RIM’s death rattle became audible a few days ago when its manufacturing partner announced that it would no longer be manufacturing Blackberries. And Nokia is entering the final stages of one of the most spectacular implosions in the history of business, taking the Windows phone down with it.
So what’s Microsoft doing? Announcing a brand-spankin’-new Windows 8 phone line with no upgrade path for its Windows 7 customers. Riiiight. Then, stiff-arming its PC and smartphone business partners by telling them it’s going to do an Apple and ein-Volk-ein-Reich-ein-Führer its new tablet – it won’t be licensing “Windows RT”, and nobody else is going to get a piece of the hardware revenue. So let’s see – Microsoft is throwing away both its historic strengths – backward compatibility and a multi-vendor ecosystem that needs it to succeed – and replacing them with, what exactly?
You know, at this point Microsoft’s board ought to replace Steve Ballmer with an orangutan. Screaming a lot and flinging feces in all directions seem to be the job requirements; the orangutan would cover that for a few bunches of bananas a week, and its strategic decisions couldn’t possibly be worse.
My friends who do IT consulting for businesses are telling me that the compatibility break between desktop Windows 7 and 8 is a big enough disruptor that it may actually drive a lot of their customers to move to all Linux, all the time. Which makes sense; if you know all your old application software is going to break no matter what you do, why not bail out to where you’ll never be a victim again?
Nokia is about to lay off 10,000 people, and investors are no longer pricing the stock above the company’s breakup value. According to some hints that have been leaking out of the company, Nokia thinks it has a bright future as a patent troll. Meanwhile, Microsoft is hinting that it might buy Nokia outright, which would be doubling down on stupid. Nothing about Nokias’s strategy, product or brand-deterioration issues is going to be solved that way; “more Microsoft” is the problem, not the solution.
Contemplating these antics there comes a point at which you just want to clutch your head and mutter, in the immortal words of P.J. O’Rourke, “What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck?” Nokia and RIM used to be sound, well-managed companies with earned and enviable reputations. Microsoft was always evil, but it used to be competent evil – not so much at software engineering, but at least its business strategy was ruthlessly effective. Now, what’s become of these three companies may add up to the biggest destruction of shareholder value in history.
UPDATE: Microsoft may not be planning to freeze out OEMs after all. I was relaying a press rumor based on some ambiguous statements from Redmond, but now a top executive at Acer claims Microsoft only plans to be in the tablet market for a short time. If true, this would make more strategic sense – but the real take-away here may be that Microsoft’s messaging is confused, and possibly the company’s planners don’t themselves know which way they intend to jump.