As long ago as 2006, Bill Gates stepped down from the role which directly influenced the way that the software and generally, the company that we knew as Microsoft operated. He imparted his trust on employee number 30, Mr Steven Anthony Ballmer, who had been Bill Gates' right hand man almost since he joined Microsoft in 1980.
Since then, Microsoft's stock value has plummeted, and although many will agree that Microsoft's recent marketing tirade and 'hip' products such as the Surface have helped their long-standing uncool image take a turn for the better, it's clear that their stock hasn't taken the same path. In fact, many US-based commentators are writing off the Surface as too little, too late: a tablet that sells for the same price as the iPad and is worse to use than it's Apple counterpart. Christmas sales were down to back up this claim, and whilst 2012 showed promise, 2013 stocks have continued to take a beating.
So what gives? Why is Microsoft doing poorly under Ballmer? There can be no doubt that their XBox 360 is the best-selling console in the market right now, and looks set to stay that way for a long time. Windows 8, albeit a bit of a fragmented dysfunctional beast, is still a well-engineered operating system and is clearly the most stable, wrinkle free version of Windows yet.
Perhaps, it's Microsoft office? Their latest version, 2013? It looks a little ugly, no? I don't think it's this either. Microsoft is doing poorly because they lack a unified direction. Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs' legacy for Apple was always to concentrate on the products it could do, do them well and set a focussed vision for all of the products. Microsoft are all over the place.
Windows 8 (see my previous review) is a two-headed beast which tries to be a kitsch, touch friendly interface which is actually pretty awesome. It's let down by a legacy of its Desktop mode which brings in a whole world of confusion. You find yourself constantly flipping between the old Microsoft (Windows) world and the new. It should be one or the other. Then there is the Surface RT and the Surface Pro. These are two very different machines separated only by a few suffixed letters. The RT runs on an ARM chip which is incompatible with your PC - all the software on it is specially compiled for the RT.
It's a lovely little machine that competes directly with the iPad, Microsoft didn't give it a chance though - they came out recently with the Surface Pro, which is essentially a normal Intel PC with a Surface 'RT' like feel. The problem is that it's a completely different beast and your software on the RT such as Microsoft Office 2013, will never run on the Pro. This is maybe fine for an average tech like me who, sadly, understands the differences between such nuances as big-endian and small-endian, but to mom and pop buying a tablet, this is going to be very trying indeed.
Consumer Microsoft is all over the place. One strategy for mobile, one for desktop, one for console and another for online services such as their equivalent to the App Store, which is split across differing products on Xbox, Windows and Mobile streams but some at the same time as each other (eg, you have to go to the XBox Music store in Windows 8 if you want to buy Music). If Microsoft took a step back for a moment, they'd realise instantly what every other company has been trying to do, (admittedly some more successfully than others) and that is that the consumer space is converging fast.
From an outsider looking in, it seems like Microsoft are in-fighting silos of potentially great technology, burdened by their internal arch-rivals. Ultimately, there can only be one person responsible for either allowing or even fostering the culture within the behemoth that is Microsoft, and that's CEO, Mr Steve Ballmer himself.