Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

When did Microsoft become the little guy?

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 3, 2007

Is Microsoft deliberately attempting to reposition itself as the put-upon, misunderstood tech giant that’s had its beanstalk chopped down and golden eggs stolen by Google?

(That sort of approach might make some sense, given that Bill Gates and co are still in a bit of regulatory hot water).
 
Or does the following statement from Steve Ballmer really reveal Microsoft’s mindset these days, now that it’s not top dog in a market that it feels it should own?

During his whirlwind tour of Europe (and bits of Africa) this week, Gates’ right-hand man was talking about the dangers of an overly dominant Google.

“It could be quite an economic problem for anybody who wants to offer an ad-funded experience on the internet, or anybody who wants to buy advertising,” he is quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

He then put Microsoft forward as “the most sensible, credible alternative to Google”.

Microsoft? The “credible alternative”? The irony of a company with Microsoft’s history saying something like this doesn’t need highlighting of course (but I’ve gone and done it anyway).

Intel’s Andy Grove once wrote a business book called ‘Only the paranoid survive’. Sounds like Ballmer’s read it, and has taken a leaf or two out of it as well. (Hope it wasn’t a library copy).

This is very unlike Microsoft somehow. It has a reputation for ruthlessness, for crushing the competition underfoot. Just ask Marc Andreesen. And it’s used to being number one.

Ballmer himself is well known for his massively ‘confident’ displays at conferences (see below). The word ‘bullish’ fits him – and Microsoft – perfectly. Or at least it used to. Ballmer’s now sounding unusually contrite.

If I was a betting man, I’d say his ‘credible alternative’ statement was a deliberate, well-rehearsed line. The EU ruling must have hurt (reputationally, rather than financially – Microsoft can afford the fine). It doesn’t want the anti-trust lawyers sniffing around forever, and shifting some of the attention onto Google isn’t a bad plan.

It’s also true to say that Google really is in danger of dominating the online space in the way Microsoft dominates the desktop. Indeed, it already does.

That isn’t to say we need feel sympathy for Microsoft though. It could’ve been a contender… and still could be, if the levels of paranoia are high enough. Or maybe it’s missed the point altogether.

Robert Scoble has also just written a post about Steve Ballmer, and why he simply doesn’t ‘get’ social networking. He also touches upon what he sees as Microsoft’s misguided online advertising strategy. Interesting stuff.

There is no direct link between the EU ruling and Microsoft’s take on Google’s dominance, of course, but it will be interesting to see if this change of tone becomes a consistent feature of its public utterances.  

Back to Ballmer. If you need to see evidence of his ‘bullishness’, you could do worse than watch this clip. It’s a timeless classic. I shall be incorporating his presentation techniques into our next new business pitch…

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