‘Steve Ballmer nixed Microsoft’s plan to automate your home’

‘Steve Ballmer nixed Microsoft’s plan to automate your home’

According to those who worked for him said that Ballmer was a genius at the things he knew -- enterprise, the cloud, and productivity.According to those who worked for him said that Ballmer was a genius at the things he knew — enterprise, the … Read More
Microsoft’s Research arm, which spends much of its time pursuing “moonshot” projects, created a home automation software product before both Apple and Google did, but never capitalized on the idea.

The software, named HomeOS, was just that — an operating system for the home. The website is still available to view (but hasn’t been updated since 2012), complete with demo videos that show something that it had real potential and is very similar to today’s products.

Business Insider spoke to several of those involved with the project, which started in 2010, about why HomeOS was never turned into a real-life product.

The reason, according to multiple sources, is simple: ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer was, according to those who worked for him, a genius at the things he knew — enterprise, the cloud, and productivity. This is why, even as Microsoft missed smartphones and tablets, the company continued to excel at persuading big businesses to give it money, offering them compelling office-focused software in return.

Microsoft declined to comment.

Frank Martinez was one of the people who worked on HomeOS at Microsoft Research. He now works at Upstream Ventures, an investment firm that focused on healthcare, logistics, and science.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software, shows off HomeKit on stage.

Microsoft has missed many opportunities over the years, often by being too early.

Apple got serious about home automation with iOS 9, adding a software called HomeKit that can connect with third-party hardware to control anything, such as locks or lamps. Google’s Project Brillo launched in May 2015, offering a similar set of features for Android users.

Microsoft, if the vision had been there, could have pre-empted the market by at least three years and would now be sitting on a product that consumers wanted to use.

Another source was more forgiving of Ballmer, arguing that HomeOS didn’t fit in with Microsoft’s vision. Except, it does. The aim of Windows 10 is to be on one billion devices, and adding homes to that list would have made the job slightly easier.

Giving Ballmer the benefit of the doubt is hard, argued one source, as he missed so many other opportunities. “Do smartphones not fit into Microsoft’s vision?” the source asked rhetorically.

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