Mary Jo Foley conducted what may be Steve Ballmer's final press interview while he is still CEO of Microsoft in late November. The major parts of that chat were posted today at CNN's Fortune website but Foley has some expanded portions of her chat with Ballmer on her ZDNet column today as well. In one of those columns, Ballmer expanded on his own previously admitted regrets over the treatment of Longhorn, the code name for the Windows XP successor that eventually was released as Windows Vista in 2007. Ballmer is quoted again today about the Longhorn-Vista efforts, saying, "That was the single biggest mistake I made."
"When I look at it and I say, okay, what's the thing that I did that I feel -- that I regret the most, not just in my CEOship but my whole time here, it's absolutely 'Longhorn becomes Vista.' That was the single biggest mistake I made," Ballmer told me during a sit-down interview in his office in Redmond at the end of November 2013.
"Why?" he continued. "Not only because the product wasn't a great product, but remember it took us five or six years to ship it. Then we had to sort of fix it. That was what I might call Windows 7.
"And what we wound up with (was) a period of let's say seven or eight years where we had the A-team -- not all of the A-team but a bunch of our best people -- tied up not driving. We did not make years progress in eight years, and there were other things those people could have been working on, (like) phones," he conceded.
Ballmer said he personally takes responsibility for the situation.
Ballmer: 'We tried to fight it off'
"The mistake wasn't just an executional mistake. It was a technical strategy mistake. We tried to fight it off," he said.
"The big things are the important things to get right in this industry, but then you've got to execute with cadence," he continued. "People think it's about changing strategy every three seconds, because that's what people say. 'Oh, the industry changes so fast.'"
But in reality, Ballmer said, "a few big bets really pay off." He noted that Apple's "bet on touch and low power" ended up working out well for the company. Google made a big bet on search. Microsoft made a bet on PCs and software, and more recently, the data center with Windows Azure.
With Longhorn, Microsoft started out with the wrong technology approach, the wrong focus by the company's tech leadership and the wrong cadence.
Longhorn kind of fell through the cracks. "It wasn't Bill (Gates') thing and it wasn't (former Windows Chief) Jim (Allchin)'s thing and I didn't get it," Ballmer admitted.
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