With the recent introductions of Microsoft's expanded virtualization platforms, the Azure cloud services, and first look at Windows 7, I am beginning to believe that quite possibly Ray significant long-term disadvantage to the company.has finally stepped completely into Bill Gates' shoes as Chief Software Architect (and let's go ahead and say it: Head Visionary) at Microsoft. There are hints in this strategy of the same things that lead the company to the dominance it enjoys today, and I am beginning to think that I was mistaken in believing that Bill's departure would result in a
My blind spot there was Ozzie; I was reacting to a prediction that someone had made about Ballmer's capabilities filling the CEO role after Gates, and I didn't believe that Steve could do the same great things in the same way that Bill had. But I was leaving the picked and groomed Ozzie out of my equation, and it was clearly a mistake… the veteran integral to Lotus and Groove has played a significant role as pied piper in the post-Gates (or semi-post-Gates) era. This isn't to diminish Ballmer's contributions, which are formidable; but Steve is doing what Steve has always done, and without a Gatesian architect to help craft product strategy, he wouldn't have had anything to do it with.
With less fanfare, Microsoft has executed a realignment similar to the "Internet Tidal Wave" phenomena of the mid-nineties. Then, the predominantly OS, desktop application, and language oriented company spun with remarkable agility to re-orient almost every product line to somehow take advantage of the burgeoning wave of connectivity promised by the Internet. The fact that Microsoft remains relevant today is a testament to its success at this endeavour. This time around, the company is pivoting to catch the next big wave: virtualization. Whether at the application level or on the grand scale of the cloud, just about everything Microsoft is doing today is somehow being tied in with virtualization technologies. The Azure services platform is one component of this (incidentally, my confusion over the inclusion of Dynamics and Sharepoint services in the Azure announcement has been cleared up by Mary Jo Foley; these represent not simply SaaS hosted applications as I had assumed, but rather service platforms intended as development bases); Hyper-V is another, and the various virtualized and Live Office applications are still more. These all fit into the four prong approach outlined by COO Kevin Turner at the recent Get Live virtualization roll out covering the desktop, data center, consumer devices, and internet services. All this falls neatly into the company's new mission statement: "Create experiences that combine the magic of software with the power of Internet services across a world of devices."
This reminds me strongly of Microsoft after the Tidal Wave memo. A mid-nineties talk by Steve Ballmer at the Harvard Business School is eerily similar:
We're in five businesses today, and we're trying to extend them all for the [information] highway. We build desktop operating systems. We're trying to evolve Windows effectively to be the thing that runs in the [TV] set-top. We build server software through our Windows NT offering. We're trying to extend it to be able to be the server at the backbone of these networks. We build development tools.
He goes on to include applications software, but all those silos that the company struggled to bring Internet capability to then are the same ones they are trying to extend virtualization technologies to now. And their use of development platform tools, and re-use of their code base (which Ballmer covers later in the same talk) to do so may once again be key.
Of course one can't credit Ozzie for all of this nor slight Gates, who still plays a real role at the company and who surely laid much of the groundwork for recent revelations in years past. Nonetheless, I'm taking it as a sign that the company has not gone off track post-Bill, and remains formidable in terms of vision as well as execution. If history is anything to go by, their vision may form a significant part of our future.