Microsoft ain’t never innervated nuthin' ! (This post is here in its entirecty - but please read it over here :)

Recently, Steve Ballmer sat down for some discussion with the Channel9 guys and a good part of the discussion revolved around Microsoft and innovation. Shortly there-after, all the "second guessers" started to dribble.

Now whenever someone who works at Microsoft has a positive opinion about someone else who works at Microsoft, we’re accused of either being brainwashed or of sucking up.

If you’re one of those zealots who’s whose frustration from your own lack of accomplishment drives you to compensate by detracting from anyone who HAS taken the world by the balls….. Feel free to comment else ware.

So, the following is my counter-snipe to SteveB’s second guessers.

First, word games are the recourse of simple minds. Now don’t get me wrong. This is a pet peeve of mine that gets regularly energized inside Microsoft as well as out. (Currently we’re arguing about the word PodCast, because its origin is related to Apple’s iPod, and for a year I’ve been taking guff because many MSers want to ignore the dictionary and public majority and insist that the word "Hacker’s" REAL meaning has a GOOD connotation.)

Innovation does not have to mean something COMPLETELY new, as in, never remotely thought of before. Here are a few dictionary definitions.

The act of creating something new.

Something newly released.

Something that is introduced as the product of research.

Something that originates in the mind.

The aluminum baseball bat was not the first baseball bat, but it was an innovation.

The same is true of Astroturf (or artificial turf). Baseball happened on a different playing surface for years before its invention.

In fact, anything designated as ‘artificial" infers that, by definition, it’s at least the second solution to the same problem.

How about the rotary engine? Not the first internal combustion based power source, but pretty innovative. (Just drive a Mazda RX if you don’t think so!!)

Maybe those who, themselves, have never innovated or had an idea on which they built something significant (a company, a movement, etc.) simply don’t know what innovation is.

There is a lifetime to be wasted debating the subtle differences between words like Innovative, Creative, Inventive. In this technologically evolved society that we life in, almost nothing is completely new, not predicated in any way on some previously existing thing.

Look at Apple’s iPod. It’s certainly not the first portable music player in the world. It wasn’t even the first digital audio device, and iTunes came years after Napster.

So is the iPod innovative, or a complete rip-off of other people’s innovations?

In my opinion, it’s a great example of innovation.

The device was simply a "better" version, and part of a bigger vision.

The hardware and software interfaces are more intuitive than any other personal audio device I’ve seen. (My Creative Zen is great too, but it’s great because it’s a mobile version of Windows.)

Apple is innovating in many additional ways where the iPod is concerned.

The CD to iPod download experience is seamless and trivially simple.

The development of the 3rd party market has created an unprecedented ecosystem (relative to consumer electronics).

iTunes software and website integration is very easy to use and iTunes is constantly being enhanced to include non-Music content like audio books, podcasts, etc.

Could another company do this? Yes ! But no-one is.

So if that is innovation – Microsoft is riddled with innovation.

The Xbox with Xbox live and the forthcoming Xbox 360 constitutes innovation, though not the first gaming console.

Isn’t SQL 2005 innovation? Features like the new performance, managed code stored procedures, HTTP endpoints, integrated BI, etc. coupled with the industry’s most aggressive pricing (starting with FREE and growing to full commercially supported enterprise versions).

You can say, well, Oracle did Java SPCROCs , or MySQL is free, but who else has put it all together? Isn’t that innovation?

And for all you non-business folks who don’t think that figuring out how to fund the addition of a wide collection of new features and then market and sell a product at a profit is innovation…. I suggest you take all the money in your savings accounts, go start a company, and see how long you can keep it afloat! It’s not as easy as you think.

I see innovation in almost every major area of Microsoft (though some so subtle you have to LOOK for it.)

I see innovation at many other companies too. (Apple, Creative, Borland, Toshiba, Marantz, Macromedia, Skype, Vonage, eBay, Amazon, and Google, to name a few.)

I see VERY little at other companies. (Like IBM, Oracle, Sun, Verizon, and HP).

I see very little innovation in the Linux/Open Source world, thought there is some very cool stuff happening there in the Java space. (I think the work that has happened with Eclipse is very interesting, the JBoss team as done AMAMZING architectural work, not to mention becoming the poster child for the Open Source / free software business model.)

Now for you Slash-Dotters out there, I don’t say this in the form of an insult.

Linux, as a development effort, has never tried to be the mirror image of Microsoft. The purpose of Linux (at least in recent years) has been to evolve to become a viable alternative to Windows. In order to do this, the Linux core teams have not focused on developing new features that are not in Windows. It’s not to say that they could not do so, it just hasn’t been a necessary part of their mission.

There has always been a place for a better mousetrap.

Much of what Microsoft does is "incrementally innovative", and some of what Microsoft does is completely new.

That’s a big part of what Microsoft Research is for. Some of Microsoft’s innovation is more difficult to identify because it is technology that is implemented in our products and is therefore "proprietary intellectual property".

But any way you look at it, Microsoft is all about innovation. It permeates our culture, in products, education, business, employment… everywhere. And the results are irrefutable.

  • Microsoft has been on top for two decades.
  • Generally seeing double digit annual profits.
  • Achieved and HELD majority market share for core products.
  • Achieved unprecedented market shares in segments historically already locked up by other products.

… and by the way. Business is about winning. Winning and Competition are not dirty words. (Well, except to those who lack the desire to compete or the "stuff" to win.)

I know, I know, Microsoft is the hostility target of choice these days, it’s fun to bitch!

Here’s to the flags of discontent.

In the meantime, I’ll just go back to working on this cool idea.

(That YOU will see on the web later this year J )