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Microsoft's Missed Opportunities: Memo From 1997

Unknown Lamer posted about 4 months ago | from the hyper-cube-os dept.

Microsoft 161

New submitter gthuang88 (3752041) writes In the 1990s, Microsoft was in position to own the software and devices market. Here is Nathan Myhrvold's previously unpublished 1997 memo on expanding Microsoft Research to tackle problems in software testing, operating systems, artificial intelligence, and applications. Those fields would become crucial in the company's competition with Google, Apple, Amazon, and Oracle. But research didn't do enough to make the company broaden its businesses. While Microsoft Research was originally founded to ensure the company's future, the organization only mapped out some possible futures. And now Microsoft is undergoing the biggest restructuring in its history. At least F# and LINQ saw the light of day.

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Too long (4, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | about 4 months ago | (#47478739)

That memo is waaaay too long. No wonder none of that stuff happened - no one read past the first page and a half.

Re:Too long (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478795)

Can you sum it up for me?
Okay, now can you put it in layman's terms?
Okay, now tell it to me like I'm a ten year old.
Okay, tell it to me like I'm a five year old.
Okay, now tell it to me like I'm a five year old who drank a Big Gulp and you don't want to mop the floor.

Re:Too long (5, Funny)

vandelais (164490) | about 4 months ago | (#47478895)

Microsoft ought to have presented screens showing a "house", with "rooms" that the user could go to containing familiar objects corresponding to computer applications – for instance, a desk with pen and paper, a checkbook, and other items. Clicking on the pen and paper would open the word processor, and so forth.

Re:Too long (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about 4 months ago | (#47478911)

Kinda like Tobias' Managing Your Money.

Re: Too long (2)

Hagbard Celine (3665005) | about 4 months ago | (#47478959)

Microsoft Bob!

Re: Too long (2)

Dishevel (1105119) | about 4 months ago | (#47479643)

Microsoft Bob!

We don't speak of Bob here.

Re:Too long (2)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 4 months ago | (#47478941)

In order to justify a budget increase of 300%+, the head of Microsoft Research had to write a really long essay beginning with business buzzwords (like embark, unprecedented, and endeavor) and ending with some justifications for his recommendations.

Re:Too long (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480083)

In order to justify a budget increase of 300%+, the head of Microsoft Research had to write a really long essay beginning with business buzzwords (like embark, unprecedented, and endeavor) and ending with some justifications for his recommendations.

Yep, Myhrvold's memos were always substantial, they often defined the future of the company. This is from a New Yorker article in 1997.

Reading the memos chronologically, one can look at some of the business decisions that Microsoft faced during the years it grew to a nearly nine-billion-dollar giant that in 1996 earned two billion one hundred and ninety-five million dollars. It’s easier to understand the company’s path to success: a rare marriage of technical and business prowess.

Myhrvold's role was essentially to be the futurist at Microsoft. He was their forward thinker and gave them the geeky excitement that allowed them to make many of the right choices throughout the '80s and '90s. Ignoring him and concentrating instead of the business and litigation-driven path resulted in the gradual slide to the barely relevant, spiteful and fading dinosaur, shedding workers and market share we're saddled with today.

Imagine instead if they'd listened to him and worked towards this vision:

Myhrvold then turned to what he called “the truly personal computer—something which has the size and weight appropriate to be carried with you at all times.” This wireless “digital wallet,” as he called it, would allow anyone to communicate, untethered to a wire, by voice, video, fax, E-mail, or pager. The device would be a clock, an alarm, a schedule manager, a notepad, an archive of phone numbers and records, and a library of music and books. The digital signature produced by this wallet would have a personal I.D. for security, and could replace cash, credit cards, checks, and keys. He believed that the obstacles were economic and human, not technological. “The cost will not be very high—it is pretty easy to imagine a total cost of manufacture in the range of $100 to $250 on introduction, which means $400 to $1000 retail price,” he wrote. He guessed that keyboards would be superseded by devices capable of recognizing handwriting.

http://www.newyorker.com/archi... [newyorker.com]

OP is saying 22 pages is too long a memo to bet the company on, and gets modded insightful? Why?

Re:Too long (2)

Dogtanian (588974) | about 4 months ago | (#47481185)

Myhrvold's role was essentially to be the futurist at Microsoft. He was their forward thinker and gave them the geeky excitement that allowed them to make many of the right choices throughout the '80s and '90s. Ignoring him and concentrating instead of the business and litigation-driven path resulted in the gradual slide to the barely relevant, spiteful and fading dinosaur, shedding workers and market share we're saddled with today.

I'm at work, so haven't had the time to properly read the articles et al. However, it's been known for years that MS *have* been doing a lot of serious research with talented people- the research they needed to avoid the position they're now in. The problem is that the vast majority never made its way out for short-term business and political reasons, and they're reaping that failure now. Here's a post I originally made in early 2012 [slashdot.org] in turn referencing someone else's *very* informative comment [dailytech.com] (itself dating back to 2010):-

"It's been commented on for *years* that Microsoft have labs stuffed full of very clever and innovative people, yet still seem to end up churning out mediocre, uninspiring crap. One explanation is that internal politics are responsible- this article comment from someone who claims to have worked at Microsoft [dailytech.com] (click link for full version) is informative:-

There have been many instances at Microsoft where genuine innovations have sat on the shelf or been half-heartedly brought to market [.. In 2002 MS had..] a prototype smartphone that had (essentially) all the useability features of an iPhone, including a trick interface, accelerometer and multi-touch. It was cobbled together and not very pretty, but as a proof of concept, it worked. Yet it never saw the light of day. Why?

