Steve Ballmer Reflects on Time at Microsoft; Says Windows Vista was Biggest Regret
August 24, 2013 4:11 PM
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He discusses his biggest accomplishment, regrets and what's next
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced this week that he
plans to retire
sometime over the next year. This is pretty big, considering he's been with the company for 33 years and saw it through many stages of technological growth. So how would he sum up three decades of working with one of the largest tech players in the industry?
Mary Jo Foley was able to talk with Ballmer after the announcement of his retirement, and asked him to reflect on his time with Microsoft as well as what he thinks the future of the company holds.
Over the course of his career, Ballmer said his biggest accomplishment at Microsoft has been contributing to the rise of personal computing, from PCs to smartphones/tablets and everything in between.
"I'm proud of being I would say a significant part even of the birth of intelligent personal computing, the notion that people use computing technologies, whether that's phones, PCs," sid Ballmer. "I mean, we kind of birthed that over the course of the '80s and the '90s, and that's had such an unbelievable impact on people's lives. I would say a billion plus people and now more with phones, even if they're not all our phones, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished there.
"If I had to sort of couple it, I'm very proud that we were able to make this incredible impact on the planet and at the same time do a good job for our shareholders."
However, Ballmer's biggest regret over the course of his career was the operating system that many users despised: Windows Vista.
"Oh, you know, I've actually had a chance to make a lot of mistakes, and probably because, you know, people all want to focus in on period A, period B, but I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista," said Ballmer. "I would say that's probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn't prove out to be as valuable."
Ballmer said he has been thinking about retiring for awhile now, but started taking the idea more seriously over the last few months. The official decision was made only two days ago, he said.
Over the next year -- leading up to Ballmer's retirement -- Microsoft's board will talk about the company's needs and determine who the next CEO should be. Ballmer didn't give any clues as to who the successor may be, but said that the search could take less than a year.
As for Ballmer's future, he doesn't have any set plans right now.
"I haven't spent a lot of time -- I don't have time to spend actually even thinking about what comes next. I'm not going to have time to do that until the board gets a successor in place," said Ballmer. "My whole life has been about my family and about Microsoft. And I do relish the idea that I'll have another chapter, a chapter two, if you will, of my life where I'll get to sort of experience other sides of life, learn more about myself, all of that, but it's not like I leave with a specific plan in mind."
Ballmer joined Microsoft on June 11, 1980 as the company's 30th employee and the first business manager hired by Microsoft Chairman and Co-Founder Bill Gates. Even though Ballmer has been a public figure for Microsoft for many years, some believe the company is in need of an executive shake-up -- including a new leader. Mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets, are taking over as the PC market continues to decline. But Microsoft has had a difficult time stirring up enthusiasm for Windows Phone against competitors like Apple and Samsung, and the Windows maker was late to the tablet game -- releasing its Surface tablet in October 2012 after the iPad had already been out for over two years. To make matters worse, Microsoft's Surface was initially released with the Windows RT operating system (the full Windows 8 Pro-powered Surface wasn't released until February 2013) and it was a major flop. Many say RT isn't a full Windows 8 experience, lacking the ability to run legacy apps.
Microsoft also slipped up recently with its Xbox One announcement. The new console, which is expected to be released this fall, initially had a
used games ban
and a new "always-on" digital rights management (DRM) system, which posed a problem for many people who are either in rural areas with slow Internet connections, travelling or tend to experience Internet issues with providers. Microsoft later
retracted these features
after major complaints, but the fiasco still didn't sit well with gamers.
The situation was made worse when its top competitor -- Sony's upcoming
-- was announced without any used game bans or a DRM system, and is also faster and less expensive (by $100) than the Xbox One.
Perhaps a new CEO and executive shake-up will help Microsoft along. Nevertheless, Ballmer has been an important figure at Microsoft for years and helped make it what it is today.
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RE: Not Windows 8
8/25/2013 1:39:00 AM
While I agree that there was very little difference between Vista and 7, there was also very little fixed. Vista was not "perfectly fine." Microsoft went about everything wrong from the start.
They thought adding UAC prompts made the OS more secure when all it did was condition the user to click "Yes" and "OK" on anything if they want to so much as look at the Device Manager or change the date/time. Heck, it probably prompted you when you change the wallpaper.
The invisible Control Box does not function like the real thing and you can't right-click to get the appropriate context menu.
There is no video safe mode shortcut (should have been something like CTRL+ALT+DEL). Countless times I have thought my system was hard-locked until I was able to log in with Remote Desktop.
On that note, installation and startup have black screens with no animation even when everything is normal, completely ignoring why prior iterations had animated startups: Now you can't tell a long first-time boot from a hard-lock.
It's sometimes almost impossible to get a full directory path now that you can't put it in the address bar of an Explorer window and it likes to consider Desktop or Document a top-level directory. This happens even with file searches where that may have been the entire reason you were searching for the file.
The default selection color is HORRIBLE and causes tons of confusing UI issues on LCDs (particularly laptop TN displays with inconsistent viewing angles) in the Details folder view.
You often cannot selects specific files and see the total file size. For example, I will keep adding selections of certain files until I get 4.3GB when I am burning multiple DVDs to fir them all but somewhere around half-way it begins hiding those details without me clicking an ellipses to see the new total between each and every additionally-selected file. Because I am doing the selection with the keyboard (CTRL + SPACE or SHIFT + ARROW) this drastically disrupts my workflow.
