Who Needs Innovation, Anyway?

Kachina Shaw

Writers for tech sites set alerts on their Treos for quarterly reports from influential and/or notable tech players so they can be ready to pounce -- one way or the other. With the bigs like Microsoft, those pieces often read as if they were actually written long before the report came out, then injected with a few hard numbers here and there to show that someone actually sat in on the call.


The Register, which usually satisfies with its very short, snarky pieces on everything tech, didn't even wait for the numbers to arrive before putting out what must be the longest analysis piece it has ever published (it's by an outside analyst from Faultline) the day before.


Truthfully, reading the entire thing may make your head spin, what with the "this is good, but this is bad, but this is good" treatment of the performance of Microsoft's various divisions and products.


The conclusion? Microsoft is going nowhere and Steve Ballmer needs to go somewhere else.


Maybe, someday. But thanks to Vista, which the Faultline analysis disparages, along with the rest of the "Windows-based" corporate strategy, the company reported record profits. Yes, it's an outlier quarter. But ... profits up 65 percent. Revenue up 32 percent. Analysts' forecasts beaten.


Consider that the first example given of the demise of Microsoft in the piece is that Google now has a higher brand value. Perhaps it's significant that consumers have a high recognition of Google's brand; perhaps it's not reason enough to fire the CEO of Microsoft (now in third place in that race).


Then consider a small fact on the second page: The most consistently successful divisions continue to be the Client Division, Server and Tools, and the Business Division -- as opposed to the litany of consumer-oriented, cash-hemorrhaging products that fills most of the piece.


So, since Microsoft and Google really aren't in the same main markets anyway, and since business software is the company's wheel house, maybe all the worrying both in-house and out about the lack of innovation in Redmond is wasted, as most worrying is.


It could be that whether Ballmer is a great leader/CEO is almost beside the point. There comes a point when the headings are set and the plane virtually flies itself. Or when Microsoft lets innovation take place elsewhere, say, in the consumer technology markets, then mature and bubble up to be absorbed into (still) the largest provider of business software in the world. After all, Redmond didn't come up with the friendly Web browser or even the "windows" UI metaphor, either.


It may not be innovative and it may not be a brand-new, Ballmer-borne strategy, but according to the overall numbers, his job is safe for a while.

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