Brass’s tablet project was well advanced in the labs too, but somehow never got the traction it deserved internally. [..]

Microsoft has a Darwinian internal structure. Each business unit has to fight for scarce resources, - they compete with each other and only the strong survive. Succeeding in that environment involves more than just having a good (or even great) product or project. Unless you’re Office or Windows, you have to build symbiotic relationships with other business units (preferably the big guys) just to ensure your survival. You have to make their success (at least partially) dependent on yours

[..Secondly..] in its youth, Microsoft could afford to hire only the best and the brightest. Smart people are flexible and innovative in their approach and this reflects in the company’s culture. As the enormous growth of the late 90s took hold, we couldn’t keep up with the demand for more employees and as a consequence, the quality bar dropped. We started employing people who were merely good, not outstanding. These new people were less flexible, less able to handle organisational ambiguity and less passionate about what they were doing. They started to build bureaucracy as a safety-net and as a structure in which they were comfortable operating. Goodbye to dynamic decision-making and rapid market responses.

Anyway, bottom line; the "smart" people starting work there know (or must be really, *really* blinkered not to know) of this reputation, so why are they working there? Silly money?

I'll grant that they came up with Kinect recently, which was pretty innovative (albeit as a response to the Wii controller) and smacked of research turned into a workable product. But that was pretty recent (so couldn't have inspired any but the newest recruits) and probably benefitted from being an XBox product that was out of the way of the entrenched interests and politics of the main Windows-focussed divisions, and in an area where MS had more to gain than lose from innovation."

Re:Too long (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47481229)

I'll grant that they came up with Kinect recently, which was pretty innovative (albeit as a response to the Wii controller) and smacked of research turned into a workable product.

Kinect was bought from PrimeSense.

Re:Too long (4, Informative)

Dishevel (1105119) | about 4 months ago | (#47479637)

You forgot to have it told to you in a car analogy.

You must be new here.

Re:Too long (1)

Zanadou (1043400) | about 4 months ago | (#47480441)

"And then finally, tell it to me like I'm five year-old who's been given three double espressos and a new kitten to play with."

Re:Too long (0)

davester666 (731373) | about 4 months ago | (#47480687)

Okay, now tell it to me as if I'm a monkey who likes throwing around chairs and chants "Developers Developers Developers".

Re:Too long (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478805)

My goodness. No wonder sooooooooooo many people are not leaders. If the clue was easy, everyone one would get in it in one sentence.

Thanks for your contribution to the statistics.

Re:Too long (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478973)

The summary implies an opportunity that didn't exist.
Microsoft was never an advertising/db/marketplace company and never would have been, since it was largely under Gates' direction.
MS has almost lost to Apple... but it has plenty of time to make up the ground (not that it's a good thing tm). The memo mentions that Applications are standardized and has such mind-numbingly circular corporate-speak - eg I can’t think of a single case where people have asked to push into a new case too late; conversely, there are many where they have wanted to push too early. - that much of the summary is basically mischaracterizing the memo.

> No wonder sooooooooooo many people are not leaders.

You can't tell the difference between corporate diarrhea that sounds like something was said, tangentially, and a what could be a legitimate call to arms that was lost in the shuffle.
As usual, you're a pleb who thinks he's a commander.

Re: Too long (4, Insightful)

alen (225700) | about 4 months ago | (#47478987)

Microsoft was an isp, had an internet portal and owned expedia before google existed

Re: Too long (4, Informative)

Maxwell (13985) | about 4 months ago | (#47479065)

Worse than that: They were the #1 dial up ISP (behind AOL) were the #1 DSL ISP (with MSN premium, bundled with verizon, bell etc.). they had the #1 travel site, #1 encyclopedia site, and #1 chat tool all at the same time circa 2000.

The only thing they didn't do was sell ads...

Re: Too long (2)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 4 months ago | (#47479255)

I miss MSN, the chat client/protocol. It's what everyone called it in my country, the other "MSN" stuff (later "Windows Live") we tended to not care about.. What was important is that everyone was on MSN Messenger - and we were free to use other clients like Trillian and aMSN and maybe GAIM ; just like everyone is on F...book now. We could just chat with people that were there, real name very optional, no need to go to a website and I don't think there were ads (just use a 3rd party client anyway).

Hell, I remember when I had gotten .wmv streaming to always work reliably! (around when I got to use ffdshow to be able to play everything without hunting for codecs). Full screen web video on a 500MHz computer, later flash video and youtube required a 2GHz computer to do the same. (HTML5 is even worse unless you have a smartphone or a Windows PC with recent enough graphics card, I guess)

In these days I hated Microsoft and was worried about the upcoming Palladium dystopia (which hasn't worked out on PC : Trusted Platform Module is optional and thus not included in consumer mobos, and being able to disable Secure Boot is mandatory). But I mourn the loss of MSN chat and what replaced it is worse. I won't become a facebook slave, thanks. (btw nobody used AIM or ICQ that I know of). I thought of getting a jabber/XMPP account but don't exactly know where to get one and how the stuff works exactly, so I know I'll never get other people to join in.

Re: Too long (1)

exomondo (1725132) | about 4 months ago | (#47479457)

I won't become a facebook slave, thanks.

That's a little melodramatic don't you think?

