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Kurt Eichenwald  (Source: nymag.com)
Stack ranking and the inability to move up to new technologies were Microsoft's largest problems

Vanity Fair's contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald analyzed what he calls Microsoft's "lost decade," where a few bad management decisions led to the company's fall starting in the year 2000. Eichenwald used internal corporate records, interviews and emails between Microsoft executives to dictate his analysis.

From the information Eichenwald reviewed, he found that Microsoft made a couple of huge mistakes that led to its fall in the tech rankings: stack ranking and the inability to move up to new technologies.

After dozens of interviews with employees, Eichenwald discovered that Microsoft had been using a stack ranking management technique that put a lot of pressure on employees. Stack ranking means that each unit has a certain percentage of employees that are identified as top workers, good workers, average workers and poor workers. In other words, if there is a unit of 10 employees, it's understood that two people would be designated the top workers while seven employees would receive good or average reviews and the last one would get a poor review.

Using this stack ranking technique not only put a lot of pressure on employees, but also made employees want to compete with one another instead of other companies.

"It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers," said Ed McCahill, a former Microsoft marketing manager for 16 years.

Microsoft also failed to take on new technological opportunities, such as the e-reader it developed back in 1998. A Microsoft team created the portable e-reader and presented it to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, but Gates was not impressed. He said the user interface didn't look enough like Windows. The idea was scrapped, and the team was removed from the reporting line to Gates.

Amazon later introduced the Kindle e-reader in 2007, which turned out to be a hit. Amazon now has an entire line of Kindle e-readers as well as the Kindle Fire tablet, and other companies like Barnes & Noble have released their own tablets as well (NOOK). It wasn't until April of this year that Microsoft embraced e-readers by teaming up with Barnes & Noble to create an e-book subsidiary called Newco.

While Microsoft has seen tremendous success with other releases during the supposed "lost decade" -- such as Windows XP, Windows 7, Xbox 360 and Kinect -- it doesn't seem to be enough to pass competitors like Apple. In fact, the iPhone alone brings in more revenue than all of Microsoft's products combined.

But Microsoft is looking ahead to its upcoming Windows 8 operating system and Windows Phone 8 for a boost. The new Metro user interface is unlike any Microsoft Windows release to date, and has been a topic of debate. Some feel it strays too far from the original Windows theme while others praise the change. The 10.6-inch Surface tablet, which Microsoft announced last month, is also an anticipated addition to the company's family of gadgets.
 

Source: Vanity Fair



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RE: They expect it to change now?
By tayb on 7/9/2012 5:52:06 PM , Rating: 0
quote:
If well-regarded products such as Windows XP, Windows 7, Xbox 360 and Kinect can't change their fortunes, they think that a controversial OS that lacks the support of their previous products will?


It isn't really controversial unless you count a tiny percentage of overall users who have "heard" bad things about it but have never actually used it. I challenge anyone who claims to "hate" Windows 8 to actually use it as their primary OS for a month and then come back to me.

I once felt the way you do but I was forced to spend time actually using and what do you know it grew on me. Going back to Windows 7 feels like a step down. From all angles... UI, menu interaction, multi-tasking, etc.

You guys remind me of the folks who whined endlessly about the ribbon in Office 2007. This is about the same level of whining except this time it is the often misunderstood "start screen." "They took away my start menu!!!!" "They re-organized the toolbars!!!!" Sounds familiar.

If Microsoft hadn't bet wrong on mobile and tablet this article wouldn't have been written, poor managing throughout the decade or not.


RE: They expect it to change now?
By frozentundra123456 on 7/9/2012 9:57:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well, I still really hate the Ribbon. Now it takes multiple clicks to accomplish the simplest of tasks that used to require only one. I guess that is the definition of progress to Microsoft.


By Mitch101 on 7/9/2012 10:22:49 PM , Rating: 3
I found the complete opposite with the ribbon once I figured out where some of the items are it makes much more sense.

To those who complain about losing too much of the screen to the ribbon CTRL+F1 or in the upper right corner there is a little up arrow next to the ? where you can minimize it then work in a similar fashion with the ribbon as a drop down.


By woofersus on 7/9/2012 10:35:38 PM , Rating: 2
You can customize the ribbon to put your frequently used commands where you want. The ribbon switches tabs automatically based on context. There are pop-up menus that show when you highlight text with commands that are frequently used for that type of content. On top of that you can automatically preview changes just by mousing over some items on the ribbon. (no click at all)

What is it that you do that is so much harder to get to now that half the functionality isn't buried in menus?

As soon as I saw it I thought that the ribbon was one of the best UI advances in a piece of productivity software since ditching the keyboard overlay.


