Microsoft defends itself against op-ed by former VP

Former exec said Microsoft is a 'clumsy, uncompetitive innovator'

Microsoft defended itself against an opinion piece written by a former vice president, who argued the software company has lost its edge and is "failing" as a result. In response, the software company said it remains competitive and innovative.

Dick Brass, who was a vice president at Microsoft from 1997 to 2004, didn't pull any punches in the opinion piece he authored

"Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator. Its products are lampooned, often unfairly but sometimes with good reason," Brass wrote in The New York Times.

He hit Microsoft for its "inept" marketing, and compared the company to ailing car maker General Motors, saying its current profits are too dependent on Windows and Office, products that were developed many years ago. "Microsoft can’t count on these venerable products to sustain it forever," he wrote.

"Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation," Brass wrote.

Microsoft defended its ability to produce innovative products in a blog post, saying it disagreed with Brass.

"At the highest level, we think about innovation in relation to its ability to have a positive impact in the world. For Microsoft, it is not sufficient to simply have a good idea, or a great idea, or even a cool idea. We measure our work by its broad impact," wrote Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft's corporate vice president of communications.

While Shaw's response addressed specific examples that Brass cited from his own tenure at Microsoft, including ClearType, the blog post didn't address his larger argument: that Microsoft's corporate culture and competition between different teams stifles innovation.

"The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive. At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence," Brass wrote.

To illustrate his point, Brass noted how the vice president in charge of Microsoft's Office team in 2001 refused to modify the application suite to work on tablet PCs because "he didn't like the concept."

"It’s not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft’s music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left," Brass wrote.

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Sumner Lemon

IDG News Service
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