In details view I could always right-click the control box to manage the directory I am in while avoiding clicking on a file in it when the files fill the entire viewable area (often need to maintain my selected files).
Now I can't even select the files I want when I click on their line and I have to drag onto a file or folder *name* to drag and drop instead.
I also can't select a folder and paste into it using the keyboard (have to open the folder first).
Even Solitaire is broken (allows certain game-breaking undo operations... cheating!).
And don't even get me started on the "Games" launcher!
No matter how few people each of these affect, the UI should be *more* refined but instead it took a huge step backwards in usability. Even basic user testing should have revealed all of these flaws in plenty of time to fix them before launch. To see Vista and then 7 come and go with no progress is maddening. There is no excuse for any of these glaring UI problems that were never fixed.
This is only a tiny bit of what has nagged me but I noticed every one while it was still in beta. I sure wish MS would have tried their "Project Mojave" on me because they would have gotten an earful even if I fell for it!
Vista would have mostly "worked fine" with every one of those fixed. Because even 7 didn't fix them, neither really "worked fine."
RE: Not Windows 8
8/25/2013 2:06:18 AM
I really don't know what to think about someone who cares enough about cheating in Solitaire to mention it as a problem with Vista.
RE: Not Windows 8
8/26/2013 1:06:05 AM
Well, they finally fixed a long-standing bug in MSPAINT that my brother and I discovered (existed since Win95; forums anandtech com showthread.php?p=3428022). :D
I'm just sayin' how sloppy every aspect of it was. It was the very opposite of "refined."
If you want more substantial criticisms, well: I have more of those too.
The new hardware-accelerated UI was the perfect opportunity to eliminate UI problems with particular applications when you change your DPI settings. Vector graphics! All legacy apps that didn't use the new APIs and libraries had to do was get textured onto a window and scaled or new compatible UI objects and libraries could be created that were compatible with references from old applications. Instead it has every DPI issue ever, nothing is fixed, and a user still cannot simply change the DPI for an HTPC without running into a multitude of application compatibility problems. Inexcusable. There was no better opportunity to do it right.
Instead of fixing all their own lazily hard-coded references to the existing Program Files directory in their ONE operating system and making a new one for 64-bit apps, they changed the old one for 32-bit apps to "Program Files (X86)" and blamed the authors of thousands of broken apps for having hard-coded references to "Program Files." Yes, it was poor programming practice on the part of thousands of devs, but *who's* laziness created more work?! If you regularly read your readme files and update changelogs you will see that it is a very common bug. Heck, even id Software released one Quake III Arena update that had a problem if you installed somewhere other than Program Files, and their lead programmer is an *actual* rocket scientist. The problems were expected but MS didn't care because they could blame someone else and get out of having to actually audit the legacy stuff in their "new" OS. Shouldn't maximum reverse compatibility be a major concern for any new OS release?! What's more is that it didn't actually enforce separate 32 & 64 bit applications and you now have to check both folders for anything you may need to find! Thanks for nothing, Microsoft.
To think that the "notification area" (system tray) still didn't log past notifications for later review even though you may not have been looking before they disappeared is an unforgivable flaw that has existed since the advent of the Windows Explorer Desktop. Yeah, each app can do whatever they want, but it was Microsoft's job to provide the proper framework and guidelines for them to utilize and they never did that! Windows 7 is as bad as ever. An example: I installed Scrybe from Symantec to get multi-touch on my Win7-equipped Alienware M11x and one of the notices is a balloon tha pops up and says "Did you know you can go to Yahoo?" with no clue what app is saying that. "WOW! Somehow I knew what Yahoo was but had no idea I could go there!" [/sarcasm] What they meant was "Did you know that you can launch Yahoo with a gesture?" Yes, the terrible wording was the dev's fault but there was no registered application name or icon presented with the bubble or a log of what notice came from where. THAT is Microsoft's fault.
I love my modern machines with Vista, 7, and 8. I'm not one of those ignorant people who complained about Vista and stubbornly continued running XP on all my systems. Even so, I will not blissfully pretend that Vista was not several steps backwards in exchange for few steps forward greased with a little blackmail (proper 64-bit driver support, newer DirectX, etc). Hell, I always wondered what the big deal was about WinME, considering that anyone could still boot to real-mode DOS with a disk or set up a dual-boot and it came with vastly improved support for WDM drivers, uPnP, System Restore, and (my favorite) Hibernate support (much faster than the custom 98SE installs with Hibernate). I did complain that MS never fixed the issue with it blue-screening if you pressed ESC at the wrong time during boot up (normally dismisses the animated loading screen to see startup info behind it) and requiring much more memory than it should have needed. For most it was pointless if you already had 98SE which brought some of that but it did ease the transition to NT Kernel with WinXP and force device makers to stop making incompatible VxD drivers. Without WinME enforcing cross-compatible WDM drivers for Hibernate hardly anything that needed a driver to work in 9x would have worked with XP at launch. That's because manufacturers would have continued making 9x-only drivers like they always had.
Did I just defend WinME? Sorta. Really, I only justified it and complained about the usual deliberate bump in memory requirements to prove my objectivity. Have fun being blissfully ignorant and taking hardline positions for/against things without being able to back things up with examples and facts, Internet fanboys. ;)
"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference
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