(I do this periodically regarding companies I think are screwing up royally. The last few times RIM has been my target. This time it’s Microsoft.)
Microsoft is moving in completely the wrong direction. The company is sadly disintegrating before our eyes, suddenly trying to emulate Apple and become a hardware company. Microsoft has little hardware in its blood, though. If I were running Microsoft, I’d focus Microsoft’s future on Microsoft’s past: making developers really really happy.
In the late 1970s Microsoft focused on developing and selling tools to help developers write applications. MS-BASIC was their big application. They licensed it to hardware companies, including Apple, and sold it to developers for other platforms. When IBM came calling, it was really originally because of MS-BASIC. IBM also needed an OS and, with more history then I want to explain here, MS-DOS was born.
Over the years the Windows-Office-Server triumvirate has reigned supreme but now Windows is faltering. The first thing I would do is spin out the Windows division into its own company, making it responsible for PCs, tablets, phones and gaming systems. In other words, I’d finish what the Justice Department failed to do ten years earlier: break up the company.
The second thing I’d do is double-down on developer tools. Now I use this term loosely. To most the term “developer tool” means the kind of tool a developer would use to write in C or .net or some other programming language. But in this case I have a much broader meaning. Yes, I mean Microsoft should still create those tools, working closely with the Windows Company to give them away for free, but it should also focus on a series of developer tools we don’t really consider tools: Azure, Server, and Office.
Azure is the perfect 21st century developer tool set. Developers upload their code to Azure, integrating basic services like push notifications very easily, and paying Microsoft a monthly sum for the benefits. Small business? Not likely. For Microsoft it is already a billion dollar business. Amazon and Google make serious money off these services, too. Fully focusing on a suite of tools that help developers make and deploy apps across all platforms is a no-brainer for Microsoft and gets them even more services revenue, the kind of revenue all software companies should be looking for.
The second group of developers Microsoft should focus on is the IT departments. Yes, controlling workers is still big business (and again with recurring revenues) and even more critical in a world where bringing your own devices to work is quickly becoming the norm. What apps get developed, how they get deployed and how those employees access corporate resources (or don’t when they are fired) is mission critical and also big business.
The third group are end-users. The amazing power of the Office suite is that any poor schlub on the street can “write an app,” or rather build a solution for their specific needs. With Word I can create a beautiful, custom made document. With Excel I can work with my lists or numbers. With Access, tons of data can be analyzed and collected. And on the back-end of all these is a programming language for the more adventurous. But these tools are designed for a mouse. The question I’d focus the new Microsoft on is what do these tools look like on touch devices and how do we tie them into their Office 365 platform? That’s a question well worth exploring.
Is this a drastic step? Of course, but one I think is required to keep Microsoft relevant in the 21st century. This new Microsoft, the one in my mind anyway, is no small company. It is however repositioned for success in a world where the desktop operating system is only one of many its customers will be using.