Coming to Redmond from his native Germany, Joachim Kempin was employee number 400 at Microsoft when he was hired, way back in 1983. He stayed there for almost 20 years, becoming a powerful figure who oversaw all of the company's product sales to PC manufacturers. Retiring to a bluff in West Seattle overlooking the Puget Sound, he now looks at Microsoft from afar--and with a piercingly critical eye.
The real problem, he says, is that "Ballmer is taking the company in the wrong direction." Kempin elaborates: "There are a lot of opportunities missed. Just look at Google, Apple, Facebook and all the other social media. Microsoft is not part of that."
In fact, take a good look at Facebook, he urges. "It's a shitty program. Just look at how confusing that user interface is. If I would be at Microsoft, I would do my own Facebook. I wouldn't call it that, of course. I would come out with something Windows-based, with a real nice, easy-to-use interface."
"Instead, what do they do? They come out with Surface." He's referring to Microsoft's stab at a tablet, which he points out has not been a smashing success. (See also Zune, another less than successful foray into hardware.)Worse, he believes Microsoft's incursion into the hardware market will piss off the computer manufacturers that it depends upon to buy its software.
So why is Microsoft going in this direction? Kempin lays the blame on Ballmer. The former executive doesn't exactly use the word hubris. What he says is that Ballmer is so hyper-competitive that he "thinks he can beat Apple." As Kempin sees it, Ballmer is wrong. Leave hardware alone and stick with software, not only social media programs but things like the next operating system and better cloud service.
Will anyone pay attention? Kempin is viewed with some skepticism in the tech world. Witness this headline in the online publication TechRights: "Microsoft Thug Joachim Kempin Passes Blame to Steve Ballmer in Order to Sell New Book." As the corresponding piece reminds us, Kempin was part of some practices at Microsoft that the government deemed anti-competitive. Things like requiring hardware manufacturers to carry Internet Explorer as a way of undermining other browsers.
"Do you think I wrote those contracts?" he asks. He didn't, he says, the lawyers did. In any case, he said, the policy was set from the top. "I did a job," Kempin says. If you want to know more, he adds, "read the book."