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保罗•艾伦给微软的建议

JP Mangalindan 2011年04月21日

微软共同创始人保罗•艾伦的新书因为全面讲述了年轻时代的比尔•盖茨的故事,而引起了强烈的反响。现在艾伦又告诉《财富》杂志,他是如何看待他和盖茨白手起家创立的这家公司的。

    几十年以来,微软(Microsoft)的共同创始人保罗•艾伦都保持着低调,或者说起码是在他140亿美元的身家允许的程度内保持着低调。有时人们偶尔会发现他驾着价值1.62亿美元的私人游艇出海,他还是布拉特•皮特和安吉丽娜•朱莉的好友,而且有时他也会去观看西雅图海鹰队和波特兰开拓者队的比赛——当然,这两只球队都是他的产业。不过总的来说,艾伦还是一向避免成为镁光灯下的焦点。

    现在情况变了。现在艾伦的名字到处都是。《名利场》(Vanity Fair)杂志节选了书中的一段精彩文字,内容是关于比尔•盖茨和微软现任首席执行官史蒂夫•鲍尔默是如何图谋稀释他在微软的股权的。他还上了CBS电视台的《60分钟》访谈节目,上周末甚至还在纽约市的92nd Street Y文化中心露了面。这些都是为了自己的新书《谋士》(Idea Man)作宣传。本书全面讲述了他与比尔•盖茨的恩怨情仇。故事从他十几岁的时候开始,一直讲述到现在。当年他总是和盖茨一起摆弄学校里的电传式ASR-33计算机终端,当时盖茨还是个瘦瘦的、满脸雀斑的毛头小子,但是一点也不缺乏雄心壮志。

    最近播出的那集《60分钟》访谈节目使观众得以一窥艾伦纯粹的生活方式。不过艾伦告诉《财富》杂志,目前他还没有看过那期节目。艾伦目前单身,他给人的印象是个才华横溢,又似乎与世隔绝的人,身边件件都是奢侈品,他的玻璃阁楼的毫宅高出街面几百英尺。因为这几点,《60分钟》的主持人莱斯莉•斯泰尔两次将他比为美国已故航空大亨霍华德•休斯。

    “我现在要上很多的电视节目,有时候我只想一鼓作气地搞定,”他说:“我们在几周前录制了这个节目,然后它就播放了,我只想在上以后的节目时有新鲜感。”

    公平地说,《谋士》一书中并非只讲述了微软的故事。此外还有一些章节与微软全然无关,而是讲述了艾伦的生活的其他方面,比如他对航天旅游业、美国在线(AOL)或Metricom的投资等——Metricom是一个最终流于失败的移动数据提供商。不过大多数人之所以愿意掏钱买这本书,主要原因是由于他们想了解艾伦与比尔•盖茨的复杂关系。他二人的关系一开始本来很好,但随着微软迅速成长成为一个软件业巨头,以及随着盖茨的哈佛同学鲍尔默入主微软,掌管微软的业务方面,艾伦与盖茨的关系也随之失衡。我们现在知道,当年盖茨和艾伦之间的大吵大嚷乃是家常便饭,而艾伦更称那一时期“简直就是地狱”。

    艾伦回忆道:“我想当时微软高层几个人的个性风格是很不同的。在决策问题上,我是个非常逻辑化、非常爱思考的人。但不管是比尔•盖茨还是史蒂夫•鲍尔默,他俩的嗓门都比我大得多,也更容易冲动。他们总是会争辩一番,然后得出一个结论。这样过了几年,让我身心俱疲。”

    不过他也很快指出,尽管他与盖茨有很多分歧,但他和盖茨之间还是有默契。

    “在解决问题上,我们是阴阳相济的:其中一个人可能会说这个问题没法解决,然后我们的角色就会此消彼长。在本书中,我写到了当年我们在波士顿用不到两个月的时间写出了第一版BASIC语言的故事。比尔说这可能是我们做过的最好的技术代码……这很有意思,而且我们感觉非常充实。不过随着时间的推移,公司形成了一种发展轨迹,而角色的变化和人的风格却没有契合。这就是后来我为什么离开微软。”

    从此以后,艾伦一直关注着微软。微软先是借Windows操作系统成了个人电脑市场的霸主,最近微软又努力在移动和搜索领域保持一席之地,不过苹果和谷歌已经分别在这两个领域上抢占了鳌头。(“现在每个公司都在硬件软件两手抓。”)艾伦暗示道,微软在Windows Phone 7项目上要做的还很多。

    “作为一款初次发布的产品,WP7还是不错的,但要想让人们弃iPhone而用WP7的话……几年前我曾到微软做过一次发言。你看,现在买手机的人越来越多,你需要一款让他们爱不释手的产品,要么因为它的界面很独特,要么因为它的操作感觉很独特,要么因为它有独特的功能。因此这是一个重大的挑战。但是现在他们正在全力以赴。

    在这本书中,艾伦将微软当前的问题归咎于公司的领导层、公司的规模以及平庸的文化。以表现不佳者为例,艾伦写道,一位微软高管曾报怨道:“我真希望能把每个第四流的人都毙了。”微软的有些产品发布差强人意,背后也许就是这些文化问题在作祟。

