John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · Monday 29 December 2003
Bad Software Drives Hardware Losses
It's great to be a market leader in software. You not only control the initiative in software but you can even make hardware manufacturers jump. In bygone eras software developers trundled in the wake of hardware developments, but now the roles are reversed. Ditzy ex-English-major product managers at software companies can dream up dumb ideas and expect hardware companies to produce the underlying platform as long as the software company is big enough.

The latest fiasco in this department is Microsoft's Smart Display. The idea here was to enable a touch-panel monitor with a radio link to a computer and thus have sort of a remote visual terminal. While this idea might appear logical to your average MBA it is actually so daft that even the technology journalists immediately predicted failure. Technology journalists write articles about flying cars so you know your product idea has got problems when a journalist doesn't think it will work. In any case Microsoft did not ask any journalists for their opinions and quickly signed up a group of lucky hardware manufacturers to make their new idea (at the OEMs' expense of course). Gullibility was obviously a key criteria for being included in this elite group. Last March Viewsonic described its Smart Displays as the next major technology transformation in history. Unfortunately for the manufacturers reality has set in at Microsoft and they just cancelled the Smart Display OS project. Oh well, on to the next adventure.

The only problem is that for Microsoft the cancellation means they just re-assign a bunch of programmers to different projects--no biggie. The dumbo hardware helpers like Philips (Holland), ViewSonic (Taiwan), and NEC (Japan), on the other hand are stuck with warehouses full of unsellable inventory and assembly lines to produce a now non-existent product. In its Dear John letter to the OEMs who are staring at millions in losses Microsoft did not even apologize and signed off with "Thank you for your cooperation". The letter probably used the same Word template they use for layoff notices to unwanted product managers.

Business books recommend avoiding ventures where the primary is putting up little or no money of their own, but I guess those books haven't been translated into Dutch, Chinese or Japanese yet.

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Developer Diary · · bio · Revised 29 December 2003 · Pure Content