Eric Lai

Analyst Rob Enderle rebels against his 'master,' Microsoft

By Eric Lai
November 24, 2008 4:35 PM EST

Todd Bishop, former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter-turned-TechFlash blogger, had a great summary last week of some e-mails revealed during the Windows "Vista Capable" lawsuit that illuminate the complicated relationship Microsoft has with the analyst most often accused of being in its back pocket, Rob Enderle.

Enderle is a veteran PC analyst (Dataquest, Forrester, Giga, etc.) and just a plain Silicon Valley veteran. His first gig was with a company few probably remember today, ROLM, and he later worked for IBM's PC division during the IBM PC/PC Jr. days. Get him going and Enderle won't stop talking about all of the mistakes Big Blue made during that era.

Enderle is also considered by many to have sold his credibility to Redmond a long time ago, primarily because of his many negative comments about Linux over the years. Indeed, the New York Times banned its reporters several years ago from quoting Enderle.

So it's interesting to read the 2005 e-mail exchange between Enderle and Microsoft, in which the former argued vociferously against Microsoft's plan to release Windows Vista Home Basic, which he criticized for being empty of features and lacking customer value.

Enderle, who sits on the industry analyst advisory council of Dell and several other PC vendors, mentions that Dell execs share his sentiments.

That turned out to be a faux pas, as Dell declined to back him up publicly, which caused Enderle to "throw up his hands," wrote Bishop.

"Anyway, you'll do what you do," Enderle wrote in e-mail to a Microsoft manager, Barry Goffe. "Dell will go along; they are just trying to miss a bullet that they, and I, know you can't even see. Let's hope we can mitigate the damage otherwise the industry is really screwed."

When Goffe resisted, Enderle wrote a direct e-mail to Steve Ballmer the next day, complaining that Microsoft's "sitting on the OEM typically is not effective at making a problem like this go away...Personally, I think the focus should be on avoiding the mistake rather than shooting the folks that try to prevent it from happening but maybe that's just me."

Bishop talked to Enderle last week, who stood by his opinion that Microsoft bungled its Vista launch. "It just felt like it was broken as they rolled to market," he told Bishop. "I think if they’d addressed what they needed to address, it would have been vastly more successful."

This backs up my general impression of Enderle: that his knowledge of the Windows and PC ecosystem is due to his close, paid ties with the major players, and that inevitably colors his worldview, which I would guess was somewhat RealPolitik in the first place. But that Enderle is hardly unique among vendor-side analysts and that he is also whip-smart and willing to call things as he sees it even when it gets him into trouble.

In my interactions with Enderle over the years, I've always found any time on the phone with him generally worth 3x the time with other analysts. The guy is that glib, knowledgeable and opinionated.

He's so *ON* every time we talk, I've wondered if he prepares for each call with an extra squirt from the caffeine drip.

For those that consider Enderle a Microsoft shill, take a look at some of the things he said about Microsoft during my series of stories this summer commemorating Bill Gates' retirement.

Microsoft is focusing "way too much on revenue, not on customer loyalty," Enderle said in a story about Microsoft's corporate strategy. "It's good in the short term but badly damages you in the long run."

The reason, he adds, is that CEO Ballmer "is a super sales guy" who has been unwilling to make some tough management decisions.

Enderle also said Microsoft is so big it is "getting in its own way," like an early-1990s IBM, right before Lou Gerstner saved IBM with huge, painful layoffs.

In another story on Gates' 5 worst moves, Enderle criticized Microsoft's resistance during the DOJ anti-trust lawsuit.

"Microsoft went in with a speeding ticket and almost came out with a death sentence," he said.

He also criticizes Microsoft's ongoing hardware moves. "Building the Xbox (and the Zune) are both counter-strategic. By nature, you're setting yourself up to fail," he said. "Whenever Microsoft tries to go vertical, much like Intel, it never seems to end well."

Enderle also says Microsoft is "paying in spades" for falling behind Apple on the user interface, which he traces back Microsoft Bob.

Even Enderle's comments about why Linux has yet to succeed on the desktop, at least the ones he shared with me back in 2006, seemed fairly nuanced and free of ideology.

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Do the Vista Capable lawsuit e-mails, or these stories, change or reinforce your opinion of Enderle's credibility?