    艾伦表示:“即便在比尔•盖茨离职前,有一段时期里,微软推出了Vista以及IE(Internet Explorer)等一些其它产品,它们都不算出色的产品。那时公司并没有强烈地专注于为消费者做产品,不过他们现在在这方面做得用心多了。”例如他提到了微软游戏机Xbox 360的Kinect控制器,它解放了玩家的双手,靠摄像机捕捉三维空间中的玩家动作进行操控。Kinect于去年11月上市,迄今已经卖出了1000万台。

    如果说艾伦在这么多年的经验中学到了什么的话,那就是成功需要投入很多要素,如正确的团队、正确的创意、正确的创新领域等。当问到微软今天需要做些什么才能成功的时候,艾伦的回答相对来说很简单:“准备竞争,具备一些反应的灵敏性。”

    对于一家他帮助建立的白手起家的公司来说,这是一个好的建议。

    译者:朴成奎

    For decades, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen kept a low profile, or at least as low as his $14 billion fortune probably allowed. He's occasionally spotted on his $162 million private yacht, palling around with Brad and Angelina, and taking in a Seattle Seahawks or Portland Trail Blazers game -- he owns both teams, of course -- but by and large, he's shied away from the spotlight.

    Not anymore. Allen is everywhere now: a scintillating book excerpt in Vanity Fair about how co-founder Bill Gates and current CEO Steve Ballmer plotted to dilute his company shares, a 60 Minutes sit-down, even an appearance at the 92nd Street Y in New York City over the weekend. It's all to promote Idea Man, a tell-all spanning his days as a teen hanging out around his school's Teletype Model ASR-33 computer terminal with a gangly, freckle-faced -- but no less driven -- Gates to the present day.

    Allen told Fortune he hasn't seen the 60 Minutes segment which recently aired, a brief, but fascinating peek into his rarefied lifestyle. Currently single, Allen comes across as brilliant, if isolated, surrounded by extravagance, sheltered in an awesome glass loft space hundreds of feet above street level, to the point where interviewer Leslie Stahl compares him -- twice -- to Howard Hughes.

    "I'm doing so much TV right now, and sometimes I like to just blast through it," he says. "We shot it a few weeks ago, so it's done and it's out there, and I'm just trying to be fresh for these next few things."

    To be fair, Idea Man isn't just about Microsoft. There are wholly unrelated chapters dedicated to other aspects of his life, like his investments in space tourism, AOL or Metricom, a failed broadband mobile data provider. But the reason most people will pick it up will be to learn more about his complex relationship with Gates, one that started fine enough but lost equilibrium as Microsoft quickly grew into a software giant and Ballmer, a Harvard classmate of Gates's, joined to handle the business side. As we now know, shouting matches between Gates and Allen were common, and Allen even went so far as to compare that time as "being in hell."

    "I think there were different personality styles involved there," Allen reflects. "I'm a very logical, thoughtful person when you're talking about trying to decide something. Whether it's Bill or Steve Ballmer, they're much more high volume. Intense. They'll kind of argue something through and then come to a conclusion. After some years in that, it wore me down."

    But he's also quick to point out that despite all their disagreements, he and Gates had a rapport that simply worked.

    "We had this ability to be kind of a yin and yang on problems: one guy would say that's unsolvable, and our roles would flip back and forth. In the book, I talked about that first version of BASIC that we wrote in under 2 months back in Boston. Bill said that was probably the best piece of pure technical coding we ever did ... That was a lot of fun, and we were very complementary. But there this was kind of trajectory which happens in companies where over time, where roles change and people's styles don't mesh as well. That's why I ended up leaving."

    In the years since, he's kept tabs on Microsoft as it came to dominate the PC market with the Windows operating system and then more recently, struggle to keep up in areas like mobile and search where Apple and Google respectively excel. ("Now everybody is scrambling in both hardware and software.") On the subject of Windows Phone 7, he implies more work needs to be done.

    "It's not bad for a first release, but to get people to stop using their iPhones... Years ago, I went over to Microsoft to put in my two cents. Look, people are going to walk into a phone store, and you want something they're going to hold in their hand, and they're going to get excited about it immediately because there's something unique in the interface or the way it feels in their hand. Or its capabilities. So it's a big challenge, but they're pulling out all the stops."

    In his book, Allen attributes Microsoft's current problems to the company's leadership, scale, and mediocre culture. On the subject of under-performers for instance, he writes that one executive complained, "I wish I could shoot every fourth one." These culture problems are presumably behind some of the company's sub-par product releases.

    "Even before Bill left, there was a period when Vista and some of these other products like IE [Internet Explorer], well, they weren't great products," he says. "There wasn't the intense focus on doing products for the consumer, but now they've internalized that a lot more." To boot, he points to Kinect for the Xbox 360, a motion-sensing hands-free game controller that's sold 10 million units since launch last November.

    If there's anything he's learned all these years, it's that a lot of factors need to be in place for success: the right team, the right ideas, the right areas for innovation. But when asked what Microsoft needs to do to succeed today, Allen's answer is relatively simple: "be ready for the competition, and have some agility to react."

    Good advice for the company he helped build from scratch.

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