Microsoft fights back over innovation accusations

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Flacks respond as ex-employee goes public.

Microsoft has reacted quickly to a piece in the New York Times from an ex-employee saying that the company has lost its touch for innovation.

Former vice president Dick Brass wrote an op-ed piece in today’s paper lambasting the company for being a poor innovator. The vast bulk of company profits are still derived from Windows and Office, he said, and the company’s attempts to branch out have largely failed.

“Microsoft has become a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator,” Brass wrote.

“Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.”

The company is bedevilled with internal politics and in-fighting, he said. While an employee, Brass worked on the ClearType and Tablet teams and found both projects were being stymied by other teams as part of an internal turf war.

He also points out that Microsoft ignored the personal media player market until too late, and the Xbox is an unexceptional games platform.

The piece brought a swift comment from Microsoft, with Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of Corporate Communications, rebutting some of Brass’ arguments in a company blog posting.

“Obviously, we disagree. But his piece does represent a good opportunity to touch briefly on how we think about innovation,” he wrote.

“At the highest level, we think about innovation in relation to its ability to have a positive impact in the world. For Microsoft, it is not sufficient to simply have a good idea, or a great idea, or even a cool idea. We measure our work by its broad impact.”

He said that in the case of ClearType the technology was now on every copy of Windows and he defended the Xbox, pointing out it was the first high-definition games console. However, the posting did not address the bulk of Brass’ article, which was focused on corporate politics.

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