Fortune's Gary Rivlin wrote a super article on Microsoft’s problem. As a hefty hint of the contents, the editors placed a glum photo of Steve Ballmer under the headline.
But more telling, to me, was this shot later in the article, of Steve in his office.
It’s an office stuck in the 90s, and the early 90s at that. The screen on his computer is tiny, and there is only one. The desk is ugly and small. The wall-board is ugly and large. The chair is ugly, probably not very ergonomically sound and also large.
(It’s not even as nice as my own office at home. I’m writing this while sitting on a Life Chair, looking at two screens, one of which is a 30 inch, and the other the 11 inch MacBook Air that is driving the big screen. The view behind the screens isn’t as nice, but only because I’m facing the wall rather than outside. Would Ballmer ever have this kind of set-up?)
Steve isn’t sitting with the troops, but is stuck away in a corner. That physical isolation makes it harder to really understand what’s going on. It may not feel as ‘important’ to be mixing it up outside to some, but open plan offices foster collaboration and fast moving decision making with lots of people involved.
What does Steve Jobs’ office look like?
A 2004 shot of his home office. It’s a creative space, with a large screen, video camera for iChatting, on a desk stashed with papers in a bit of a man cave, and surrounded by an appropriate mix of books and creative objects. It feels like a place where interesting work gets done, and it feels ahead of its time in 2004.
Steve Ballmer killed a promising competitor to the iPad, and killed it because it didn’t run Windows. That’s an appalling decision, and the latest of many.
His time has passed, and Microsoft needs to pass the mantle to someone who is a passionate advocate – but not for Microsoft, nor Windows, and nor even for the corporate customers. They need to be a passionate advocate and standard setter for all of us – the end users.
Lance Wiggs is an entepreneur and commentator. Among other roles he is an InternetNZ Councillor and co-founder of Pacific Fibre.