Re: Too long (-1, Troll)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about 4 months ago | (#47480569)

Fuckwit.

Re: Too long (1)

aybiss (876862) | about 4 months ago | (#47480085)

I agree, it was great when everyone was just on MSN messenger. But like all things MS they crapped in their own bed by turning it into a games platform, office suite and 30 other things with Windows Live. So everyone left.

If they could have just learnt that ONE lesson... Oh well.

Re: Too long (1)

Ash-Fox (726320) | about 4 months ago | (#47480973)

I won't become a facebook slave, thanks.

I really don't get what your complaint is.

I thought of getting a jabber/XMPP account but don't exactly know where to get one

Facebook provides Jabber/XMPP access [lifehacker.com] to their chat system for free.

Re: Too long (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47481167)

The msn network does still exist and you can still get on it with trillian, pidgin, and if your really desperate... skype. Your account is probably just sitting there waiting. Most my friends were and still are on there to this day on pidgin.

Re: Too long (1)

Rob Y. (110975) | about 4 months ago | (#47479825)

More like Microsoft tried to clone Comouserv, AOL, and whatever else was popular before the internet came along and showed how uncreative they were. And now they're still trying to clone Google...

Re: Too long (1)

m.alessandrini (1587467) | about 4 months ago | (#47480607)

Yes, apart that I still have to undertand what those "portals" were, other than a so-called "web site".

Re: Too long (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480817)

> Microsoft was an isp, had an internet portal and owned expedia before google existed

This isn't insightful, it's at best mischaracterized and at worst revisionist. These were very SMALL markets (isp/messaging) with almost no net revenue and were largely unsupported (so they just fell away as competition arose)...oh a portal. MS continued with the trend of try to enter a market and leave it to fester without direction for the rest of time. Expedia was a loser as it had always been, until Google came along and made travel inquiries a useful currency decades later. Sigh.

Re:Too long (0)

Belial6 (794905) | about 4 months ago | (#47479199)

I am always amazed at the zealotry that Apple fans exhibit. MS has almost lost to Apple? Apple is closer to desktop Linux market share than it is to Windows. Apple made a big hit with the iPhone, but is consistently losing market share there to Google. Apple is no where close to displacing MS.

I don't like it either, but Apple is much bigger (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 4 months ago | (#47479759)

http://www.forbes.com/global20... [forbes.com]

Apple is the #15 largest company in the world. Microsoft is #32.

Apple has $160 billion of CASH on hand. Microsoft's total assets, all of their real estate, etc is $150 billion.

ps Westwhip has market share too (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 4 months ago | (#47479813)

Ps, about desktop market share -
Westwhip.com has a significant market share in their target market too. A 90% share of a segment that's becoming a historical era doesn't mean much.

Re:I don't like it either, but Apple is much bigge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480027)

http://www.forbes.com/global20... [forbes.com]

Apple is the #15 largest company in the world. Microsoft is #32.

Apple has $160 billion of CASH on hand. Microsoft's total assets, all of their real estate, etc is $150 billion.

So how have they "almost lost" to Apple? And at what point is that defined? Have they "lost" when they have run out of money? Or have no marketshare? Of the millions of companies over the world you are supporting the assertion that one has "almost lost" to another when they are separated by just 17 places in the calculated size. When Microsoft bought $150 million of Apple stock back in the 90s people were saying the same thing about Apple and there was a LOT more disparity in wealth and marketshare in all markets that they both participated in between them at that time. Anybody who knows the history of the tech industry knows it's the height of naivety to declare that a company has "lost" to another until they are completely out of the market.

Re:Too long (5, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about 4 months ago | (#47479479)

No wonder none of that stuff happened - no one read past the first page and a half.

No. Just no. That's pure and slick as goose fat spin control. Businesses simply don't work that way.

That stuff didn't happen because Microsoft decided to spend the next decade and a half focused on embracing, extending and extinguishing or just f***ing killing and just f***ing burying their competitors instead of making good products.

With toxic corporate citizenship at their heart, they stacked standards committees instead of making a better Office product. When online security and malware became a problem, instead of improving and securing their colander-like OS they funded a feral and failing software company to attack a community-built competitor. When that failed, they wielded 235 patents as a FUD-bludgeon, and sold more to a 3rd party patent troll. When it became clear they couldn't compete in the mobile space, they used some questionable patents to extort money from manufacturers using a competing OS. Their customers suffered high costs and poor products because, whenever possible, they chose to litigate instead of innovate.

That's why they now have 14% market share and are laying off thousands of workers. As soon as there were viable alternatives, ex-Microsoft customers fled to them in droves.

Re:Too long (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480515)

Do you have a newsletter? If I sign up, maybe other people will. Then everyone will know not to read long notes. No one will read long notes, finally. Won't that be great. phew

A big company like Microsoft, it should be someone's job to not be a jockey and read a long note, if that's what it takes.

No doubt you are exactly correct.

What about git? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478775)

They have adopted git, which for Microsoft presumes that they invented it. That must count for something, right?

Re:What about git? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478879)

Look, a modern software company must do 4 things:

1) Employ hipsters.

2) Use Git and GitHub.

3) Use Ruby on Rails when creating any sort of software.

4) Use MongoDB when storing any sort of data.

Microsoft may do part of 2), but I don't think they do 1), and I don't think they do 3), and I don't think they do 4).

