Ex-Microsoft VP says Redmond a 'clumsy' innovator

In a New York Times op-ed piece, former Tablet PC team member Dick Brass laments that people are turning to Apple, Amazon, and Google to find the next big thing.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

As I noted on the day the iPad was released, the fact that another company may be the one to make the tablet computer a mass-market consumer device has to leave plenty of folks in Redmond smarting.

But while most of that frustration has stayed private, one former Tablet PC team member has lashed out publicly. Dick Brass, a former Microsoft VP who left the company in 2004, lashed out at Redmond in an op-ed piece that ran Thursday in The New York Times.

As some have questioned what the release of the iPad means for Amazon, Brass said he wonders what it says about Microsoft.

"The much more important question is why Microsoft, America's most famous and prosperous technology company, no longer brings us the future, whether it's tablet computers like the iPad, e-books like Amazon's Kindle, smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, search engines like Google, digital music systems like iPod and iTunes, or popular Web services like Facebook and Twitter," Brass wrote.

Brass, who worked for Larry Ellison at Oracle before joining Microsoft in 1997, notes that while Microsoft continues to report record financial results, its products are not keeping pace.

"Microsoft's huge profits--$6.7 billion for the past quarter--come almost entirely from Windows and Office programs first developed decades ago," Brass wrote. "Like GM with its trucks and SUVs, Microsoft can't count on these venerable products to sustain it forever.

Microsoft, Brass says, "has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator." The company, he says, lacks a systemic approach to take advantage of its innovation.

I'm interested to see what Microsoft as a company--as well as individual worker bees in Redmond--have to say on this topic.

Regardless of where one stands on the matter, this is the key question facing Redmond. It pours plenty into research and development and has no shortage of talent. But will it be able to convert that into products that are competitive and profitable in a new era of technology.

Will Windows Azure prove to be the operating system of the cloud computing world or will it seem like a last gasp to extend a declining empire? Will Microsoft be able to tap online advertising and subscriptions to replace dollars no longer spent on packaged consumer software?

Equally critical--and perhaps largely out of Redmond's control--is how long the Office and Windows profit engines fire at their current levels. That will dictate how much breathing room Microsoft has for things like Azure and Bing to pay off.

While many people are ready to stick a fork in Microsoft, I think its next chapter has yet to be written. And that's what makes things fun.

Update, 12:37 p.m. PT: Microsoft has responded in a blog post by chief spokesman Frank Shaw.

"Obviously, we disagree," Shaw writes, adding a smiley face emoticon. "But his piece does represent a good opportunity to touch briefly on how we think about innovation."

Shaw points to some of the work Microsoft is doing, including the Project Natal gesture recognition work and Xbox Live. He also notes that the ClearType technology that Brass cited as having been stifled, now ships in every copy of Windows.