RE: They expect it to change now?
By drlumen on 7/9/2012 11:38:37 PM , Rating: 2
Agreed. I was forced into an upgrade to Win7 and MSO2010 about a year ago and I still have to hunt for the correct ribbon and then hunt the icons or for options in the drop downs to find what I need.

Big load of crap. I despise it!


RE: They expect it to change now?
By testerguy on 7/10/2012 4:09:46 AM , Rating: 2
Absolutely agree.

For anyone familiar with using older versions of Office, specifically in Excel, the ribbon is simply a backward step, functionality wise, for the sake of looking more modern.

I find myself using Excel more often than I would like but even after years I'm still not familiar with the ribbon interface. It was most definitely a backward step.

People defending the ribbon have argued you can customise it or hide it. Is that really a defence? To make it not suck you either have to hide it or waste time customising it on each pc you use? Come on..


RE: They expect it to change now?
By woofersus on 7/10/2012 4:34:02 PM , Rating: 2
The point to customizing it is that it's possible some people have obscure usage patterns, not that it should have been organized differently. (which would actually be a valid argument if that's what people were saying, rather than "AAARRRGGGGG, IT'S SO AWFUL! I WANT MY OLD FASHIONED MENU TREASURE HUNTS BACK!!)

Seriously, how does the ribbon require more hunting around than the old File/Edit/Tools/View menus when you couldn't see any commands? What commands do you use that are so hard to find? Some of them even pop up automatically when you highlight. Are you generally against visual interfaces? You can still use keyboard shortcuts as much as ever.

I see all these comments from people saying after years they still aren't familiar or comfortable with the new interface, but apparently they were comfortable with the old interface where you opened a menu, brought up a separate box with multiple tabs (in some cases on two axis) and found your command in one of those combinations, then closed the box and opened a different one for another command. Either you're not getting it out of stubbornness, or you really aren't capable of adjusting to interface changes in general.

I get that people had learned the old versions and were comfortable with it. That doesn't mean something new can't be better, at least for the majority of people. If that were the case we wouldn't have GUI's at all.


RE: They expect it to change now?
By testerguy on 7/29/2012 8:00:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Seriously, how does the ribbon require more hunting around than the old File/Edit/Tools/View menus when you couldn't see any commands? What commands do you use that are so hard to find? Some of them even pop up automatically when you highlight. Are you generally against visual interfaces? You can still use keyboard shortcuts as much as ever. I see all these comments from people saying after years they still aren't familiar or comfortable with the new interface, but apparently they were comfortable with the old interface where you opened a menu, brought up a separate box with multiple tabs (in some cases on two axis) and found your command in one of those combinations, then closed the box and opened a different one for another command. Either you're not getting it out of stubbornness, or you really aren't capable of adjusting to interface changes in general. I get that people had learned the old versions and were comfortable with it. That doesn't mean something new can't be better, at least for the majority of people. If that were the case we wouldn't have GUI's at all.


I know what you mean, but no. I've used the new Excel for years now, and I'm still not used to it.

The old GUI, and that's what it was, a GUI - was more intuitive, in my honest opinion. If you didn't know where something was, you knew where to look for it - where it was likely to be, generally it only took 2 clicks.

On the new Excel you have to faff around with different tabs, not really certain which tab which command is in.

I am a GUI man - I use GUI's almost exclusively and I definitely enjoy progress visually - but the Excel ribbon just moved so many things around to counter-intuitive places.


RE: They expect it to change now?
By tayb on 7/10/2012 11:18:23 AM , Rating: 2
Thank you for perfectly illustrating my point. The ribbon has been hugely successful and the ONLY point who don't like it are people who can't handle change. Take any NEW user to excel, show them the OLD interface, and then show them the NEW interface, and ask them which one they prefer. It's not even a question, the ribbon will win every time. Menu's are clunky, annoying, and static. The ribbon was a HUGE upgrade.

Some people just can't handle change. Do you really think Microsoft gives a crap about the teeny minority of people who don't want their UI to EVER change?? Seriously??


By dark matter on 7/10/2012 2:59:45 PM , Rating: 2
You make an excellent point. If you just "show" them the ribbon they will chose that over the menus.

However when it comes to using the product the ribbon gets in the way.

Don't forget, the ribbon was designed to help people discover things. And it is good, for new users.

However as a business I don't employ "new users", I employ people with experience at doing a job.

Likewise Windows 8, why would I train my users (at my expense) to do things differently, just for the sake of difference itself. The new start screen does nothing for productivity, all it does is introduce costs.

Likewise the ribbon over the menu. Sure, it's great to look at, but when you're using it day in day out for years, it's worse than the menu.


"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates














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