Technology

Buying a phone company won’t save Microsoft

Patrick Stafford /

Microsoft picked a good time to announce it would be taking over Nokia – the news at least ate into a little bit of Apple’s share of the headlines this week regarding the upcoming iPhone announcement.

I bash on Microsoft a lot, but mostly because the company represents a huge, gaping hole of a lost opportunity. Microsoft was in the perfect position to challenge Apple when the iPhone originally launched, but now, it’s just squandered everything.

Purchasing Nokia won’t fix that, but it does bring it a little closer to success. Nokia only makes Windows Mobile devices anyway, so this is just a formal representation of a policy that’s already been in place.

What it represents though, is a philosophy Microsoft has been slowly adopting over the past few years: Cohesion.

The problem Microsoft had a few years ago was that its device experiences were completely different no matter what you used. A Windows Phone looked different from a desktop version of Windows, which looked different than the Xbox. It was confusing.

Over the past several years, that has changed, with Microsoft using the “tile” or “metro” interface for most of its gadgets. Better late than never, perhaps, but it’s still late and it’s still put them on the back foot.

Buying Nokia allows the company to control the way it manufacturers devices specifically for Windows Phone, which is great, (as long as the phones themselves are good).

Usually, I’d say taking control of your supply channel is always a good thing. But here’s the problem – combining both your hardware and your software units isn’t going to help you if the company itself is dying. And that’s Microsoft’s problem. Not the products, although those are bad too. Not the fact it came late to the market with a touch-screen smartphone, although that’s a problem too.

Microsoft’s real problem is this – people just don’t want to work there.

Steve Ballmer has been there entirely too long. He’s not a visionary like Steve Jobs, or crafty like Mark Zuckerberg. He has none of the long-term vision of someone like Marissa Mayer. He’s a managerial type who has stayed comfortable for far too long. Employees don’t like him. Many are afraid of him. His stack-ranking system is cited as the main reason the company is a bad place to work.

And so he’s leaving, which is fine. But whoever the next chief executive is, he or she will have to do a lot more than just control the supply chain and pump out a good-looking phone. They’re going to need to change everything from the inside out.

Controlling your supply is great. But unless Microsoft fixes itself, it’ll crumble from the inside.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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