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Amid Missteps, Some Question Microsoft Resilience
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Amid Missteps, Some Question Microsoft Resilience

Technology

Amid Missteps, Some Question Microsoft Resilience

Amid Missteps, Some Question Microsoft Resilience
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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5494809/5494810" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With Bill Gates announcing he will step down soon as CEO of Microsoft and company shares dipping to low levels, investors have been skeptical about a rebound anytime soon. New York Times technology columnist David Pogue talks about what some are calling a Microsoft slump and whether the company is still feared by competitors.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The business news starts with tough times at Microsoft.

Bill Gates announced last week that he will be stepping down as head of Microsoft, and that announcement came at an awkward moment. Company shares have been trading at their lowest levels in years. Investors were so skeptical that when Microsoft released test versions of some new products last month the share price nosedived.

Now, on Monday's we focus on technology, and today we'll talk to David Pogue, who's a technology columnist for the New York Times, a frequent contributor to MORNING EDITION, about Microsoft. He says investors have had good reason to lose confidence in Microsoft.

Mr. DAVID POGUE (Technology Columnist, New York Times): They really have not been firing on all cylinders for some time.

Let's look at the business in the big picture. They have an essential monopoly with Windows and with Microsoft Office, but almost every time they try to expand their dominance to another field, they fail. The cell phone thing, just here and there models of cell phones have their operating system. The iPod rivals, a tiny fraction of the marketplace. The wireless watch they came up with, where is it today? It's gone.

So they just don't seem to be...

INSKEEP: I'm sorry, I missed that product. The wireless watch? I've got a wireless watch right now. It tells me the time. What is this other thing supposed to do?

Mr. POGUE: Well, it was called the spot watch, and it would get your e-mail, your stock quotes, your sports and your weather.

INSKEEP: Oh.

Mr. POGUE: And it was beautifully designed. I mean the operating system they did for it was great. The problem is, this watch had to be recharged every night like a cell phone. It cost $10 a month, and if you ever left your home city it wouldn't work anymore. So it had its glitches.

INSKEEP: You mentioned cell phones, and there are cell phones that run on Windows software. How do they compare to other cell phones?

Mr. POGUE: These tend to be high-end business cell phones. You know, Blackberry wannabes, and so on. And you know, efficiency is just not in Microsoft's DNA. I recently reviewed, for example, an interesting test case. The popular Treo phone comes in two flavors now, one with a Windows for phones version, and one with the Palm operating system.

INSKEEP: Um-hmm.

Mr. POGUE: The same exact phone, with the same camera, same everything. And you can take them side by side and see that it takes three or four more steps to do anything on the Windows version. And in my review I wrote about this once regarding Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. When the article came out, the Microsoft PR lady called me up and said, the team would like to know if you have any suggestions for the next version of the Pocket PC, other than, you know, that interface stuff. But dude, it's about the interface stuff! There is nothing else, in my view.

INSKEEP: Interface, meaning, your interaction with the thing, whether it works with you.

Mr. POGUE: That's right. The software design, what you see, how many steps, how many hoops you have to jump through.

INSKEEP: Do you think that this company is as intimidating to its rivals as it used to be?

Mr. POGUE: It doesn't seem so. I mean, there are a couple anecdotal pieces of evidence here. I mean, one thing they used to do, remember, is they would announce some product months in advance, vaporware, you know, with no fixed release date or, if there was, it was liable to slip. And that used to scare away a lot of the competitors. It doesn't seem to happen quite that way anymore.

And speaking of these delays, of course, the big one that's hurting Microsoft right now is the 15,000th delay on the next version of Windows, called Windows Vista, which it sets at the top of a huge economic pyramid of PC vendors and computer stores and businesses and all of them were expecting this thing to be available now, but it's now been delayed until January, and they're going to miss the holiday season. And people are really clucking at Microsoft for that one.

INSKEEP: Can you say anything good about Microsoft's performance?

Mr. POGUE: Well, I want to stress that Microsoft is doing beautiful work. It's kind of like there's an old Microsoft and a new Microsoft. And the new one has had some successes. For example, the Media Center PC, this is a PC that hooks up in your living room and records television and radio and burns it onto DVDs. Successful software and successful on the marketplace. So not everything Microsoft touches turns to mud.

INSKEEP: David Pogue, technology consultant for the New York Times. Thanks very much.

Mr. POGUE: My pleasure.

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