Op-Ed Spotlight: Microsoft's Ex-VP Indicts Microsoft's Culture

Maybe he has an axe to grind

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Microsoft has always had a bum rap on originality--first for filching the Windows interface, then for countless other knockoffs. Is it because Microsoft's culture stunts innovation? The company's former vice president says yes. In Thursday's New York Times, Dick Brass offers a rare window into the company's interworkings and points out some serious flaws. Although he sees Microsoft as force for good, he says internal rivalries and outdated business assumptions bedevil the corporation.

It's possible, of course, that Brass has an axe to grind after leaving the company in 2004. He says specific divisions within Microsoft dismissed his ideas for an e-reader. Whatever his intentions, the criticisms are intriguing:

How Jealousy Stunted Innovation at Microsoft

At Microsoft, it has created a dysfunctional corporate culture in which the big established groups are allowed to prey upon emerging teams, belittle their efforts, compete unfairly against them for resources, and over time hector them out of existence. It's not an accident that almost all the executives in charge of Microsoft's music, e-books, phone, online, search and tablet efforts over the past decade have left.

As a result, while the company has had a truly amazing past and an enviably prosperous present, unless it regains its creative spark, it's an open question whether it has much of a future.

How the Business Mindset Was Stuck in the '70s

Not everything that has gone wrong at Microsoft is due to internecine warfare. Part of the problem is a historic preference to develop (highly profitable) software without undertaking (highly risky) hardware. This made economic sense when the company was founded in 1975, but now makes it far more difficult to create tightly integrated, beautifully designed products like an iPhone or TiVo. And, yes, part of the problem has been an understandable caution in the wake of the antitrust settlement. Timing has also been poor -- too soon on Web TV, too late on iPods.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.