Global CIO: Steve Jobs Is Bugs Bunny But Microsoft Is Elmer Fudd

Windows 7 is nice, Bing is neat, Sharepoint is solid, and Azure is promising. But does Microsoft scare the crap out of any of its competitors anymore?
There was a time when Microsoft dreamed very big dreams--and then made them come true. Back when Microsoft's top databases were strained to their outer limits in handling 10,000 transactions per hour (1996), Bill Gates rocked the Microsoft world but good when he went all in and said the new target for SQLserver was 1 billion transactions per day, or 40 million per hour.

Quite a stretch: 10,000 transactions per hour to 40 million per hour. But that was typical of Microsoft, and typical of Bill Gates: the very type of audacity Steve Jobs currently embodies at Apple, although each man expressed his technological vision and sense of elegance in very different ways. What Jobs and Microsoft lacked in pure technological wizardry, they more than made up for in business savvy and marketing prowess.

Where is that unforgettable Microsoft fire now? Where's the audacity, the ruthless wagers, the bone-chilling certainty and will, the refusal to be anything but the leader among a big field of big alpha dogs?

Because while that approach created lots of enemies for Microsoft, it also created a whole lot more admirers, investors, customers, and partners. The greatest code in the world? Heck no. Bugs only an exterminator could love? You bet. And there sure were a lot of howls when Microsoft--quite brilliantly, in my opinion--enlisted its beta-testers and customers in debugging new releases.

The Gates-haters called it shameless exploitation, but today we call it customer engagement and value co-creation. Leaders lead.

When legendary car-maker Bob Lutz joined GM, the story goes that one of his first actions was to visit the design teams and ask them, "Are you proud of the cars you're designing?" And the answer from one and all was "No."

I know what the answer to that question would be at Apple. I'm not sure what the answer would be at Microsoft. And I would suggest that there is nothing more important for Steve Ballmer to address than his company's seeming acceptance of what it has become: a very big, very efficient, and very predictable company that hasn't dazzled anyone in almost a decade.

I hope Steve Ballmer figures out a way to get Microsoft out of its Elmer Fudd stage because the tech business is overloaded with Elmer Fudds. What we need is more of what Apple embodies, and of what Microsoft used to be, and what Google shows flashes of: we need more Bugs Bunnies, and a lot fewer Elmer Fudds.

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

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