Microsoft flashbacks show what could have been

There were two good posts this week examining Microsoft’s last (lost?) decade and refuting the notion that the Microsoft(s msft) of the early 2000s was bereft of ideas and vision. As Bloomberg’s Dina Bass, reported using video and her recollections from Microsoft’s Forum 2000 event, the company had vision to burn.

The concept videos from that event showed some real feeling for where the market was headed (or could be led). Seriously, take a look at the video embedded in the Bloomberg post. You may be surprised.

Bass wrote:

“There’s personalized content for each family member synchronized across PCs, televisions, tablets, mobile phones and cars; location-aware devices that tell you when friends are nearby; photo-sharing; voice controls — all years before Facebook(s fb), Foursquare, or Apple’s iCloud(s aapl) and Siri.”

That’s all pretty impressive foresight, but for a variety of reasons — the exit of talented executives and engineers, the infamous backstabbing among product groups, and the antitrust case against the company — execution failed.

On Thursday, Charles Fitzgerald, a former Microsoft exec, provided his own take as to what life at Microsoft was like at the time and what the heck happened to all that vision.

The company was transitioning from Bill Gates to Steve Ballmer as CEO and was under big-time pressure to show what it could do other than Windows and Office.  And it had been buffeted by a marathon antitrust case. Microsoft, ended up being ruled a monopoly, and had its head handed to it by Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. What saved it from a government-mandated breakup was an appeals court overturn of that decision. (Judge Jackson had talked to reporters before he issued the ruling– a no no.)

According to Fitzgerald:

“I don’t think people appreciate how close Microsoft came to completely imploding in 2000. Employees woke up every day to relentlessly negative headlines from the DoJ case. It was not yet evident that the surreal world of the dot com bubble had ended, and even if you weren’t being wooed daily to join revenue-less startups with ridiculous valuations, you felt obligated to explore options.”

Take a look at that video and you tell me if Microsoft didn’t have a clue back then. Unfortunately for Microsoft, video isn’t enough.