Today has been an interesting day because in the shadow of Apple’s big announcement I had an epiphany.
Actually I had when I briefly got into a conversation online about CLI’s and whether Microsoft needed one to encourage developers to use Windows PCs. The conversation/mini fight reflected all the little battles that have occurred around Windows and Microsoft of late. Whether it was over the hybrid nature of Windows 8 or the existence of Windows on ARM it has all been about one thing; the future of Windows and Microsoft and the direction needed.
To be honest I think Microsoft is on the precipice of either staying in the consumer market or retreating into enterprise. It is not alone in this decision; others like Dell and Blackberry are facing the same dilemma. But this decision has ramifications for not only Microsoft but also those of us who use Microsoft products and developers who make their money in Microsoft’s ecosystem.
Having spent the better part of two years writing about Microsoft and watching the company slowly begin its next chapter; I can’t help but feel like this whole time everyone involved has been fighting old battles against old ghosts. Whether a pundit, analyst, tech writer, or ex-Microsoftie we have seem to fought over lost decades, canceled projects, the internal turf wars, and so on. We (I mean the Collective) have racked up every misstep made and opportunity missed. We have groused about how the new computing world is now a Duopoly of Apple and Google with Microsoft all but moved onto a legacy reservation. We have come to the point where we can in hindsight point everywhere on the map where a collection of people failed, or were screwed which has led to Microsoft having to rush and make dramatic moves.
For my part I feel that Steve Ballmer’s biggest mistake was to break down the silos earlier. He failed to remove the vestiges of Bill Gates’s style of management. Ballmer failed in reigning in the different heads of Microsoft and force collaboration. He failed to think beyond Windows and Office or to even conceive of using them to build a new set of platforms and services. He let the consumer side of Windows to whither while growing the enterprise. And he has not been aggressive enough in presenting a better message for the company.
Now you could also add to that list of sinners a collection of current and former Microsoft program managers who felled to see the signs or fought collaboration. Who built up their own little fiefdoms and conceived of projects that would poorly thought out or too narrow to sale. And also those inside the company that valued the aggressive nature over collaboration.
I could point out just as much of what went wrong and how badly. But the thing everyone seems to forget is that is the past. The question before Microsoft is what next.
As I see it there are three plans Microsoft and its next CEO can consider. Plan A is easy, divest the company of Online Services, and Entertainment and rebuild around being an Enterprise software and services company. Be IBM. Plan B would be to split the company and let the new entities fend for themselves. Then there is Plan C. Pan C would be a mix of A and B. Think of this as Microsoft becoming like GE creating subdivisions for consumer and enterprise products. Allowing an easier transition away from One Microsoft to many. Plan C would be flexible but it also would come from the fact the next CEO and the Board sat down and ask themselves some important questions about what they wanted to do with the company.
The next CEO should be about creating a new Microsoft one better able to take advantage of long and short term trends. If Microsoft is going to stay in the Consumer space and still work in the Enterprise , it is time to rethink what that means. That means amongst other things making Windows competitive against not just OSX but Chrome OS. Microsoft has a bigger hurdle to leap in the consumer space where they are invisible behind the label of PC. In the Enterprise the company will have to engage a growing generation that has used iWork and Google Docs in place of Office.
Plan C is the hard way out because it is the reconstruction of Microsoft into the “new” Microsoft and to what is necessary the next CEO may need to get drastic. That means living the past behind.