The problem with Microsoft is in this office

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.

UPDATE: Bill Gates got it, as this Fortune article passed along from @slyall shows. He had three screens in 2006, and used a tablet computer, synced to his desktop, when he moved around:

Lance Wiggs is an entepreneur and commentator. Among other roles he is an InternetNZ Councillor and co-founder of Pacific Fibre.

This article is tagged with the following keywords. Find out more about My Tags

Post Comment

10 Comments & Questions

Commenter icon key: Subscriber Verified

The chair is ugly and old because Steve is not allowed nice new chairs in his office. Something about throwing them at developers...



You have a Life Chair - whatever that is - and TWO SCREENS ....!!!

Poor old Steve has no Life Chair, only one screen ....... and a net worth of billions.

You sit alone somewhere (admittedly you do have a Life Chair and live somewhere like Grey Lynn) whilst Ballmer runs a huge and - let's not forget - extremely successful business.

Your mention of "open plan offices [that] foster collaboration and fast moving decision making with lots of people" is just SOOOO 80's as well as somewhat inelegantly phrased.

How about filing a sensible article rather than a few hundred words with absolutely no new insight (well, not one worth any column space) knocked out (from a Life Chair and using two screens) to make a few hundred bucks?

[Lance works at Video Ezy in Grey Lynn - Editor]


Steve Ballmer has a giantic brain - he remembers everything and he doesn't need a 10 millions pixel screen.


This is silly. It's conjecture.

It's based on the presumption that Ballmer spends all his time in the office. I'd venture to suggest that the reason the office is so outdated is because he spends hardly any time in it. That there is no purpose for a fancy 'life chair' or multiple monitors.

And you know what. Google 'Steve Ballmer Office' and you'll find that the picture is from a NYT story from Jan 2007. Do we also assume time stands still?

I'm starting to wonder why did I pay for a subscription to the NBR with articles like these? If Lance can make such silly assumptions on one photo, imagine what is going through my mind based on an actual posted representative work.
Especially since I was just waiting for the author to drop that they were using an Apple computer.

Disclaimer: I use Linux. Which makes me very even more smug than Lance.


Hey, ENOUGH bashing please!

Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but I am reminded of the saying "You don't have to blow someone else's candle out to make your own burn brighter'


David, you have a point - but what a dumb article written with all the insight that comes from a life lived from a Life Chair in Grey Lynn!

In the para in brackets Lance sets himself up beautifully. It is classic "Pseud's Corner" stuff.


i think the twats above that are slagging off lance wiggs ( don't know him ) are more pretentious than anything in his article?
love the editors comment that lance works at video ezy at grey lynn...but isn't he in with sam morgan and the competitive Ultra Fast broadband project from o/seas?


Open plan offices may look cool and having the boss perched in the corner may even be fun but the fact is that they kill productivity through distraction etc and spread illnesses and most people would rather have their own office any day.


who cares - doesnt Lance have anything better to write about?


My office fits on my back. I have a good lap top - the 15 inch not the 17 which is to big to carry. My PC has 8gb which is all it will take - I use VMWare so carry 3 or 4 different databases, high end data integration software (ok so that is my world) I have only a 250 GB drive but that is solid state. I carry a couple of 3.5 in drives with a docking station so that is 2 TB storage, so I can swap in and out VMWare images. I have my Kindle for reading and tech books (easier on the eyes than a glowing screen). Just about to buy my first smart phone. Looking at the samsung G2, I work in UK (on and offshore) NZ, Aus, various parts of Europe and Asia. I see no reason for Steve B to even have an office. He needs to be out in the world the cafe offices, the airport/air-plane offices, the train and boat offices, the beach offices. The night club offices, the walking down the street offices, the lounge offices his customer offices. If I was him I would never bother with a fixed office - I certainly never expect to spend any more than 6 months in one place and that would be a long time. So far I have been married 36 years and we have lived (for more than 3 months) in 33 places, houses, hotels, flats. My next move hopefully is a 12 meter catamaran as my wife wants a permanent home - so I am picking a home that I can move around the world. I have a daughter in each hemisphere each with two grandchildren for me - so have to be on the move anyway.


Post New comment or question

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

NZ Market Snapshot


Sym Price Change
USD 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%
AUD 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%
EUR 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%
GBP 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%
HKD 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%
JPY 0.0000 0.0000 0.00%


Commodity Price Change Time
Gold Index 0.0 0.000
Oil Brent 0.0 0.000
Oil Nymex 0.0 0.000
Silver Index 0.0 0.000


Symbol Open High Last %
NZX 50 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
NASDAQ 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
DAX 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
DJI 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
FTSE 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
HKSE 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%
NI225 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.00%