Comments on Rebuilding Microsoft
It was an interesting article that addressed the changes that recently appointed chariman Ray Ozzie will be attempting to make as he takes over the largest software company in the world. In June of this year Ozzie was handpicked by now essentially retired founder Bill Gates. The personalities of the two men appear to be quite opposite. Bill Gates led with a ruthless and superior intellect and employees would spend months fearing the presentation of their projects to him. The number of times he said the f-word became the measure of how big a failure your project was. He didn't suffer fools and a meeting with him was a scary prospect.
Ray Ozzie was the creator of Lotus Notes, and more recently developed Groove networks,a company to help office workers collaborate electronically. His company was bought by Miscrosoft in 2005 for $120 million which led to his being chosen by Gates as the new chairman. Since Ozzie developed Notes before he did, Ozzie is one of the few software minds that Gates truly respects and admires.
Ozzie is very soft-spoken, courtly, and reluctant to be put up on a pedestal. He feels that doing so would put him out of touch with his employees. He says that if there is a problem, he prefers to have his developers come in and debug code face-to-face. By having this personal interaction with his employees, Ozzie is able to get a better idea of how things are going in the office, the morale, the rumors, the reality of the work situation.
Two months after being hired, Ozzie was running a committee on how to fight competitors such as Google and soon after that he had a new software development strategy for the entire company. This new strategy involves how to create revenue with new web-based applications, as the era of the desktop in drawing to a close. Smartphones, ipods, and digicams are the mediums with potential for software market growth.
At the moment, Microsoft is losing ground to competitors such as Apple Computer, who control the online music industry and have had a huge surge in sales of Macs and OS-X, and Google, the leading internet search company. Their new operating system, Vista, has suffered huge delays and will not be out until next year. Also, the value of stock options of employees hired since 2000 are a mere fraction of those who were with the company in the 1990's. Competitors are simply not afraid of Microsoft anymore.
However, Microsoft is far from struggling financially, thanks to it's monopolies of Windows and Office, and it's server software business. The cheif executives are just wary of ending up the way IBM did, a company that was the largest in the world in the 1970's only to be brought down by antitrust violations in the time that Microsoft was the young new superstar.
This is why Ozzie emphasizes a new focus on the software-service world, and to reduce the complexity of programs to make the developers job less stifling. The vision is to enable users to have access to their data and applications at any time whether using their PC, laptop, phone, or television, all behaving seamlessly. Ozzie also gives the example of having powerpoint presentations automatically upload to a web address.
Microsoft developers will have to learn to fix software problems while the software is already running, rather like fixing a plane in midflight rather than rolling it into the hanger to be retooled. Ozzie has also announced Windows Live and Office Live, which join X-box Live as Microsofts new internet presence. These groups have produced a lot of new products and services already, much of it already seen on Yahoo! and Google, but also nifty new features like Windows live writer, which simplifes putting anything other than text on a blog. Office Live has a collaboration tool which allows projects to be saved to a server and worked on by more than one person at a time. Ozzie himslef also helped develop Live Clipboard, which he released under a creative commons liscence, (free to use and be improved upon), which allows easy cutting and pasting between various online services. The question remains, will we ever see Word, Excel, or Powerpoint as free ad-supported online services? Microsoft says they're discussing it, but don't expect to see it tomorrow.
As part of Microsofts revamped approach, they have streamlined their corporate structure, made employee bonuses based on individual goals rather than a curve that incouraged laziness. They have introduced better food at the cafeterias and grocery sevice, and have fought harder to prevent employees from jumping to competitors.
I feel it will be tough for Microsoft to become the innovator once again with Google and Apple already confident that the general public sees them as cutting edge. Microsoft is certainly trying to reinvent itself and make amends for past failures, and with new leadership and inferstructure it could be dangerous to doubt them. It will be interesting to see how Windows and Office Live fare, and whether Microsoft will introduce more simple, cheaper software and online services. It is hard to think that they will not find a way to remain a giant in the industry.