A few issues ago, I put a quote in my IT enewsletter from Microsoft CIO Stuart Scott where he talked about the difference between his former experience serving as a manager at GE and at his present job at Microsoft.
"In my experience, GE was very good at launching hard products and not so good at soft ones. Microsoft is the exact opposite."
As much as that may have been true in the past, these days Microsoft has been laboring on both hard and software fronts. Ask any guy under 30 about the "red ring of death" and they'll tell you the sad tale of a manufacturing defect in Microsoft's popular Xbox 360 video game console that led to reported failure rates as high as 33% at some retailers. The warranty extension alone may end up costing the Redmond, Wash.-based tech manufacturer $1.15 billion dollars.
And even on the software front, Microsoft's true "core competency", the news hasn't exactly been all that good either. Even leaving Vista's delayed launch (and myriad of other problems too numerous to link to) aside, a server outage at the "Windows Genuine Advantage" remote software authentication program last week led to a number of legitimate Microsoft XP and Vista users worldwide being wrongly targeted as software pirates, in turn costing the manufacturer even more precious PR points from a dwindling store.
The big-brotherish, doublespeak-entitled "Windows Genuine Advantage" program was already universally despised anyways, so there was really nowhere to go but down -- especially with users who paid good money for Microsoft's new OS and had their computers targeted for (the also euphemistically titled) "reduced functionality mode" for about a day.
Therefore, the tech rumor du jour, that Microsoft may move to take over BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion, is making the presently contented BlackBerry user community understandably wary.
Should such a takeover occur, Microsoft would likely attempt to integrate both the proprietary software and hardware associated with the popular mobile device into its own product development and service system -- a system that has been taking enough hits as of late that one Blackberry user I know threaten to switch to Apple's iPhone "on principle alone."
"Half the reason I like my BlackBerry Curve is that it's one area of business where I don't have to deal with Microsoft," he says. Another unenthused user, commenting on the Engadget forums, simply remarked: "Please, please, please no."
However these and the millions of other subscribers (RIM added 1.2 million last quarter alone) might hate to hear it, the move probably makes a lot of sense to an executive team at Microsoft who have been forced to endure the continuing weight of positive iPhone press and a growing rumble of rumors about search (and now software) rival Google's own potential entry into the internet-driven mobile communications device market.
According to Info-Tech analyst Michelle Warren
"Microsoft is facing increased competition from both Google and Apple on two different fronts at the same time, so they need to make a disruptive move to energize their marketing activities in the Internet and mobility spaces."
Warren says that Google has been encroaching on Microsoft's turf by dominating Internet search functions and is expected to enter the wireless communications industry, particularly for Internet-driven mobile communications. Meanwhile, Apple is already taking a bite out of the U.S. consumer market for handheld devices and impacting Microsoft's mobile market share. Acquiring a key device manufacturer (much less a leader like RIM) would immediately give Microsoft credibility and leverage in the lucrative corporate wireless space.
To its credit, Bill Gates has never been one to sit idly by and watch money flow through a market -- and his deep-pocketed "mega cap" MSFT has the cash on hand to buy pretty much anyone they choose.
But before you go and do something drastic (like trade in your BlackBerry for a comparable Palm, Motorola or Nokia product or, heaven forbid, an iPhone) just remember it's only a rumor.
At least for now.
And anyway, even if MSFT doesn't buy RIM, the ever-acquisitive Oracle just might.
(Now there's a rumor for the rumor mills!)