Sack Ballmer? Break Up the Company? How Microsoft Could Innovate

2/5/10Follow @gthuang

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number of customers with almost everything it does. Shaw writes, “We think about innovation in relation to its ability to have a positive impact in the world.”

Trying to dismiss Brass’s claims, Shaw cites the widespread availability of Microsoft products and features like ClearType (as part of Windows), OneNote (part of Office), and Project Natal (an upcoming part of Xbox 360). But frankly, these examples pale in comparison to how far behind the company seems in areas like mobile software and devices, social networks, Internet services, and digital media.

Overall, Microsoft’s official response leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t address any of the deeper issues Brass raises. But part of the problem is communication: the term “innovation” largely has lost its meaning and has become a buzzword for big companies to use whenever they want to sound competitive and forward-thinking. Whereas it should reflect the most creative, surprising, and specific game-changing ideas a company has to offer.

So what should Microsoft do? Maybe it’s simply too big to be truly innovative anymore. Some people, like 10-year Microsoft veteran Hillel Cooperman (now at Seattle startup Jackson Fish Market), would suggest breaking up the company. Others undoubtedly want to see CEO Steve Ballmer replaced—but by whom? It’s not clear who within the company could conceivably succeed Ballmer, but perhaps an outside candidate might emerge.

It would be quite telling to compare and contrast the way other tech giants like Amazon, Apple, and Google deal with similar issues as they grow, and to examine their leadership style, corporate culture, and product world view as compared to Microsoft. Then maybe we’ll get somewhere with all of this.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://MSprague.com Mark Sprague

    Army Intelligence? Indeed! Can’t you come up with a stereotype that is actually true? It’s clear that you use the metaphor loosely without any personal experience to support your comment.

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  • Blue Swan

    I would spin off all business units into separate entities.

    Microsoft would then become a conglomerate like the old ITT.

    I would end dividends entirely and instead use profits to invest in Web 3.0 startups.

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