Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What I wrote to Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates in 2010

I'm risking to embarrass myself here.

In 2010, the consensus was Windows platform was at risk falling into obscurity. This was the time before iPad/iOS became a real force. The main threat was cloud-based computing: If everything could be done on web browsers, Windows would become irrelevant. It was Microsoft against the entire world.

I looked at Microsoft's portfolio of technologies from an investor's perspective. I believed I had a strategic solution for Microsoft. So, what did I do? I wrote an email to Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

As you would guess, busy top executives are surrounded by layers of personnels and won't have the time to entertain unsolicited emails. I didn't get a reply from either of them. Instead, I got a reply from a manager with their Opportunity Management Center (OMC).

I am a Business Development Manager with Microsoft’s Opportunity Management Center (OMC), which reviews unsolicited proposals and recommends specific resources and programs that may help you meet your business objectives. Since we do not consider ideas as a basis for business proposals; I'd like to redirect you to resources for submitting and sharing feedback.

Connect -

I appreciate your interest in working with Microsoft and wish you the best of luck with your initiatives.
No complaint here. And I didn't follow it up from there onwards.

What I want to bring up here is what I proposed in the context of what Microsoft brought out this week.

I asked myself, "Assume this cloud-based paradigm shift is unstoppable. If every application is really moved to the cloud, how could I still make my OS platform relevant?" I figured if I could offer some killer human-computer interfaces (HCI) that was unique on my platform, I would give people a compelling reason to continue to use my platform. As long as I could maintain the proliferation of my platform, I would have enough leeway to make my platform sticky.

At the time, Microsoft had 2 offerings which were (and still are) unique: Microsoft Surface (now branded as PixelSense) and Kinect. So, here is what I wrote:
Hi Steve and Bill,

The existing disruptive technical shift is that more and more applications are moved to the cloud which is based on open standards like HTML and Javascript, thus, diminishes the value of the WinAPI franchise. The solution to maintain MSFT's competitive edge is not to move all MSFT's offerings to the cloud. It's a commodity market. The business models are untested, margin is lower and customer acquisition is expensive. Instead, we need to reverse the exodus. We need to find computations which people don't want to move to the cloud but naturally reside on the client PCs, and build these into the OS and provide API for them.

The solution lies in Microsoft Surface and Kinect. I can imagine a world 10 years from now we will interact with computers mainly using voice, touches and gestures instead of keyboard and mouse. Surface/Gesture computing will become a naturally extension of GUI. MSFT has the technologies today and ahead of everyone else. What needs to be done is to drive the price down and build the API into the Windows OS. Then, we can harness the creativity of 3rd party software vendors to create the next generation of kill apps which will only be available on the WinAPI platform.

Fast forward to today. I read an article which discussed the technical details of the keyboard used on the new Microsoft Surface.

 (If you don't see this image in rss reader, please visit the blog post directly.) (Source:

It's a clever piece of engineering. It looks more like something coming from Apple or Miele than Microsoft. The underlying enabling technologies are patented. (We'll see if someone can create a close copy.) So, here we are, an unique HCI offering which is not available on any other platform. There will be buyers who select Microsoft's tablets over Android or iPad solely because of this unique keyboard. This is a key selling point, if not "the" key selling point. And when Windows gains enough traction and market share in the tablet market, it will have the critical mass to become self-sustainable.

(So, naturally, I will disagree with the idea that Microsoft is only acting as a beacon and will withdraw from the market later.)

We can imagine Microsoft didn't decide something like this lightly. To offer vertically integrated products which may alienate your business partners is a significant strategic shift. It is a watershed moment for Microsoft.

No, I don't think what I wrote in 2010 had any influence on Microsoft. I also have no delusion that the keyboard is only one small part of its entire strategic package. Also, whether Microsoft Surface can suceed will have a lot to do with upcoming execution, not just the initial inception. I just get excited that Microsoft's action validates part of my thinking in 2010.

Information technologies are now in this great convergence phase. Regardless which set of products offered by which players (Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, etc.), I foresee they will all become a great mash (or mesh?) of related and intertwined services. Looking at the PixelSense and Kinect I mentioned in the original email again, I won't be surprised they will have their places in this huge puzzle Microsoft tries to solve.

(Disclosure: Long MSFT)


  1. If you want a letter or correspondence to get to a CEO (of any sized firm) type it up on very nice paper. Then next day FedEx/UPS/USPS it to the company attention the CEO.

    Yes you pay up for shipping some, but there is a level of importance with a document sent like that. Companies I'm familiar with would send letters like that straight to the CEO's desk, even if they have an assistant.


    1. What do you think they do with their breakthrough technologies that are in their tablet. I'm in the camp that believes that this tablet is to Microsoft's tablet effort as the Nexus was to Google's mobile effort (pre MMI acquisition). That said, Google didn't put a lot of its own proprietary IP in the device as Microsoft has. Do you think they'll license it out? Keep it for themselves?.....

    2. Horace Dediu (a student of Christensen) offers some compelling reasons why MSFT may go down and stay with this integrated path (like Apple) in the tablet market.

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