Hopefully this is just a messaging problem, because if you take this to a natural conclusion the impression you get is that the board wants to bring Gates back in through the back door and Satya is just a stepping-stone for doing that. But I can't believe that. Perhaps it's a sop to the shareholders to make them feel more comfortable.

Anyway, on to my bigger concerns...

Spotty vision

We know that Gates has been putting his effort into the Gates Foundation since he stepped down as full-time CEO in June 2008. But we also know he's been involved in the company he founded since that time. So for nearly six years, he still has been involved. He has still been influencing the products.

To remind you of what Nadella said, he wants help from Gates on products.

If I were Nadella and Gates asked me if he could be my "technology advisor", I'd be questioning his credentials. On the one hand, I would see is someone who fully understands "enterprise IT", and has created a successful business off of the back of that understanding.

On the other hand, the one that's not about enterprise IT and more about baristas checking their Facebook at work on their iPhones, or soccer mums checking work emails whilst picking up Little Johnny, I would see someone who has not covered himself in glory.

Tablet PCs, Kin, Windows Phone, and Bing all stand out as examples of non-enterprise-IT products that have been absolutely and completely smoked by competition. I'm sure I could come up with more examples and, no, Xbox doesn't count.

Where's the evidence of the killer competence on the non-enterprise-IT side that's evident on the enterprise-IT-side?


We know that Microsoft is essentially hopeless on consumer products. You can argue against that statement as much as you like, the fact remains that how, where, what, and why people use computers has changed over the past six years. That's the thing to examine and measure, not whether market share is growing, or whether technologists like it.

Go into any coffee shop, and observe that every single table has a smartphone or tablet on it. Go and pick the kids up from school, and watch the other mums and dads killing time with their smartphones. Go into a meeting and watch people check emails iPads. In every single case you can think of we can go out into society see devices and software where there previously was none.

The problem is much more simple than people think. It's not "enterprise vs consumer", or "devices and services", or any of these things. It's that our industry has grown beyond enterprise IT.

Where's six years ago the computing industry universe was yay big and Microsoft essentially took up all of the space in that universe, the societal changes that have rippled out of the introduction of cheap, always-available, always-connected, ubiquitous computing devices has caused inflation within that universe to occur. That inflation looks very much like the ballooning of the early universe that happened after the big bang.

Previously the whole universe was filled with Microsoft. Microsoft was all about enterprise IT, ergo it ruled the universe because that was all there was. Now the universe is much, much bigger, and it's available to have the totality of our digital lives played out within.

Hopefully it's not stretching the analogy, but nature abhors a vacuum and now we see new players filling out that new space. Microsoft is still massive, and important, and fantastic, but unless they understand the sociological forces, they'll get nowhere.

As a business, one option is to grow into that new space. The other, my preferred option if I'm being honest, is that they don't.

So what's the deal? Does the Nadella+Gates combo mean that Microsoft is going to focus on enterprise IT, work on just that core business, and keep it safe? That for me works fine.

But if the idea of this is that Gates is the person who can lead Microsoft out into a greater universe where enterprise IT plays a tiny role?

I can't see that working so well.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • ugh

    This gets the award "Clickbait Title of the Year". And seriously, U ok with MS being a solely enterprise focused entity? Come On!!!!
    • What are you on about?

      MS was on all our home computers because they were on all our work computers, and that's what we knew so that's what we bought. They aren't anymore.

      They have no successful consumer devices, and yes, even the Xbox should be regarded as a failure. All MS have done is finish last in the console race two times in a row...I'll admit they've got #2 locked up this generation, but that is less a victory for them than a spectacular crash for Nintendo.

      They have no presence in mobile, excepting that Windows 8 -- which, by the way, I think is a pretty fine product in a lot of ways -- has been an extreme disappointment, thus far.

      Now, MS is nowhere near down and out. They could well still be quite successful in consumer IT. But you have to acknowledge that they simply have no special expertise in that area, Bill Gates included.

      I have a brand new Windows 8.1 convertible tablet. I have a Windows 8.1 8" slate. I have a Windows Phone. So, yeah, I'm pretty up in the MS ecosystem. But I am also not blind to the fact that the innovation is happening elsewhere. Windows Phone is a complete flop and, given how utterly neglected it's been, it deserves to be. Bing was actually better than Google for a while, but I think Google has clawed their way back to equilibrium, if not superiority again. What does MS have to offer consumers that their competitors don't? Office is one, but probably not a biggie (that's "work" stuff). I can't think of much else...
      x I'm tc
      • RE: Xbox failure

        MS makes a fortune on Xbox Live @ now $50+ a year & then charges money per game on top of it. MS essentially charges twice for the same thing & the consumer for some reason doesn't have a problem with it. Hardly a failure.
        • X-Box is still in the hole

          Yes, the X-Box Live service is making money... but you have to add up the whole schmeggie. The X-Box division made a profit from 2008-2012. They didn't last year, due primarily to spending on the design of the X-Box One. However, when you add it all up, they're still $2.8 billion in the red, ignoring the not-yet-documented actual profit/loss from 2013.

          A successful platform to the buyer, sure. Probably Microsoft's best-loved product. But as a business, it's been a mess.
          • It is a console....

            ..pretty much every console built since the late 90's (including the original XBox) spent its first few years in the hole. Consoles represent even longer-term investments than even operating-system development lifecycles (the Xbox 360 was a current, shipping product for almost seven years).

            You can't measure the profit success of any console in the first six months of its life. Microsoft knows this, Sony knows this, and Nintendo know this. Neither the XBox One nor the PS4 will be long-term failures, unless something very huge comes out of the woodwork very soon - and the SteamBox isn't going to be that thing.
          • By the end of the life of a console, the profit should be positive.