If a company doesn't do those 4 things, then they're old hat. They're Web 1.0. They're SQL. They aren't cool. They aren't stylish. They can't scale without bound. They're a company that's irrelevant in this modern world of wearable Internet. They just aren't chaz.

Re:What about git? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479177)

Look, a modern software company must do 4 things:

1) Employ hipsters.

2) Use Git and GitHub.

3) Use Ruby on Rails when creating any sort of software.

4) Use MongoDB when storing any sort of data.

Microsoft may do part of 2), but I don't think they do 1), and I don't think they do 3), and I don't think they do 4).

If a company doesn't do those 4 things, then they're old hat. They're Web 1.0. They're SQL. They aren't cool. They aren't stylish. They can't scale without bound. They're a company that's irrelevant in this modern world of wearable Internet. They just aren't chaz.

And this, my friends, is why so many in the technology industry find themselves unemployable after the age of 30.

The day you find yourself dismissing technologies that are 5 or 10 years old, and used in production by large corporations as "just for hipsters" is the day you seriously need to start reconsidering your career choice.

Re: What about git? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479259)

Drop the age to 22 and the years for hot software systems to 3. All companies should hire middle school hipsters using half-baked tech.

Re: What about git? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479347)

If they do, it will be because of your continued insistence that any technology developed since you left high school is "half-baked."

Hindsight's twenty-twenty (5, Interesting)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 4 months ago | (#47478791)

It is so difficult to stay on top in any field, let alone atop a technology that changes virtually overnight, that even Microsoft's relatively short run as apex predator was commendable.

You can make a hundred correct predictions in a row as to where the market is heading, and then whiff on two, and an apple or a google gain a foothold.

It's not rocket science... it's way harder than that.

Hindsight's twenty-twenty (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478875)

Rocket science needs complex math. market prediction needs a functioning crystal ball.

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#47479139)

It is so difficult to stay on top in any field, let alone atop a technology that changes virtually overnight, that even Microsoft's relatively short run as apex predator was commendable.

You can make a hundred correct predictions in a row as to where the market is heading, and then whiff on two, and an apple or a google gain a foothold.

It's not rocket science... it's way harder than that.

I don't know about that. Microsoft made some pretty asinine mistakes along the way. The search engine problem was obvious, and everyone knew it. It basically became impossible to find anything on the net, and yahoo and others were flooding their front pages with so much crap, half the time you couldn't even find the search bar. Then came Google... sifting out all the ads, even from their own front page. It was like they were selling Viagra at a hooker convention. That could ahve been Microsoft but they missed the most obvious boat in the history of the internet. Then even Microsoft fell for Apples marketing and saw them as the threat and tried to copy their model of locked in everything... what a joke... Once again Google walked in with a free and open alternative and destroyed them both.

Microsoft has one chance to survive the next decade. Make windows free and open up most of their source code. Offer integration services and charge game manufacturers for... I dunno... something involving DirectX. Baring that, the Microsoft we know is dead and will be replaced by a company that lives vampirically off their old patents and businesses that just can't get rid of Office no matter how much they try.

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (5, Interesting)

plover (150551) | about 4 months ago | (#47479401)

Microsoft has done some really brilliant things as of late. They've wholeheartedly adopted automated testing for everything. I don't know if they have any product teams that aren't Agile, or aren't doing test driven development. I recently asked a product manager about his product's defect backlog, and he shot me with a cold stare: "We don't have any known defects in our product. As soon as a bug report arrives, the entire team drops what they're doing, and within 15 minutes a developer is working on repro'ing it, and it's fixed within a day. These are very rare occurrences." This was for a million line shrink-wrapped product.

Although it's taking them a long time to turn their teams around, Microsoft finally knows how to engineer code right, and they are quite willing to share with anyone willing to listen. But too many of their clients don't listen, too many of their vendors and suppliers don't listen (driver bugs, etc), too many of their own internal teams are still dragging legacy code bases forward, and they still have a long history of bugs that we all remember. Another problem they have is economic: their primary competition is their old products, like Office 2007, which are good enough for most businesses and students. They really want to get everyone on their Azure cloud, using Office365, live, OneCloud, and to rent computing resources from them, and that's driving a lot of their products in an unnatural direction for their consumers.

Their marketing people haven't helped. Windows RT? Really, they had to emulate Apple's walled garden? The closed iOS ecosystem is about the worst thing Apple ever did to their customers, The Apple tax sucks 30% from every dollar spent on the platform, and there's virtually no escape. And because we all know it sucks, we won't willingly jump into it again - so Microsoft loses even more.

Their forays into other platforms have been abysmal: Ford's SYNC is a crime against drivers. They bought a failing phone company for their hardware, turned out walled garden phones, and nobody showed up. Their previous attempts at embedded systems make people WinCE. And because they start everything out as closed source, and try to contain their own stuff, they see every product as a battle entering competition to the death, instead of an opportunity to cooperate. That got them a long way, and made them a lot of money, but now there are good alternatives, and nobody gives a damn anymore. The stuff they're producing now will all be too much, but way too late.

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (2)

MikeBabcock (65886) | about 4 months ago | (#47480093)

Its only brilliant if you do something nobody else has already done. Imitating success is not brilliant, its obvious.

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (2)

aybiss (876862) | about 4 months ago | (#47480095)

I'm not sure if this post was sarcastic... but just in case it wasn't: Microsoft have adopted automated testing? Wow! What's next, bug tracking?

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (2)

inasity_rules (1110095) | about 4 months ago | (#47480751)

He lost me at 'Agile'.

