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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

July 3, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Vanity Fair chronicles Microsoft’s “lost decade” and “cannibalistic culture”

Vanity Fair’s August issue will feature a piece by contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald looking at 10 years of “astonishingly foolish management decisions” made by Microsoft — a decade under CEO Steve Ballmer that, Eichenwald contends, led to the decline of the company.

Vanity Fair has posted an advance of the article, which relies on dozens of interviews and internal corporate records, including emails between high-level execs, according to a VF news release.

Among the articles’ contentions:

  • A management system known as “stack ranking” — where each unit had to declare a certain percentage of employees as top, good, average or poor performers — crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. It led to employees competing with each other rather than other companies.

    One choice quote in the piece from a former employee: “It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers.”

  • Microsoft had a prototype e-reader ready in 1998 but Bill Gates turned it down “because it didn’t look like Windows,” Vanity Fair quotes a programmer involved in the project as saying.
  • The company’s loyalty to Windows and Office kept it from jumping on emerging technologies such as the touchscreen, according to VF.
  • Another choice quote from the article: “They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh,” said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. “Now they’ve become the thing they despised.”

The August issue of Vanity Fair hits newsstands and the iPad, Nook and Kindle nationally on July 10.

Eichenwald is a two-time winner of the prestigious George Polk Award, given for special achievement in journalism.

[Update 4:20 p.m.: I’ve finished reading an advance copy of the article. The long, 10-page piece goes over a lot of known history about Microsoft. It has some interesting tidbits but also doesn’t take into full account the successes of the era: the Xbox, Kinect or the building of the Server & Tools business. And, to me, the more interesting question at this point is where Microsoft is headed in the future, given the break with tradition that Windows 8 and Surface, to name just a few products, represent.

Here and here are ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley and GeekWire’s Todd Bishop takes on the Vanity Fair story.]

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