Can Ballmer deliver the SOA market for Microsoft?

By admin, August 29, 2008 9:44 am

That is the interesting assertion that Nicholas Petreley makes in this article at CIO Magazine, but I am hard pressed to see the argument for it even after reading through it twice.

Petreley starts with a disclaimer: he likes Ballmer, so sue him. That's fine (although he does spend a substantial portion of the piece talking about just how, and how much, he likes him), there's no reason you can't conduct a practical analysis of a business under the leadership you like. But when he goes on with the meat of the argument, I start to get the feeling that it really all is just an artfully constructed way of saying, "Steve, gosh, I like you."

The argument itself comes down to the assertions that:

  • Microsoft is threatened in the server market by Unix and Linux
  • SOA might be a good way to address that threat
  • .Net is a solid core foundation for SOA software
  • With a little polish, this foundation could provide a clean interface with open standards
  • Ballmer is more open-minded than Gate and more willing to champion such an interface

Let's say I don't squabble with the first four assertions (although there is plenty there a reasonable person could disagree with) and we just look at the last, the Ballmer is more open-minded than Gates. It's possible that this is true; I am not personally in a position to know any more on the matter than anyone else outside of Microsoft. But from what you can see from outside the company, and glean from staff over a few beers, is that Gates has always been the visionary, and Ballmer the get-it-done marketing and organization guy. I don't see how, with Gates' track record, you can really call him a more-of-the-same kind of guy. He has pivoted the company, dramatically, on more than one occasion, and it may be that only he could do so. Petreley calls him "…blinded by his single vision of crushing all competition and locking customers into a Microsoft world" and that may be so, but it was that vision that gave him the drive to make exactly the sort of short-term compromises that Petreley is calling for in order to serve that long-term goal. The switch from CD-ROM based multi-media to supporting the Internet for media distribution didn't serve to lock anyone in to Microsoft-supplied content (and that was the original vision: lock-in, just as Petreley says) but Gates did it, because he had to.

If Microsoft had to open standards up to make the company a player in the SOA market, Gates would do it. Ballmer may be more pragmatic, but sometimes pragmatism can take greatness and make it mundane. If you make practical decisions on a conventional scale, sometimes you miss the grand opportunities on a larger scale. Ballmer, as yet, hasn't done anything yet to convince me that he will run the company otherwise, despite the sordid mess of the Yahoo acquisition, which I suppose some people would describe as "visionary." And while the moment was inevitable that Bill would step down from such an active role at Microsoft, and Steve just happens to be the guy who has to fill most of his shoes, I don't buy that Bill's departure shakes off any constraints from the company's trajectory toward success… if anything, it encumbers it in ways that probably aren't even entirely clear yet.

One Response to “Can Ballmer deliver the SOA market for Microsoft?”

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