Re:Hindsight's twenty-twenty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480853)

You mean the whole company lacks vision?

At least F# and LINQ saw the light of day. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478821)

God I wish LINQ never saw the light to day.
I am forced to reset my phone(s) at least once a week, sometimes 2-3 times a day

Maybe MSFT was trying to learn from Xerox (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478827)

Maybe MSFT was trying to learn from Xerox, Kodak, and other companies that pioneered technologies and then failed to follow through. It may just not be in the blood of a large organization to listen to their researchers, or figure out what to do with what they produce...

Re:Maybe MSFT was trying to learn from Xerox (5, Interesting)

Solandri (704621) | about 4 months ago | (#47478957)

Maybe MSFT was trying to learn from Xerox, Kodak, and other companies that pioneered technologies and then failed to follow through.

While Xerox deserves full blame for missing opportunities (the mouse, GUI, ethernet, and laser printer were all invented there), Kodak does not. They were always on the forefront of digital imaging. They built the first digital camera in the 1970s, and had a line of digital SLRs [wikipedia.org] in the early 1990s. They knew exactly where the industry was heading, and in fact did most of the early R&D to get us there. The only reason they managed to hang around as long as they did was because they owned most of the patents on digital imaging and were collecting massive royalties.

What led to Kodak's downfall is obvious if you look at the pictures in that wikipedia link. Those are Nikon (and later Canon) bodies with Kodak digital sensors. Kodak was a film company, not a camera company. They weren't in the business of making cameras (aside from some cheap consumer models and disposables). When the industry shifted from film to digital, the companies which ended up on top were companies skilled at making cameras/lenses (Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Zeiss, and their arch-rival Fuji which had been busy making decent point and shoots prior to the switch to digital), and companies skilled at making electronics/silicon (Sony, Panasonic, Casio, etc). Kodak thought they could carve a piece of the digital sensor pie for themselves, but rapidly found themselves unable to keep up with companies with decades of expertise manufacturing microprocessors who simply shifted that expertise into manufacturing sensors. In other words, the best business model for making camera sensors turned out not to be knowing how to make camera sensors. It turned out to be knowing how to make microchips.

Re:Maybe MSFT was trying to learn from Xerox (5, Insightful)

mbkennel (97636) | about 4 months ago | (#47479083)

| Kodak was a film company, not a camera company.

What Kodak didn't realize, and its competitor, Fuji did realize, was that Kodak was actually a materials, coatings & chemical processing company, but it thought it was a photography company. As you recognize, the expertise wasn't in how film works, it's how film factories work, and the people who knew semiconductor factories made better sensors.

If they did realize this, they'd be around today making graphene or medical instruments.

And for a number of decades Kodak, along with Perkin-Elmer (also in upstate New York) made the most impressive photography system in the world, i.e. the film-based NRO surveillance satellites, and could never talk about it. That big stream of revenue also died.

Meh, why should we spend money on that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478829)

Seriously. Business people will look at all the pie-in-the-sky stuff and say 'We are making a crapload of money without all that stuff, why should we spend one single nickel on any of it? Its all just a waste of money. If it can't make me money today, it gets none of my money today." I have every expectation that the guys who invented the transistor met with business people who told them: "That's real nice, but I already have a triode or a pentode for that. Give me something I don't already have." It's just like this: when microsoft beat the Sherman Act by claiming that 'Its unpossible to unbundle one piece of software from another', they effectively put Netscape out of business and owned the browser market for about 7 years. Internet Exploder was the de-facto standard, and if you weren't compatible, you were one of 'them', and would be curtly told to 'upgrade to a newer version of Internet Exploder'. When Firefox finally started breaking their monopoly by getting around 35% market share, m$ finally started realizing that they might have a problem. So they thought about fixing bugs in old 'Exploder'. Problem: they hadn't spent more than a nickel on it, nor changed half a bit in more than 10 years, the old team had been long disbanded and had either left the company or had been moved to other parts of the company. They scrambled to re-assemble the team and re-purpose servers to building IE once again. This is the mentality: If its not (really) broke, don't fix it. And so it goes with all that forward-looking stuff that came out of microsoft research in '97 (and it was a different time 17 years ago, PC's were king and all the really old-timers needed the cash to buy 3rd yachts and mansions).

Re:Meh, why should we spend money on that? (4, Insightful)

mbkennel (97636) | about 4 months ago | (#47479089)

| I have every expectation that the guys who invented the transistor met with business people who told them: "That's real nice, but I already have a triode or a pentode for that. Give me something I don't already have.

No. That's what happens now. That didn't happen in the 1950's at Bell Labs or in any successful organization in the era of significant American technical/industrial competence (1920-1980).

Not very belle labs (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 4 months ago | (#47478847)

"In our defense, nobody was doing that yet to prove it profitable. Now that we know it is, research me too!"

Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (3, Interesting)

derinax (93566) | about 4 months ago | (#47478887)

In the late nineties and into the last decade Microsoft just dumped too much time and money on their vision of a hyper-connected home. They dumped so much research money into building out test spaces and building out test devices, they failed to realize that people don't want an intelligent dryer and an intelligent toaster and an intelligent melon baller. The reality is whatever fancy device you own that has any kind of transistor in it, much less a CPU-- a phone, a tablet, a TV-- you're having to fuss with it. Constantly. And the same is/was always true for their "Microsoft At Home" vision. And yes, these things were connected-- but only to each other.

