Microsoft’s woes are too big to ignore.

Problem area number one: The high-profile Surface tablet/notebook device is flopping. While the 64-bit Intel-based Surface Pro hasn’t sold well, the 32-bit ARM-based Surface RT tanked. Big time. Microsoft just slashed its price — maybe that will help. Too little too late?

To quote from Nathan Ingraham’s recent story in The Verve, 

Microsoft just announced earnings for its fiscal Q4 2013, and while the company posted strong results it also revealed some details on how the Surface RT project is costing the business money. Microsoft’s results showed a $900 million loss due to Surface RT “inventory adjustments,” a charge that comes just a few days after the company officially cut Surface RT prices significantly. This $900 million loss comes out of the company’s total Windows revenue, though its worth noting that Windows revenue still increased year-over-year. Unfortunately, Microsoft still doesn’t give specific Windows 8 sales or revenue numbers, but it probably performed well this quarter to make up for the big Surface RT loss.

At the end of the day, though, it looks like Microsoft just made too many Surface RT tablets — we heard late last year that Microsoft was building three to five million Surface RT tablets in the fourth quarter, and we also heard that Microsoft had only sold about one million of those tablets in March. We’ll be listening to Microsoft’s earnings call this afternoon to see if they further address Surface RT sales or future plans.

Microsoft has spent heavily, and invested a lot of its prestige, in the Surface. It needs to fix Windows 8 and make this platform work.

Problem are number two: A dysfunctional structure. A recent story in the New York Times reminded me of this 2011 cartoon describing six tech company’s charts. Look at Microsoft. Yup.

Steve Ballmer, who has been CEO since 2000, is finally trying to do something about the battling business units. The new structure, announced on July 11, is called “One Microsoft,” and in a public memo by Ballmer, the goal is described as:

Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most. 

Editing and restructuring the info in that memo somewhat, here’s what the six key non-administrative groups will look like:

Operating Systems Engineering Group will span all OS work for console, to mobile device, to PC, to back-end systems. The core cloud services for the operating system will be in this group.

Devices and Studios Engineering Group will have all hardware development and supply chain from the smallest to the largest devices, and studios experiences including all games, music, video and other entertainment.

Applications and Services Engineering Group will have broad applications and services core technologies in productivity, communication, search and other information categories.

Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group will lead development of back-end technologies like datacenter, database and specific technologies for enterprise IT scenarios and development tools, plus datacenter development, construction and operation.

Advanced Strategy and Research Group will be focused on the intersection of technology and policy, and will drive the cross-company looks at key new technology trends.

Business Development and Evangelism Group will focus on key partnerships especially with innovation partners (OEMs, silicon vendors, key developers, Yahoo, Nokia, etc.) and broad work on evangelism and developer outreach. 

If implemented as described, this new organization should certainly eliminate waste, including redundant research and product developments. It might improve compatibility between different platforms and cut down on mixed messages.

However, it may also constraint the freedom to innovate, and promote the unhealthy “Windows everywhere” philosophy that has hamstrung Microsoft for years. It’s bad to spend time creating multiple operating systems, multiple APIs, multiple dev tool chains, multiple support channels. It’s equally bad to make one operating system, API set, dev tool chain and support channel fit all platforms and markets.

Another concern is the movement of developer outreach into a separate group that’s organizationally distinct from the product groups. Will that distance Microsoft’s product developers from customers and ISVs? Maybe. Will the most lucrative products get better developer support? Maybe.

Microsoft has excelled in developer support, and I’d hate to see that suffer as part of the new strategy. 

Read Steve Ballmer’s memo. What do you think?

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick

This is one of a series of articles I wrote for the monthly Bulletin of Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, Calif.

The flickering television screen caught our eye as we sat sipping cold drinks at a Burger King in Parker, Arizona. Miles deep in the Sonoran Desert, between Twentynine Palms and Scottsdale, we were tired and thirsty – but our family couldn’t escape the horrific photographs of the Asiana Airlines 777 crash at SFO.

In those first few moments, it was too soon to know the fate of the aircraft’s crew and passengers, but seeing the shocking images, we assumed that nobody could have survived. Fortunately, that early assessment was swiftly proven wrong. Still, three young people, Ye Meng Yuan, Wang Lin Jia and Liu Yipeng, lost their lives, and dozens more were injured.

May their memory be a blessing.

Only a couple of days later, a small plane crashed at Soldotna Airport, a small field in southern Alaska, killing all 10 passengers and crew. A train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, with at least five people dead.

Death can strike at any time, whether by accident, disease, crime, or war. Nearly 30 years ago, a dear friend of mine was jogging in Orono, Maine, when she was hit by a bicycle. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. You can imagine the shock.

Also in Maine, over the most recent Fourth of July weekend, another shocking death. According to my hometown paper, the Bangor Daily News, “…the fatal accident happened during the parade at Main and Water Streets. An officer on the scene reported that a man operating a green tractor turned right onto Water Street and was struck from behind by a vintage Bangor Hose 5 Fire Museum fire truck.” Death doesn’t get more random than that.

In early July, senseless tragedy struck Camp Tawonga, the Jewish camp near Yosemite National Park, when a tree fell onto a campfire circle. Four camp counselors were injured; a fifth, Annais Rittenberg, lost her life. She was a 21-year-old student at U.C. Santa Cruz.

May their memory be a blessing.

Take a moment and think about family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors taken far, far too soon, ravaged by physical or mental illness, or who had the simple misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As it says in Proverbs, “Zecher tzadik livracha,” “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing.” At these times, there is no better source of comfort than the loving embrace of the synagogue – and of our clergy and community.

We live as a community. We study and worship and raise our children as a community. Sometimes, we grieve as a community.

Remember the unbelievable San Bruno gas explosion in 2010 − only a few blocks from our own house. In that tragedy, 58 individuals were injured and seven were killed, including one of our son’s closest friends, Will Bullis, and Will’s father and grandmother.

The PTS clergy, professional staff, lay leadership, and entire congregation worked tirelessly to ensure that every congregant was alive and accounted for, and to see how we could heal that shattered neighborhood, those broken families.

May their memory be a blessing.

Here at Peninsula Temple Sholom, Rabbi Feder, Rabbi Stern, and Cantor Reich are a comforting presence, whether you have suddenly lost a loved one or are dazed after a disaster like the 777 crash or the San Bruno gas explosion. The professional staff, led by Sandy Silverstein, make arrangements as seamless as possible. The lay-led Caring Community team, chaired by Janice Katz and Wendie Fetterman, are always there to help.

As we head into the High Holy Day season, consider the many reasons to participate in the Peninsula Temple Sholom community. Providing a Jewish education for our children, yes. Adult learning and Shabbat worship and festival observances, of course. Celebrating a simchah, obviously. Coming together in difficult times — always.

Without your generosity, the canopy of peace over Peninsula Temple Sholom would not be possible. We appreciate your financial support for our Sukkat Shalom. And may the memory of our departed friends and loved ones forever be a blessing.