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Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future of Microsoft Hardcover – July 31, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Based on seven years of reporting from over a dozen countries, writer Tom Wainwright takes you on an extraordinary journey into the business of being a drug lord. Learn more.

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

David Bank's Breaking Windows offers a scathing inside look at the past few tumultuous years at the Microsoft Corporation. Bank, who covers the company for The Wall Street Journal, bases this well-written tale on interviews he has conducted with most major players (including Bill Gates), along with boxes of e-mails and other documents that "provided an unprecedented glimpse into strategic debates and internal decision-making processes of a company that had long restricted outside access to its insular corporate culture." Through them he shows how Microsoft, which always put software above everything--and in more recent years made Windows its number-one priority--has scrambled and squabbled as first the Internet and then the U.S. government forced major directional changes and significant internal reevaluations.

Bank's story crackles with immediacy as he brings readers directly into the action with central characters like Gates, who "created a company that remained uniquely a projection of himself"; Steve Ballmer, the close friend of Gates and former sales-force leader elevated to CEO; Jim Allchin, a senior vice president who heads the Windows division and remains a staunch advocate for its dominance; and Brad Silverberg, another VP who launched Windows 3.1 and 95 before forming the Internet division and fervently trying to turn the company in its direction. Those who can't get enough on the behemoth from Redmond will find this an illuminating addition to their bookshelf. --Howard Rothman

From Publishers Weekly

Wall Street Journal reporter Bank charts the downward spiral of Microsoft's public image: over the past five years, the company went from fearless New Economy pioneer to a predator vilified by its competitors and brought to trial in a landmark antitrust action. For those hungry to know how golden boy Bill Gates could end up looking like a defensive old-school monopolist, Bank has provided a hard-hitting yet evenhanded account. Interviews with all the major players from Gates on down (along with texts of flaming e-mails that singed the wings of such loyal allies as Ben Slivka and Brad Silverberg) lend support to Bank's argument that the debate within Microsoft over competing Windows and Internet strategies set the stage for the public spectacle of the trial and the mass exodus of talented employees. Rich and juicy details of internal company squabbles cast an unnerving dysfunctional-family pall over the Microsoft story at times. (Gates, unable to get his usual way with someone, once mused, "Something happens to a guy when his net worth passes $100 million.") Yet Bank's broad industry knowledge leads him to provocative conclusions that resonate beyond the story of a single company. Pointing out that Intel and Cisco also faced antitrust challenges but were able, through savvy negotiation, to escape the public relations disaster that come with a trial, he argues that although Gates understood the value of interoperability imposed by the Internet, he held on too long to his determination to maintain a long-term lock over his customers. (Aug.)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (July 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743203151
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743203159
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #639,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Bank used to cover Microsoft for the Wall Street Journal. In this book he describes the period 1997-2000 at Microsoft as it coped with the success of Windows and Office and the threat of the Internet to the continuation of Microsoft's dominance. From e-mail snippets and interviews with many current and former Microsoft employees, he presents the "protect Windows" perspective of Bill Gates and Jim Allchin and contrasts that with the "do the new internet thing" perspective of people like Brad Silverberg and myself and others. Obviously Bill Gates prevailed and so a lot of people left. Overall I think a very balanced presentation -- you at least understand why Bill did what he did, even if you don't agree with his decision. Several juicy quotes from me. :-)
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Format: Hardcover
While reading "Breaking Windows", I felt as if I was holding a stick of dynamite, because this gripping book completely blows the lid off of the "official" Microsoft history of the last few years. David Bank has told a story seldom reported in the mainstream media, which is that the real battle for the internet was fought not between Microsoft and Netscape, or even between Microsoft and Sun. Ground zero in the battle for control of the internet was fought between various factions within Microsoft. Senior management, which viewed the internet as a threat to the Windows franchise, tried to contain the "disruptive innovations" advocated by company strategists seeking to wholly embrace the concept of internet computing.
The dilemma facing Microsoft in the new millennium is that their blockbuster franchises, Windows and Office, are "feature driven" businesses. Users continually upgrade to the newest version in order to get more power and features. This value proposition was the growth engine of the computing industry until the mid 1990s, when the internet burst onto the scene. In the internet model, power and features matter less than connectivity. What creates value in a network environment is the number of people or applications that connect to the network. The Windows upgrade strategy becomes vulnerable, because with each attempt to upgrade the installed base, the upgrade version starts out initially with zero users. How can Microsoft simultaneously leverage the network effects of the internet, and further the Windows and Office franchises? Should these goals be part of a unified strategy?
Anyone who wishes to understand today's current "infection point" in software and computing architecture should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The most frustrating aspect of this book is that the first half, based largely on emails produced during the antitrust trial, is a riveting and fascinating look at the internal Microsoft battles, while the last half is a poor analysis of a "missed" opportunity.
For the last half to be even readable you have to accept a few premises that simply were not supported by the text nor borne out by subsequent history. As an example, Gates is portrayed almost as an incompetent fool, eased aside into near-irrelevance by his board and Balmer. Further, the future of Microsoft's very existence is keyed upon abandoning (even giving away) Windows and starting from scratch, competing always on the last best effort with no clinging to any competitive advantage won so far, and that customers always value interoperability over utility, and so on.
While many of these would be highly desirable for competitors, the book repeatedly claims but never sufficiently makes the case for the theory that for its own sake Microsoft should discard its durable competitive advantage at every turn. I consider that to be an exceptional claim which demands exceptional proof, and which is never provided.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides a very detailed look at the inner workings of Microsoft. It describes the battles within the company to determine how to change in the face of the internet revolution. The author provides tremendous detail, much of which is taken from email correspondence made public by the antri-trust case. Some of the detail may be a little dull for some. My major problem with the book is with the author's premise that Gates has "broken" the company by not adapting to the internet quickly enough and instead focused on protecting and extending the windows dynasty. Nobody has really figured out how to make money off the internet, so why blame Microsoft? Gates did protect the Microsoft cash cow (windows). The internet has not made windows extinct, at least not yet. I think a little time is required to see if Gates' strategy was the right one or not. However, still a very worthwhile read for any interested in Microsoft and the PC industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Banks does a masterful job of telling the story of the internal battle between Windows and Internet Explorer. It is insightful story over the struggle for strategy. Written in the tradition of the Wall Street Journal Bank's paints colorful vignettes of the key personalities and imbues the struggle between these two groups with drama.
However one of the interesting ironies of the business press is that journalists confuse themselves with their subjects. (I know of very few who went from covering a beat to running a company.) Unfortunately the more famous the publication you write for, the less you seem to remember that. This book simply fails when Banks puts on this business analyst hat. Luckily when you hear the scraping of the soapbox those pages are few and can be easily skimmed.
If you're interested in an internal history of Microsoft during the browser wars, buy this book.
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