Steve Ballmer Considers Longhorn-Vista His Biggest Mistake at Microsoft

Outgoing Chief Executive of Microsoft Talks His Biggest Mistake

by Anton Shilov
12/16/2013 | 11:51 PM

Microsoft Corp. has clearly become a different company under the tenure of Steve Ballmer. Quite naturally, there were ups and downs at the company while Mr. Ballmer was at the helm. As it turns out, the retiring chief executive officer of Microsoft recognizes his mistakes and even admits his main one: the code-named Longhorn product that was cancelled in favour of Windows Vista.


"When I look at it and I say, okay, what is the thing that I did that I feel – that I regret the most, not just in my CEOship but my whole time here, it is absolutely ‘Longhorn becomes Vista’. That was the single biggest mistake I made. Why? Not only because the product was not 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,” said Steve Ballmer in an interview with web-site.

One of the key issues in “Longhorn becomes Vista” situation was that Microsoft had to cut a lot of useful features and technologies from the final product just in order to ship it on time. For example, Microsoft had to give up WinFS file system and sacrifice multiple innovations that were tightly connected to it.

Yet another problem with Windows Vista was the fact that it was not precisely focused on anything specific, moreover, eventually it turned out that the Longhorn just was a too complex project to implement it at once. Ultimately, neither Windows Vista nor Windows 7 were suitable for emerging market of media tablets.

“It wasn't Bill Gates' thing and it was not Jim Allchin's thing and I did not get it. When I look back and I say it was sort of a focus issue, because we were not focusing on what we needed for engineering cadence, bite-size approach, what was the big bet that that represented. I am willing to admit when I first started as CEO is probably when I made my biggest mistake. And a lot of what we've been doing is just the last five or six years is really catching back up from the mistake that really you could say I made with Bill and Jim Allchin earlier in my CEO days," said Mr. Ballmer.

By making a bet on Longhorn in particular and personal computers in general, Microsoft spent years creating a high-end operating system without actually releasing it and without offering competitive ultra-mobile platforms for quite a while. By contract, its arch-rivals – Apple and Google – were designing their iOS and Android operating system for mobile devices.

“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,” concluded the outgoing CEO of the world’s largest software developer.

While it is obvious that it will take years before Microsoft starts to feel itself comfortable on the market of ultra-mobile computing devices, there are things that Mr. Ballmer can be proud of: Xbox, Windows for enterprise uses, cloud services, business discipline and, of course, doubled profits and tripled revenues.