Ballmer didn't kill tablets at Microsoft; the truth is much worse than that

Having your old boss to make bad decisions for you means a fail at both vision and CEOing.

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Ballmer . He invited Bill to a meeting with J Allard, who Greene describes as a kind of designated hipster among the top execs at Microsoft. His ambitious, non-Windows-standard dual-screen Courier not only wasn't a copy of the iPad, it defined tablets as much closer to the midpoint in power and functionality between smartphones and PCs than the iPad. That was a big deal at a time people were still mocking iPads as nothing but an iPhone without the phone or convenience of fitting into a pocket.

Gates, according to Greene, grilled Allard in the aggressive, dismissive style for which he became infamous during his decades at Microsoft. The origin of the style may have been Gates' personal quirks, but the intent was Darwinian. Any product manager who collapsed, or just weakened an otherwise solid explanation after being told some new brainstorm was the "stupidest #*@#*%* idea I've ever heard" didn't have what it took to get the product developed or drive to make it compete against all the similar things already on the market.

Allard had been through it before. Talking about tablets, though, Allard couldn't answer all Gates' questions about how easily people would use the Courier to do all the things they'd do on a regular PC or laptop.

Tablets weren't PC replacements. They were extra conveniences people would use as a web-top, browsing, reading, using web apps, taking a few notes – not as an email archive and data-entry point, and not as a phone.

Gates didn't get it. He "had an allergic reaction" to the idea, Greene quotes one Courier worker as saying.

Ballmer didn't get it, either, but CEOs don't always have to Get It. They just have to know that It's there to be Gotten.

They have to realize that someone who works for them Gets It and can deliver It to customers at a profit before customers move on to another It. They also have to have the confidence to move forward with something they don't quite understand but know is doing well anyway.

Ballmer didn't have whatever it took to make that leap – the foresight, or the nerve or confidence in his team, the self confidence or whatever other virtue the hot CEO autobiographer of the moment attributes to him or herself to explain how they turned a lucky break into an empire.

Ballmer chose to stick with the pure Windows approach that served Microsoft brilliantly right up until that minute. In an industry infamous for the speed with which it uses up and throws out new ideas, one in which product-development cycles were shortening and the speed required of innovators was increasing, Ballmer decided to wait.

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