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Steve Ballmer is pained by his company's struggles, but his attempts to turn around his company's struggling units have seen little success thus far.   (Source: Reuters)

Microsoft Zune is one of the company's struggling products. Others include its search efforts, its mobile phone efforts, and its tablet efforts.  (Source: LIFE)
CNN Money says that the end may be near for Microsoft's attempts to appeal to the masses

Amid record profits Microsoft has serious cause for concern.  It is coming off the high of the fastest-selling operating system in its history -- Windows 7.  That OS sent its profits soaring and convinced some that Microsoft was no longer on the retreat.

But part of Windows 7's success was due to how poorly received Vista was.  With Windows 8 landing reportedly in 2012, the company may have significant difficulties in convincing the average consumer to upgrade to its latest and great OS.

Other than the Windows brand, Xbox and Microsoft Office are the company's other two major successes in the consumer sector.  But the Xbox trails Nintendo's “family friendly” Wii and the Office team is getting seriously nervous about growing consumer interest in OpenOffice.

On the other hand, Bing has failed to gain even 10 percent of the search market in most metrics, despite a massive ad push and a deal with Yahoo. Zune remains a tiny player in the MP3 market, having failed to become a true competitor in terms of sales to Apple's iPod line.  And Microsoft's smartphone empire, once a major player, is in rebuilding mode after the disastrous Kin and ill-received Windows Mobile 6.5.  It is placing its hopes on Windows Phone 7, but that phone enters a packed market.

Internet Explorer, Microsoft's browser, has long led the market, but has seen a steady decline in recent years, which may allow Firefox and Chrome to eventually reach its formerly insurmountable market share peak.  Microsoft's key hope here is a new product, Internet Explorer 9.  

So while it seems that 
CNN Money's recent headline, "Microsoft is a dying consumer brand", is a bit sensational, it is a claim that is grounded in some reality.  

One of the key points in the article is that aside from the struggles of many of Microsoft's consumer "expansion" business units, it is also bleeding executive talent, like many other struggling firms (HP, Yahoo, etc.).  States the report, "Microsoft's executive suite is in turmoil. CFO Chris Liddel, entertainment unit head Robbie Bach, device design leader J Allard and business division chief Stephen Elop have left within the past year. Ray Ozzie joined the exit parade last week."

The report praises Microsoft's recent efforts, but concludes in cautionary fashion, "Microsoft just has to hope [they're] not too late."

Much like the Romans or Greeks, Microsoft has built a mighty empire, a key part of which are expansions into new arenas -- in Microsoft's case phones, video game consoles, and internet services.  

But much like the Roman empire fell, Microsoft appears dangerously close to losing its expansions to hungrier parties.  But much like Rome, it will likely hold on to its central holdings (Windows, Internet Explorer, Xbox, and Microsoft Office) for some time, even if its other efforts fall into commercial purgatory.

The talent gap is absolutely a concern for Microsoft.  And equally concerning is the fact that the company is being led by Steve Ballmer.  Mr. Ballmer, while a brilliant tactician in some regards and a man with obviously enormous love for the company, has failed to execute a strategy to turn around the company's struggling units -- or one that works at least.  

To succeed, Microsoft may need to move on without Mr. Ballmer.  But who to pick to lead the world's largest software company, perhaps the most powerful technology company in the world?  The leading candidates have already left the company.  That means that, essentially, there's no easy answer to Microsoft's leadership issues and that the ongoing risk to the company is tremendous.

Is Microsoft's consumer brand "dying"?  Not yet, in our minds.  But it lacks the hunger that it once did.  And it most certainly sorely misses the leadership of its founder and chief visionary -- Bill Gates.



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RE: My faith in Microsoft
By kmmatney on 11/1/2010 8:11:17 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not arrogant - and overall I like Windows 7 (most of it anyways). Although my copy of Win 7 informed me again (yesterday) that my OS might be counterfeit. All I did was connect an SSD to a spare SATA port, and then remove it later. That was enough for my OS to think I had installed the OS on another computer. I think this would piss anyone off who regularly swaps out hardware in their computer. But overall Windows 7 is pretty nice.

But just because they make a nice OS, keyboards, and mice, doesn't mean that everything they do is great. I still feel that not allowing people to opt out of the new ribbon menu in Office was a screw up. The new 16:9 screens are already small on vertical space, and the ribbon connector makes it worse. You can minimize it, and put custom buttons on the title bar, but its still not the same as having fully customizable toolbar. Everything new Microsoft puts out seems to be less customizable than previous versions.

And the Zune is a failure, by any commercial measure. I'm not saying it's a bad device, but Microsoft didn't give much incentive to buy one. When they first came out, I was hopeful that they would be a cheaper alternative to the iPod. Instead, they simply matched the capacity and price of Apple. Even worse, it took them forever to come out with a flash-based player. Most people who wanted a disk-less player already bought Nanos by then (including me). When they finally came out with solid-state players, they were still the same price as Apple.

If they made the new Mobile OS compatible with the Zune HD, that would be very cool. But they didn't do this either - leaving Zune HD users a bit disappointed to be left out.


"It's okay. The scenarios aren't that clear. But it's good looking. [Steve Jobs] does good design, and [the iPad] is absolutely a good example of that." -- Bill Gates on the Apple iPad














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