Steve Ballmer's 10 Biggest Mistakes as Microsoft CEO

 
 
By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2013-12-12 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Steve Ballmer's tenure as Microsoft CEO has been marked with more than enough ups and downs for any senior corporate leader. It's hard to argue with Ballmer's tenure through the lens of financial analysis. During his time as Microsoft's CEO, the company's revenue and profits grew robustly, but in the end even that couldn't keep Wall Street happy as Ballmer faced calls for Microsoft to sell and spin off assets to reap "shareholder value." But as Ballmer awaits the selection of his replacement and eyes his retirement, he might have more than his share of regrets. While Microsoft achieved many successes under his tenure, there has been much talk about the missed opportunities and poor decisions he made over the last decade. There is the feeling that Microsoft lost its way while he was at the helm and was bypassed by more agile and innovative competitors. This eWEEK slide show looks at some of Ballmer's mistakes during his years as Microsoft CEO so readers can decide for themselves whether Microsoft's position in the IT industry today would be a lot different if he had avoided some of these pitfalls.

 
 
 
  • Steve Ballmer's 10 Biggest Mistakes as Microsoft CEO

    By Don Reisinger
    Steve Ballmer's 10 Biggest Mistakes as Microsoft CEO
  • Windows Longhorn Delays Were His Biggest Mistake

    In a recent interview, Steve Ballmer said that his biggest mistake as CEO was the excruciatingly long time it took Microsoft to develop the Windows version that was known in the early 2000s by the code name "Longhorn." As he pointed out, it didn't matter to just about anyone at Microsoft that it was taking so long to develop Longhorn. By the time this Windows version finally got to store shelves as Vista, "six or seven" years had passed.
    Windows Longhorn Delays Were His Biggest Mistake
  • Vista Proved to Be a Sales Disaster

    As if the long wait wasn't enough, when Windows Vista hit store shelves, it was a disaster at first blush. The differences in design with the previous version of Windows were too much for many users to handle, and enterprise customers, who were happily using Windows XP, turned up their noses at Vista. Even PC hardware vendors, the essential factor in Microsoft's operating system sales success, offered "downgrades" to XP to sell more devices. It was bad, bad, bad.
    Vista Proved to Be a Sales Disaster
  • Failing to See Mobile's Growth

    Ballmer would quickly admit that when it came to mobile, he fell flat on his face. He didn't seem to realize that the iPhone could be a success, as evidenced by his laughing at the device during an interview. Ballmer even scoffed at Android. Now he wishes he came up with those ideas.
    Failing to See Mobile's Growth
  • Engaging in a Fruitless Buyout Campaign With Yahoo

    For months, Microsoft engaged in an expensive and distracting battle to buy out Yahoo. But as time wore on, it was becoming increasingly clear that Yahoo's Jerry Yang wouldn't sell to Microsoft at any price. In the end, Microsoft was probably lucky a Yahoo buyout never happened, as evidenced by Yahoo's business struggles in the years after the failed attempt. Wasting all that time and effort to court Yahoo is something that Ballmer wishes he could have avoided, he pointed out in a recent interview.
    Engaging in a Fruitless Buyout Campaign With Yahoo
  • Failing to Generate Profits With Xbox

    As Ballmer noted in his recent interview, he wished that he could have found a way to make the Xbox more profitable right from the start. Microsoft sold the Xbox at a loss from the time the company first released it in 2001 through all generations of the devices until Microsoft finally started generating hardware profits in 2010. That was an exceedingly long time for shareholders, and it seemed to indicate that Ballmer wasn't so sure-footed in the gaming space.
    Failing to Generate Profits With Xbox
  • Who Remembers the Microsoft Kin Mobile Phone?

    The Microsoft Kin might just be the technology that Ballmer would like us all to forget. The devices, born out of Microsoft's $500 million acquisition of Sidekick smartphone maker Danger, were supposed to be the company's answer to the oncoming mobile tidal wave. In truth, the Kin devices were disasters.
    Who Remembers the Microsoft Kin Mobile Phone?
  • Following Google Down the Ad Display Rabbit Hole

    After Google acquired DoubleClick to bolster its display ad business, Microsoft felt compelled to respond. So, it went out and bought a nearly no-name company, aQuantive. After that acquisition proved profitless and Google's advertising prowess only grew stronger, Microsoft and Ballmer were forced to write down $6.2 billion of the $6.3 billion they paid for aQuantive.
    Following Google Down the Ad Display Rabbit Hole
  • Microsoft's iPod Killer Just Wasn't a Threat

    The Zune digital music player was supposed to be Microsoft's answer to the iPod, but it turned out to be the laughingstock in the portable music business. The Zune was big, ugly and didn't have the same seamless integration from hardware to software as the iPod. The Zune just couldn't hold a candle to the iPod.
    Microsoft's iPod Killer Just Wasn't a Threat
  • Relying Too Heavily on PC Hardware Vendors

    Microsoft has only recently discovered that getting into the hardware business might be a good move. For decades, it relied almost entirely on third-party PC hardware vendors to drive its Windows business. But as tablets started hitting store shelves and vendors started adopting Android for mobile devices, the wheels came off that plan. Unfortunately for Ballmer, that insight came too late. And now, he's left wondering why he stayed loyal to his PC hardware partners now that PC sales are shrinking and those partners are turning increasingly to Android.
    Relying Too Heavily on PC Hardware Vendors
  • Losing Sight of Internet Explorer

    There was a time when Internet Explorer owned 90 percent of the browser space after it knocked Netscape Navigator out of the market. But then antitrust regulators in the U.S. and Europe intervened by demanding a more level playing field for competing browsers. Next, Microsoft got blindsided by serious security problems with IE. Then better products like Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome hit the market. During the first six months of 2013, Chrome was the top browser worldwide, according to Statcounter, generating 43 percent market share. As for IE? It could only muster 25 percent share.
    Losing Sight of Internet Explorer
 
 
 
 
 
Don Reisinger is a freelance technology columnist. He started writing about technology for Ziff-Davis' Gearlog.com. Since then, he has written extremely popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move at http://twitter.com/donreisinger.
 
 
 
 
 
 

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