Microsoft started developing a tablet computer nine years ago. About two minutes later, Microsoft started working against tablet development. Former Microsoft veep Dick Brass (great pr0n name!), in today’s New York Times, has the sad story:
When we were building the tablet PC in 2001, the vice president in charge of Office at the time decided he didn’t like the concept. The tablet required a stylus, and he much preferred keyboards to pens and thought our efforts doomed. To guarantee they were, he refused to modify the popular Office applications to work properly with the tablet. So if you wanted to enter a number into a spreadsheet or correct a word in an e-mail message, you had to write it in a special pop-up box, which then transferred the information to Office. Annoying, clumsy and slow.
So once again, even though our tablet had the enthusiastic support of top management and had cost hundreds of millions to develop, it was essentially allowed to be sabotaged. To this day, you still can’t use Office directly on a Tablet PC. And despite the certainty that an Apple tablet was coming this year, the tablet group at Microsoft was eliminated.
Brass concludes that Microsoft has become “a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator” because it “never developed a true system for innovation.”
Back in ’95, Bill Gates turned Microsoft around on a dime, when he (somewhat belatedly) recognized that the future rested on the internet, not on a CD-ROM. I doubt Steve Ballmer can do the same thing in 2010.
UPDATE: Brass also shares a gem about the development of ClearType, developed by his team in the late ’90s:
Engineers in the Windows group falsely claimed it made the display go haywire when certain colors were used. The head of Office products said it was fuzzy and gave him headaches. The vice president for pocket devices was blunter: he’d support ClearType and use it, but only if I transferred the program and the programmers to his control. As a result, even though it received much public praise, internal promotion and patents, a decade passed before a fully operational version of ClearType finally made it into Windows.
ClearType is so superior to anything else, it’s the one and only thing I miss about using Windows machines.