Weekend news round-up: Ballmer’s legacy; NSA’s latest debacle hits UN

26 Aug 2013

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer

In our round-up of the top tech stories of the weekend, Microsoft’s outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer’s legacy is analysed; the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) is believed to have tapped encrypted UN communications; the unauthorised biography of Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer; and Apple’s A7 processor in the iPhone 5S will be 31pc faster than the iPhone 5’s A6 processor.

Assessing Ballmer’s legacy

Microsoft lifer Steve Ballmer’s announcement of his intention to resign in a year’s time on Friday raised plenty of mixed feelings, ranging from admiration for his steady steerage of the profitable tech titan to questions as to whether he grasped some of the seismic shifts in technology.

After waiting for 20 years and putting up with snubs, it was fitting that ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley landed a definitive final interview with Ballmer, and she asked questions she had been storing up over the years.

Future Human

She asked Ballmer what were his biggest successes and failures.

What was he most proud of? “I’m proud of being, I would say, a significant part even of the birth of intelligent personal computing, the notion that people use computing technologies, whether that’s phones, PCs. I mean, we kind of birthed that over the course of the Eighties and the Nineties, and that’s had such an unbelievable impact on people’s lives. I would say a billion-plus people and now more with phones, even if they’re not all our phones, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished there.”

His biggest regret? “Oh, you know, I’ve actually had a chance to make a lot of mistakes, and probably because, you know, people all want to focus in on period A, period B, but I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista. I would say that’s probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn’t prove out to be as valuable.”

One of those to raise questions about whether Ballmer missed the tidal shifts in technology was the New York Times’ David Pogue, who wrote: “He completely missed the importance of the touchscreen phone. (‘There is no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share,’ he said in 2007.) He missed the importance of the tablet, too. Yes, Microsoft now sells attractive phones and tablets, but they came years too late. They have minuscule market share and little influence.

“It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand why Microsoft missed these tidal shifts: It’s always been a PC company. It helped to create the PC revolution, its bread and butter was the PC — and so of course the company kept insisting that the PC was the future.

“It would have taken an exceptional thinker, an out-of-the-box visionary, to admit that the company’s foundation was crumbling. Mr Ballmer wasn’t that guy.”

Computerworld surmised that ultimately it was Windows 8 that spelled the end of the Ballmer era.

“The problems Ballmer recently faced were greater than just the Surface tablet or the tile-based, touch-first Windows RT operating system that powers it. Windows 8’s failure to spark a surge in PC sales also played a big part.

“Ballmer weathered Windows Vista, the delayed follow-on to Windows XP that was widely derided as a mess. But it wasn’t Windows 8’s poor numbers, by some metrics even poorer than Vista’s, that brought down Ballmer: It was his unrealistic predictions of its success that did him in.”

More revelations about antics of NSA – UN encrypted comms the latest victim

New NSA documents reported on by German news magazine Der Spiegel reveal that the NSA is understood to have tapped encrypted UN communications, despite an agreement prohibiting US intelligence services using the UN headquarters in New York as a listening post.

It reported: “The NSA succeeded in the summer of 2012 to penetrate the internal video conference system of the international community and to crack the encryption. This was for ‘a dramatic improvement of the data from video teleconferencing and the ability to decrypt this traffic’ taken care of, according to a secret NSA document.”

The unauthorised biography of Marissa Mayer

A segment of the unauthorised biography of Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer, one of the world’s most powerful women, was published on Business Insider at the weekend, giving an insight into the boardroom atmosphere that prevailed before and during her appointment.

“Now 38 years old, she is a wife, a mother, an engineer, and the CEO of a 30-billion-dollar company. She is a woman in an industry dominated by men. In a world where corporations are expected to serve shareholders before anyone else, she is obsessed with putting the customer experience first.

“Worth at least US$300m, she isn’t afraid to show off her wealth. Steve Jobs may have lived in a small, suburban home with an apple tree out front, but Marissa Mayer lives in the penthouse of San Francisco’s Four Seasons Hotel.

“While rival CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Google wear flip-flops, hoodies, and T-shirts, Mayer wears Oscar De La Renta on the red carpet.”

Apple planning 64-bit A7 processors in iPhone 5S

9to5Mac reported that the A7 processors in the next iPhone 5S will be 31pc faster than the iPhone 5’s A6 chip.

“The iPhone 5’s A6 chip is dual-core, and it seems like the iPhone 5S will also remain dual-core.

“However, there could be a major differentiator: 64-bit. We’ve independently heard claims that some of the iPhone 5S internal prototypes include 64-bit processors.

“It’s unclear if 64-bit will make the cut, but it’s been in testing. We’re told that the 64-bit processing will make animations, transparencies, and other iOS 7 graphical effects appear much more smoothly than on existing iOS devices …”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years