            There has been THREE cycles of the Xbox, and only the third one has been making profits. The fourth one is still too new. Over the lifetime of the brand (14 years), it has been a loss.
        • i know but the ms haters will tell there own stories

          so why even bother, they just stick their fingers in their ears because the truth would hurt to much.
        • Lol

          The Xbox division at the end of 2012 was 2.8 billion in the HOLE for its lifetime. That is before the R&D of the Xbox One.

          As a shareholder I wish they would kill the Xbox off. 10 years of wasting money is enough.
      • I agree

        consumer products esp mobile and that's wat they should be focused on... Doing better not just giving up in d consumer space. The alternative- focusing squarely on d enterprise- would be much worse. They really dropped d ball with WP tho
        • Speak Intelligently Please!

          esp, wat, d, and tho are not words. "d" is a letter. The other ones are complete nonsense. Please learn to read and write the English language, it will help you go farther in life and people will respect you for it. Your comment was tremendously confusing to read. My intent is not to offend, but to provide constructive feedback.
      • What?

        "even the Xbox should be regarded as a failure" ... this dooms your entire post to idiocy.
      • Bing better than Google?

        Bing has never been anywhere close to Google. You stated Bing was better than Google. You must be talking about something besides a Web search. Who has ever said I will Bing that question? The correct statement is,"I will Google that", even if you are for some poor reason using Bing.
        Jeffrey Penfield
        • Bing That!

          I have heard "Bing that." One or two times.

          Marketing and popular culture don't mean something is better.

          I use Bing and Google. Both work fine.
          • Bing - Google Comparo

            When I'm on my smart phone, I use Google Search. When I'm on my home computer, I use Bing. I once put the same question to both devices. The results were damn-near the same... not enough to make a difference.
            Crashin Chris
        • When did you last Vacuum Clean your house?

          I hoover mine, with a competing brand's product. I quite like Bing and stopped using google directly (DuckDuckGO!) as the tracking got a bit freaky, I get that they know everything but they do not have to rub it in!
      • MS is not a loss, but needs more than fine tuning

        I agree with your comments, with the exception of Windows 8 Phones. Windows Phone is not a complete flop, quite the contrary. It may be the best phone for business users at the moment, with Blackberry's demise. I am on my 3rd Windows phone (work provided), and will soon replace my Android personal phone with a Windows phone, followed by a Surface Pro 2 to replace my home desktop and laptop. Leaving the business behind at that time, so I need my own Windows phone. Microsoft should get new energy and direction with the recent management and board changes.
      • Microsoft Products

        Your comments are inconsistent with your actions, and maybe a large part of our society will be behaving the same way.
        You bought a complete MS suite of products and still state that MS does not have an answer to the consumer market.
        Customer loyalty will be a major factor in peoples decision to buy the next generation products. MS had its failures, no doubts, but it managed to keep a lot of users because the pain of relearning the wide range of products and processes is substantial and may deter people to move away.
      • It was the reverse.

        "MS was on all our home computers because they were on all our work computers".

        I'm guessing you weren't in the workforce in the '80's. Actually it was the exact opposite. We struggled to get information into, out of & between our Mainframes & Mini's. Yet it was so easy to do what we wanted at home on a PC with Windows. And it was at a fraction of the price. So the push came from home. Then the MVS & Unix folks held tight to the notion that Windows Servers were toys. Eventually as the PC H/W became more capable & Microsoft Server product line matured, it became the defacto standard for much of the Enterprise. Largely because it is easier to use, easier to find skilled staff & more cost effective.

        MS took their eye off the ball with IE & didn't innovate as fast as others. They squandered the lead they had with Windows mobile. As their sales force was too focused on the enterprise. When you are talking small devices clearly there is benefit in building both the H/W & S/W. And also making an effort to sell it. They forgot their "best practices" that made them great.

        But that is be benefit of a competitive marketplace.
        Apple came from a similar place Microsoft did 15 years earlier. They used a similar strategy. Start the fire with the individual & work into their offices. Hence BYOD trend.

        Before Microsoft, DEC & SUN took advantage of a Technology transition. But they did it via training people at Universities. (no-one could afford a computer at home)

        In a decade or two. Apple will stumble & it will be someone else.
        • Poor old MS-DOS

          Dear David,

          I'm afraid you were thinking of MS-DOS when talking about what happened during the 80's. It seems to me much people forgot there was a time when we didn't use windows at all (with lowercase "w") and MS-DOS was the ruler.

          MS-DOS can be blamed for introducing the PC to the workforce, where my team and me developed FORTRAN, BASIC and PASCAL programs on those bulky MS-DOS boxes.

          Windows 1.0 (nov '85) was kind of a toy Microsoft used to experiment in the field.
          Windows 2.0 (nov '87) kept by the same model, even if including some improvements after the field experience.
          Windows 3.1 (mars '92) was the first serious "windows" O.S. By that time, my colleagues and me were sharing files, printers and so on with Novell and MS-DOS and we all looked suspicious at the newcomer and his promise of "easy life" for all of us.

          In fact, at least in our case, it was MS-DOS and those cheaper "clone" PCs the ones to blame for the introduction of the latter in the workplaces.

          On the other hand, I feel curious too about what MS has to offer for the world outsides workplace (at least what we call workplace right now, that's changing as well). I hope they're capable of some rebirth, helping to diversify the market.

          Thanks a lot for your contribution to the discussion.
          Antonio Rodulfo
    • Spot on..

      But I wouldn't hand out that penultimate award just yet. Considering the ZDnet usage trend of these blogger types with their ridiculous job titles (read: cheap sources of copy), it appears we can only look forward to more clickbaiting, speculation and psuedo-trolling in lieu of informative articles.
      Flawless Cowboy