That, and the fact that Microsoft has always misread the Internet, from coming to TCP/IP late, to ignoring the vital interoperability that cloud services demand. It's always been about the toys with them. Toys that run Windows. Ugh.

Gratefully, only a few of these monstrous things ever saw the light of day beyond the lab.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (2)

BigDish (636009) | about 4 months ago | (#47479027)

Disagreed - I DO want an intelligent dryer. That's not to say I want a heavy-weight OS or the ability to browse the internet on it, but my dryer is in my basement and I can't hear the buzzer. I DO want my smartphone to notify me when the cycle is done so I can go get the clothes. Nerd-things, like being able to see current temp/humidity inside would be a bonus, but just to know when it's done would be a huge selling point.

Disclaimer: I haven't shopped for a dryer in a few years - perhaps this exists now. It didn't when I last looked.

Re:Microsoft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479103)

You mean you never learned to tell the time...?

Step 1) Figure out how long a drying cycle lasts (or set for a pre-determined time)
Step 2) Put clothes in dryer and turn on.
Step 3) ???? (do something else for a while)
Step 4) Return to dryer after drying period has elapsed / PROFIT!

Tada. No need for a smart dryer.

Re:Microsoft (1)

hibiki_r (649814) | about 4 months ago | (#47479129)

Modern dryers offer timed settings, but they are not the most efficient: The recommended settings stop when the clothes are dry enough. This changes with the season, the specific set of clothes you put inside of it, and all that. So if you don't want to go downstairs in the worst case scenario, you will make multiple visits every so often, because you just got there too early.

Re:Microsoft (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 4 months ago | (#47479281)

Yeah, let's all spend $1,000 on a 'smart' dryer to save $10 in electricity. Makes total sense.

Re:Microsoft (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | about 4 months ago | (#47479423)

It's not about saving electricity so much as arriving to find that you've got a whole dryer full of now-wrinkled clothes, which either have to be ironed or run through the dryer again.

Re:Microsoft (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479715)

If your clothes can't stand 15 extra minutes in the dryer, then you're a slave to your possessions and your life is way too fucking complicated already.

Re:Microsoft (1)

dysmal (3361085) | about 4 months ago | (#47479747)

Boo. Eff. Enn. Hoo!

Are you seriously that OCD that you absolutely have to race to your dryer the second it turns off to fold your clothes? Is your time that god awfully important and precious that you can't spare a couple of extra minutes doing laundry like people have done for at least a generation? If they're wrinkled, turn it back on for 5'ish minutes!

I'm good friends with a neurosurgeon who also does extensive cancer research. His time is VERY valuable. You know what? He's completely fine using a traditional dryer with a timer. Why? Because it's f'ing laundry!!!

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Re:Microsoft (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | about 4 months ago | (#47480019)

I wasn't the one asking for a smart dryer. I was pointing out *why* someone might want a smart dryer, and I do in fact just run the dryer again a little longer if stuff gets wrinkled.

I'll bet your neurosurgeon friend can read and derive context, too.

Re:Microsoft (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 4 months ago | (#47479437)

He already has a smart dryer if the dryer is able to stop when the clothes are dry.

Re:Microsoft - Dryer Econ (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479787)

You obviously don't do much laundry, nor have priced dryers lately...

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 4 months ago | (#47479111)

Get an Arduino and connect it to the circuit controlling the buzzer on the dryer.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 months ago | (#47479741)

Or, the low-fi approach ... set a timer on your smart phone, or buy a dollar store timer, or just come back in an hour.

As nerdtacular as a dryer which talks to your phone via bluetooth (or whatever) sounds ... I'd rather not pay more for my next dryer in order to have this feature. Because for me it's utterly pointless.

There is no real need for this, it's just something which sounds like it might be cool.

It just sounds like technology for the sake of technology, and all "ZOMG, what did people do before the dryer called your phone?".

It's a solution in search of a problem.

Re: Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

BigDish (636009) | about 4 months ago | (#47479775)

And how do you suggest I pick the time to set my timer to, given that drying time is variable when I use the dryness sensor of my dryer.

If you don't want to pay for it, buy a cheap dryer. I'd rather have a high-end one.

Re: Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479895)

I'd suggest getting a comfortable chair. Read a book and enjoy watching your laundry dry.

Everyone else just doesn't need to be there when the dryer shuts off. It's your OCD.

Get a chair. Enjoy the whole laundry drying with a smart dryer experience.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (2)

r_a_trip (612314) | about 4 months ago | (#47480705)

It's a solution in search of a problem

Which is what people have probably said about wheels, boats, bows, guns, castles, astronomy, gaslight, electricity, self driving carriages, photo cameras, computers, dishwashers, dryers, mobile phones, the Internet, etc.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 4 months ago | (#47479785)

Meile will do this. It'll cost you though. High end appliances, with a very high end price tag.

Dryer (0)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about 4 months ago | (#47480009)

Boy if those dryers only had some fancy kind of audible alert device...

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (2)

_Ludwig (86077) | about 4 months ago | (#47479067)

Now that you mention it, I do want an intelligent melon baller.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 4 months ago | (#47479141)

That, and the fact that Microsoft has always misread the Internet, from coming to TCP/IP late,

Late for what? IPX was a lot easier to manage back then. By the time the internet was an interesting thing for more than a small slice of the population, Windows had support for TCP/IP and PPP.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (5, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 4 months ago | (#47479465)

The reality is whatever fancy device you own that has any kind of transistor in it, much less a CPU-- a phone, a tablet, a TV-- you're having to fuss with it. Constantly.

