Homeless in Vancouver: Who’s got a burning platform now?

When Microsoft executive Stephen Elop took the reins in 2011 as CEO of Finland’s Nokia Corporation, he wrote a company memo that compared Nokia’s predicament—surrounded on all sides by challenges—to that of a man trapped on a burning oil rig. In such a circumstance, Elop said, a person—or one of the world’s premier cell phone makers—had no choice but to jump.

The memo became famously known as the “Burning Platform” memo. And Elop, a Canadian, was widely praised for telling it like it was.

Elop succeeded in getting Nokia to jump… into the arms of Microsoft, and he pocketed a healthy $25 million profit for his trouble (after which his old employer rehired him).

The praise has taken a turn towards Greek tragedy as Elop is frequently compared to a Trojan horse.

Now that Elop is back at Microsoft he’s even been suggested as a possible replacement for outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer. That’s all the more reason to suggest that he jumped from one fire into another one.

Microsoft, in fact, has several burning issues on its plate. There’s the matter of finding the next great leader and the matter of making the next great operating system.

A team at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, is already hard at work building the replacement for the badly under-performing Windows 8 operating system.

Converging the Xbox, Windows, and phone platforms

The new Windows operating system effort, reportedly code named “Threshold”, could be ready to be released as early as April 2015, 15 months from now. It may unify the  desktop, gaming, and mobile operating systems into a single unified whole to be called Windows 9, or it may be a wave of updates to all three OSs.

Microsoft doesn’t have much time. The ancient Windows XP is set to be forcibly retired on April 8 (tick…tick…) and Windows 7 is already nearly five years old. Windows 8 was supposed to ensure Microsoft’s desktop pre-eminence and give it a leg up on tablets, but instead Windows 8 is being partly blamed for the slide in PC sales and Microsoft has a warehouse full of Windows 8 Surface tablets it can’t sell…

What? No! There was nothing between XP and Windows 7. Why do you ask?

Where was I? Yes. A huge number of Windows users—as many as 500 million—haven’t budged from XP and the rest of them aren’t exactly rushing to upgrade to Windows 8. In fact schools are snapping up Chromebooks, ordinary users are discovering happiness with simple tablets—not Surface tablets—and some business users are considering a jump from XP to Ubuntu Linux rather than a newer version of Windows, and don’t forget Apple.

Microsoft is therefore in a desperate race to get a new, successful spawn of Windows in the field to stave off the death of both the desktop platform and the Windows operating system, because the two are inextricably linked. Always have been, and reports that Microsoft will be bringing back the iconic Start Menu, sooner rather than later, suggest that they might finally be remembering this.

With their core of enterprise desktop customers, it looked like daylight madness to redesign the Windows interface for touchscreens—honestly, who uses touchscreen tablets to work Excel spreadsheets? So much for fiduciary responsibility to one’s shareholders.

There’s a reason Steve Ballmer is stepping down as Microsoft’s CEO. Apple at least will certainly miss him unless he’s replaced by Stephen Elop.

Why this cat could have nine lives

There have been more than eight distinct released versions of the Windows operating system. Here’s how the post-Vista development team at Microsoft explains the way they parsed those versions so they could call their new version “Windows 7”.


Windows 1.x 1985-1987


Windows 2.x 1987-1990


Windows 3.x 1990-1995


Windows NT
Windows 95
Windows 98
Windows ME


Windows 2000
Windows XP


Windows Vista 2006-2012


Windows 7 2009-2015


Windows 8 2012-2018


Windows 9 2015-
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