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Microsoft Memos: Ballmer Cloud vs. Gates Internet Tidal Wave

The VAR Guy

March 5, 2010

3 Min Read
Microsoft Memos: Ballmer Cloud vs. Gates Internet Tidal Wave

What a difference a decade or two makes. Back in 1995, Bill Gates wrote the famed Internet Tidal Wave memo to help turn Microsoft toward the Web. Fast forward to the present, and current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is trying to recapture some of that old memo magic, this time saying Microsoft is going “all in” with cloud computing. Translation: Ballmer in 2009 sounds a lot like Gates in 1995. But here’s the problem: The VAR Guy knows Bill Gates. And Steve Ballmer is no Bill Gates. Here’s why.

First, The VAR Guy must point out that he respects both Gates and Ballmer. Our resident blogger interviewed Gates multiple times in the 1990s, allegedly for InformationWeek. And yes, The VAR Guy has also met Ballmer multiple times. Both are sharp. But here’s the difference.

1995: Bill Gates – The Internet Tidal Wave

Gates woke up to the Internet threat just in time in 1995. At the time, Microsoft had $5.9 billion in annual sales and 17,801 employees. Windows 95 was nearing launch and most of the world was focused on client-server computing and swapping out Windows 3.X systems. But Gates was deeply concerned about Netscape, web browsing and e-commerce. In a famed May 1995 memo, Gates wrote about an Internet Tidal Wave.

Microsoft rallied to the Internet cause, crushed Netscape, won the browser wars, and remained relevant through the dot-com boom and bust.

2009: Steve Ballmer – Moving At Cloud Speed

Fast forward to the present. Microsoft has $58 billion in annual revenues and 93,000 employees. Earlier today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a speech at the University of Washington where he said that the company was going “all in” with its strategy to move Microsoft products to the cloud, notes TechCrunch.

Ballmer also sent an email to Microsoft’s staff about the cloud’s importance. Wow. Was that Ballmer writing in 2009 about cloud? Or was it Gates writing in 1995 about the Internet?

Either way, it doesn’t matter.

Not even Bill Gates could help Microsoft dominate cloud computing. The economics are all different now. Channel partners eagerly helped Microsoft to dismantle mainframes and minicomputers two decades ago. This time around, cloud computing is dismantling Microsoft’s monopolies, and some of Microsoft’s own cloud efforts will compete with channel partners.

And let The VAR Guy repeat the financial stats:

  • In 1995, Microsoft had $5.9 billion in annual sales and 17,801 employees, according to multiple historical web sites. The company was nimble enough to change and didn’t have a big installed base of legacy products under attack.

  • Today, Microsoft has $58 billion in annual revenues and 93,000 employees, according to Wikipedia. And Microsoft’s massive installed base is under attack on multiple fronts.

Is Microsoft doomed? Certainly not. Microsoft Windows Azure seems like a wildly promising cloud platform. Move a few thousand Windows Server ISVs over to Windows Azure, and Microsoft is going to have a cloud hit on its hands. The VAR Guy practically guarantees Azure will succeed.

Still, this isn’t 1995 — when Microsoft was relatively nimble, and rallied to destroy Netscape. Today, Microsoft is massive, and must fend off open source, social media platforms, early SaaS leaders (Salesforce.com, Google), and cloud platforms (Amazon Web Services, etc.).

At this point, not even Bill Gates could push Microsoft back into the center of the computing universe.

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