Horseshit. My printer has a CPU in it, and in three years I've never had to do anything but turn in on. (I rely on the auto off feature.) Ditto for the CPU's in my and my wife's cars. Or in our GPSr's (a handheld and two dashboard navigation systems). Or in our washer and dryer. Or in our home entertainment system (TV, Tivo, HDMI switch, Roku, Blu-Ray player). Or in our microwave. Or... we pretty much haven't had to "mess with" any of the dozens of the CPU's in our possession. (And most of what little "messing with" we've had to do has been with the phone and desktop, and the "messing with" has been minimal... hit "update" and walk away for bit.) I don't know what planet you live on, but here on Earth in 2014, consumer grade devices don't generally require user intervention.

Re:Microsoft "At Home" lab is a bust (1)

exomondo (1725132) | about 4 months ago | (#47480071)

they failed to realize that people don't want an intelligent dryer and an intelligent toaster and an intelligent melon baller.

Maybe so but intelligent thermostats and lighting systems most definitely.

The reality is whatever fancy device you own that has any kind of transistor in it, much less a CPU-- a phone, a tablet, a TV-- you're having to fuss with it.

Nope, either you have never used a decent intelligent thermostat or you're doing it wrong. Or there's internet-connected appliances like air conditioners, the ability to control them remotely is great. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting what you mean by "having to fuss with it".

c0m (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47478965)

You have a play 6ig in fronT of core team. They

So... about this memo (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about 4 months ago | (#47478979)

Are we violating any of Intellectual Ventures' patents by reading it?

Re:So... about this memo (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 4 months ago | (#47479041)

Only if you memorize more than 3 consecutive words, write a summary, or link to it (without prior written approval). Otherwise, you're good to go mister dude.

Re:So... about this memo (1)

Kittenman (971447) | about 4 months ago | (#47479835)

Are we violating any of Intellectual Ventures' patents by reading it?

Reading the attached article? Now c'mon, this is slashdot. We'll just make random, unsubstantiated statements.

Lulz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479007)

But research didn't do enough to make the company broaden its businesses.

As spoken by somebody who's clearly never worked for a company. Anyone in Research & Development knows that no matter how much proof you have, no matter how much financial benefit something would bring to the company, Management will not approve it if it doesn't agree with their current world view. And Management's world view is generally limited to Pet-Topic-of-the-Fortnight, usually involving Sales or some fad business process like 4DX.

No matter what, nobody can see the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479011)

No matter how much money MS had/has, it cannot see the future. They are off the hook for that. But also, no matter how much money MS has they refuse to fix their shitty OS. Come on, MS, are you telling us windows is such a mess that you cannot secure it or that you won't spend money to secure it?

Re:No matter what, nobody can see the future (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47479079)

but Microsoft has again and again missed the obvious technology evolutions, coming back years later with too little to late. Look at the 2% windows phone market share, 'nuff said

Light of Day: Dim Light through Small Crack (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 4 months ago | (#47479095)

Never saw F# used anywhere, anyone know of project or product that uses it?

Re: Light of Day: Dim Light through Small Crack (1)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 4 months ago | (#47479363)

Maybe you can find some OCAML projects and ask people there what they think about it.

I guess developing F# stuff in Mono would be great, but Mono is that frowned-upon child chasing the trail.

At the uni I went to they did teach "Caml Light" as an introduction language! Heard they stopped doing that. We all cordially hated it but damn it was nice. Writing polymorphic functions by accident, the "map" function, the arbitrary, automatic and extremely strong types.. But when you get to learn some crap language like Java afterwards, you're spoiled. (C courses were a bit fun, at least it's widespread, historic and low level. looks like BASIC with structs and pointers.)

Re: Light of Day: Dim Light through Small Crack (2)

Shados (741919) | about 4 months ago | (#47479385)

Its semi-common in financial industries (who generally are mostly *Nix/Java based, but always have a substantial percentage of Windows development for either client or specialized server side use. They often get steep discounts because of all the exchange/office licenses they get).

The neat thing about F# is that its an ML dialect, and thus is fairly good for complex/mathy algorithms that are best written functionally. Then C# can consume the F# DLL's transparently. Don't get me wrong, there isn't hundreds of millions of lines of code written in it, but when I was in that industry, I worked at a few company (one among the "big 3") that has a substantial F# department, to write operational research algorithms to help balance portfolios and stuff.

MS Research was meant to mop up talent, that's all (5, Interesting)

echtertyp (1094605) | about 4 months ago | (#47479171)

Waaay back I remember someone pointing out that Microsoft was spending enormous sums to hire researchers, especially promising ones in academia. The idea, apparently, was for MS Research to be a sort of "intellectual roach motel" (love that phrase) were IQ would check in, and nothing checked out. This made a certain amount of sense. As a monopolist you don't -want- any innovation. One way to do that is hire hitmen to kill potential innovators. But the risks there are huge. A much easier way if you have the money is to hire promising minds and then keep them neutralized. That's just what Microsoft did.

Re:MS Research was meant to mop up talent, that's (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480005)

IIRC that was all mapped out in the Halloween Document leaked so many moons ago. Yes it played out pretty much as they had planned with the exception of it preventing other companies from making or creating innovative things. Not everything is created by guys like Ray Ozzie and when you cage those people up they lose the ability to see outside their caged box so no outside-the-box creativity.

