No one questions CEO Steve Ballmer's drive or intentions - but is his devotion to the company and its Windows business hurting its ability to innovate?
By Gary Rivlin, contributor
It seemed a little like love when a blogger named The Paperboy got his hands on a secret device being developed inside Microsoft under the code name Courier. With its icon-rich user interface and multitouch, stylus-friendly screens, Courier represented "an astonishing take on the tablet," gushed Paperboy's post on Gizmodo in the fall of 2009, around the time techies were buzzing about Apple's forthcoming tablet. "Maybe," Paperboy wrote, "we've all been dreaming about the wrong device."
The Microsoft (MSFT) team working on Courier was equally jazzed. "We had a breakout product that had the potential to really delight the user," says Rebecca Norlander, a star programmer inside Microsoft who quit last June after 19 years with the company. Just as important, Courier held the promise of catapulting Microsoft into mobile devices, a lucrative field that had eluded Microsoft for 15 years -- and where rivals Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) had made significant inroads.
So when Robbie Bach, who led the company's entertainment and devices division at the time, presented his idea to CEO Steve Ballmer and Microsoft's senior leadership, he expected enthusiasm and additional funding for the project. There was just one problem: The Courier prototype borrowed from Windows, Microsoft's vaunted computer operating systems, but had an operating system all its own. (That's what Apple did with its iPhone and iPad -- it built a new operating platform based on its existing Mac OS X.)
Bach learned a hard lesson about the power and might of Windows within Microsoft. Not only would Bach not receive the extra funding he sought, said Ballmer, who personally delivered the blow, but there would be no Courier because it was unnecessary. The best of Courier, where appropriate, would be folded into the next version of Windows, Windows 8, due at the end of 2011 or in 2012 -- or maybe even Windows 9. Several months after its death, Bach announced his retirement. (He wouldn't comment for this story.) More
After five years of false starts, word is leaking out that Microsoft is giving up on its much-maligned portable music player.
By Mark Horowitz, contributor
I gave you the best years of my life, and this is how you repay me, by breaking up? And I had to read about it online. You didn't even have the decency to Skype.
But who am I kidding, Zune, I'll always forgive you, because I MOREMar 18, 2011 5:43 PM ET
There's a lesson for tablet makers in the reported death of Microsoft's "iPod killer"
A fair amount of journalistic grave-dancing followed Bloomberg's report Monday that Microsoft (MSFT) had decided to stop developing new versions of its Zune music and video player -- a report Microsoft did not deny.
The headline of the story at MacDailyNews -- More blood on the iPod's Click Wheel: Microsoft pulls plug on Zune -- was an inside MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 15, 2011 6:32 AM ET
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Put a fork in it, everyone -- the Zune is dead. Microsoft will reportedly put an end to its ill-fated music-video player due to lack of demand. Instead, the company will focus on putting its Zune software onto smartphones likely running Windows Phone 7. (Bloomberg)
AT&T may be leveraging MORE
Apparently the charity of the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does not extend to Apple (AAPL). From the Sunday, Oct. 24, issue of the New York Times Magazine:
Do you own an iPod, which is made by Apple? No, I have a Zune.
What if one of your children says, "Mom, I have to have an iPod"? I have gotten that argument -- "You may have a Zune."
Is it MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 24, 2010 12:32 AM ET
Both companies beat expectations last week, but only one of them was growing
A year ago we ran a bar graph similar to the one at right. It showed that Apple (AAPL), despite the Mac's tiny market share compared with Microsoft (MSFT) Windows, was gaining on the software giant. The main reason: revenue pouring in from the iPhone but hidden as deferred earnings in Apple's balance sheet. (That chart is posted MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 25, 2009 6:10 AM ET
Apple (AAPL) tends to score well in Piper Jaffray's "Taking Stock With Teens" reports, but the results of PFC's 18th semi-annual survey, released Tuesday, suggest that American teenagers are growing even more loyal to the Apple brand.
iPhones, iPods and iTunes emerged as clear winners in the Minneapolis-based brokerage house's study of the music and cellphone buying preferences of some 600 middle-class and upper middle-class teens.
"It's really a story about Apple," MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Oct 6, 2009 5:18 PM ET
Redmond's MP3 player goes hi-def. Should Apple be worried?
On the heels of Apple's (AAPL) iPod event last week, Microsoft (MSFT) is unveiling its latest offering in the MP3 player market, a sleek high-definition device capable of playing HD movies and HD radio known as, appropriately, Zune HD.
Available in 16GB and 32GB versions at $220 and $290, Zune HD features a vibrant organic LED color screen with multi-touch technology. Retail outlets MOREJeffrey M. O'Brien - Sep 15, 2009 3:00 AM ET
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