I know I'm subjecting myself to (even more) bashing for writing the following, but it was one of the first thoughts to pop into my head when I read this morning that the time and date have been set for Steve Ballmer's keynote speech at CES 2011.
CES 2011? That's in January. Will Ballmer even be around then?
It's one of those things that's been swirling in my head about Microsoft - and actually took center stage in my thought process when I wrote a post yesterday about the embarrassment spread across Redmond after execs killed the KIN mobile phone.
Granted, the KIN was only one product in a larger pool of other offerings from Microsoft. But, it was an important one because it gave the general public a sense of the lack of focus and bad decision-making that's going on in Redmond. And when shareholders take a look at the common denominator on this - and other - failed ventures, they'll likely be looking to the top of the pay scale for answers - and blood.
Let's stop here and create a quick Microsoft scorecard to see how things are progressing under the Ballmer Administration:
- Mobile: Clearly, the KIN was a flop. And, isn't it kind of funny that references to the mobile landscape are always centered around iPhone, Android and BlackBerry. When was the last time you heard someone get excited about the forthcoming arrival of Windows Phone 7 and talk about how it will rock the mobile landscape? OK, putting Microsoft shareholders and employees aside, when was the last time you heard anyone else talk highly of Windows Phone 7?
- Tablet: Well, Ballmer killed the Courier. Or someone at Microsoft did - but surely not without Ballmer's permission. OK, so they killed a tablet PC project. Big deal. Isn't that better than launching a loser (like they did with KIN)? But it wasn't so much that they killed it as much as it was the extra line in the company's official statement that declared "no plans to build such a device right now." It seems that tablets are all the buzz right now, sparked largely by Apple's iPad. And Microsoft has no plans for one?
- Software/OS: Regardless of what you think about Google, the cloud and even the Mac, you cannot ignore the fact that Geese that lay Golden Eggs at Microsoft - Windows OS and Office - are getting old. There's fresh competition from all over - and this isn't just the Mac vs. PC sort of competition. There's excitement around the launch of tablets running Google's Chrome or Android OS. Clearly, Apple is gaining some ground from its switch campaign. And companies are being given real options for productivity software from online providers.
The point of all of this is that Ballmer, as the CEO of Microsoft, seems to have spent quite a bit of time riding on the successful coat tails of Bill Gates - but really hasn't done much to elevate the company further, XBox being the exception.
Last month, my colleague Jason Hiner posted a chart looking at Ballmer's performance, compared to Bill Gates' - and it didn't look pretty. In that post, Hiner also wondered how Ballmer has managed to avoid coming under fire for Microsoft's shortcomings.
Could things be changing soon at Microsoft? Should they be changing soon? It seems like Microsoft needs a new direction, new focus, new something. I just don't know if Ballmer is the guy to make it happen.
With that said, if I'm the person booking speakers for CES, I just might put Ballmer's name down in pencil, instead of pen. A lot can happen between now and then.
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