Wait, What!? Why am I hearing this now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47479229)

No one ever showed me that memo!
Man, I am pissed! Heads will roll for this!
I think 18,000 will suffice (fifth element ref)

--
B. G.
(Borg)

Copy of memo: (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 months ago | (#47479269)

1. Don't make stupid software
2. Profit!

What a fatuous, nebulous piece of crap??? (2)

aurizon (122550) | about 4 months ago | (#47479305)

All that memo will do (and it did) is to create a regressive hierarchy of backbiting political scum, who devote their energy to their next, larger, paycheck.
Any new ideas will be ruthlessly crushed, to avoid the risk their will succeed and toss those on high into the rubbish heap of history.
So they have done that with the company, and it only survive because of its natural monopolies in a few software fields.

Apple could have killed them ages ago, by allowing their OS to be licensed on any processor, and include a state machine rom with each licenced copy, said state machine being a soldered un-crackable dongle, so that Apple gets ~~$100 per copy - they would slay Microsoft.
As it is Apple clings to their walled garden = dumb, but Apple = richer than me, so what do I know?

Re:What a fatuous, nebulous piece of crap??? (4, Informative)

edelbrp (62429) | about 4 months ago | (#47480181)

Apple could have killed them ages ago, by allowing their OS to be licensed on any processor, and include a state machine rom with each licenced copy, said state machine being a soldered un-crackable dongle, so that Apple gets ~~$100 per copy - they would slay Microsoft.
As it is Apple clings to their walled garden = dumb, but Apple = richer than me, so what do I know?

I think you forgot about the Mac clone era. Unfortunately, the third party clones were horrible. At the time, discontinuing the licensing of Mac clones was the right thing to do. All they did was tarnish Apple's image.

Re:What a fatuous, nebulous piece of crap??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480573)

Horrible in that they ran Apple's crappy OS better and quicker than Apple's own machines

Re:What a fatuous, nebulous piece of crap??? (1)

aurizon (122550) | about 4 months ago | (#47480993)

Horrible? No they worked quite well, in fact so well that they caused the over priced Apples to lose share to the same systems made by others with lower cost parts.

What apple did was fail to make sure a profit came back to Apple from each clone sold, via that hard wired dongle I spoke of. That way only a true OS buyer could use it = Apple gets its profit.
Look at Microsoft, built on sales of the original OS and the descendants.

Apple is lucky it came out with the series of products it did. It is still a very small player in computers over-all, 2-3% share of that market, but it has 100% of the Apple market, but the X86 market has hundreds of players, most small, so the Apple stand alone % looks higher than many.
A good measure would be measure x86 sales from AMD and Intel and deduct the Apple portion.

Re:What a fatuous, nebulous piece of crap??? (2)

steveha (103154) | about 4 months ago | (#47481037)

At the time, discontinuing the licensing of Mac clones was the right thing to do. All they did was tarnish Apple's image.

Actually, I agree with both you and the person to whom you are responding. Apple could have killed Windows by licensing out Mac OS, but it was the wrong thing at the time they actually tried it.

The Microsoft approach was to license out DOS and Windows to anyone who wanted it, taking a small royalty per copy and making money on a huge volume. The Apple approach is to make more money per unit, while selling fewer units. I firmly believe that if Apple had tried the Microsoft approach in, say, 1988, they would have won big-time. Windows was still a joke in 1988, and people were spending crazy money to buy Macs.

Licensing out Mac OS in small volume gains the benefits of neither approach. If Apple only got small volumes, they couldn't make Microsoft levels of money on a small royalty; yet cheap "clones" reduced their ability to charge large amounts on small volumes.

Steve Jobs never wanted the Microsoft approach anyway. He wanted to sell premium stuff that looked awesome and commanded a premium price. But I wish that Apple had embraced the Microsoft model early; we'd all be running Motorola processors rather than x86.

Today's research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480043)

This is the same typical memo every R&D facility of a big company creates. Google, Apple, Cisco, Intel, and many others have the same memo of the same technologies. Problem is R&D is thinking of too many ideas, too many core competencies, and not focusing on some basic fundamentals to build your business.

In light of the largest layoffs in MS's history, the real reason this memo is released is to declare:
This layoff [i.e. MS's fall from grace] wasn't R&D's fault. So Typical of R&D, get credit for the ideas, then cut and run when they flame out, don't fix it, and 'argue' why R&D was right in the 1st place.

F# and LINQ are the problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480291)

LINQ, F#, Vista, Metro, etc, etc.

They started to focus on cool geeky stuff instead of shaping the future. Not that they did shape what garbage we have today, but Microsoft is one of very few companies that can do that now.

tl;dr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47480447)

Maybe we should stop gouging customers, filing patents, and supporting repressive regimes. Nahhhh!

sound of tap tap on the screen... (2)

MoreThanThen (2956881) | about 4 months ago | (#47480781)

It looks like you're trying to write a memo... let me help you with that

"Research" does not replace leadership vision (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | about 4 months ago | (#47481119)

Plenty of other organisations, (IBM, Xerox...) have equally-sad stories.
Genuine transformational innovation ignored by the senior management...who in the case of IBM, then Microsoft, were focused exclusively on two things:

1. Screwing their customers
2. Screwing their competition

IBM got their comeuppance, and had to reinvent themselves as the "services" company we know and love (ahem) today.
A far cry from the company that had Nobel prize-winning people on their R&D teams.

Now its Microsoft's turn.

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