Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Microsoft announced that Bill Gates is stepping down
. Being an ex-Microsoftie, and a techie living in Seattle, one can't help but have been talking about it.
Microsoft has lost its luster. It is bogged down in a middle-management morass of mediocreness. Microsoft's main business is focused around Windows and Office. Both have been so successful as to be their own worst enemy. How can you sustain growth when you are the dominant player in a limited growth market? XBox is promising, but that market is so competitive, I don't ever see it being the cash cow that Windows or Office is.
My dream (as a Microsoft stock holder) is that Microsoft accept that Windows and Office are commoditized and move on. Stop trying to tie everything to Windows. Leveraging Windows is one thing, but be sure to avoid shackling every new venture with a Windows legacy. One of the failings of the Windows CE platform is that it was designed as Windows-lite. I don't want Windows on my phone. I want my phone to be a phone and have good integration with my Windows apps. There is a huge difference between the two. Just read the reviews of the Palm Treo 700w vs 700p. Every comparison I have read favors the 700p. Why? Windows CE has more functionality, and some amazing apps. Palm has a simple platform that is targeted for what one actually uses the device for.
Windows Live (aka MSN? Microsoft branding has never made any sense to me...) has some interesting potential. One of the reason I believe Google has done so well is to leverage an amazing service and storage infrastructure to build new applications. In order to deliver MSN/HotMail/MSN-Search/etc, Microsoft must have some level of similar infrastructure. They need to unify and leverage that in the same way that they leveraged Windows and Office to propel growth through the 90s.
Presenting your service on the web has a huge advantage over traditional desktop apps: accountability. If some group releases a new Google Beta, management can trivially watch add revenue directly related to that new venture. Web logs can produce incredibly useful data about how many new users that beta is bringing into the Google fold, how much revenue, how many click-thrus on the adds. When a similar group add a feature to Windows Vista, how does management know if anyone even uses it?
Microsoft will never again be the company it was. Time does not flow in reverse. But Microsoft is a company to be reconned with, and I can only hope that the recent management shake-ups will lead to a slightly more nimble homunculus.