Steve Ballmer has had a great career at Microsoft. From when he took over as Microsoft CEO, the company has done extremely well financially, despite some product flops. It seems that they have also done a good job keeping most of their enterprise customers happy. However, whoever replaces Steve Ballmer is in for a tough transition.
Here are two possible paths for the new Microsoft and the decisions that await the next CEO.
Stay the course: Try to copy every other company’s good ideas.
Music iPods, iPhones and iPads? Copy that as Zune, Windows Phone and Surface. Apple’s in retail? Copy that. Google doing search? Copy that as Bing. Sony’s Playstation look big? Copy that as Xbox. VMware growing? Copy it as Hyper-V.
It’s not all bad. Buying Skype seems like a good play. Office 365 is certainly maturing. The enterprise tools are still popular too, with Exchange, Sharepoint, SQL Server and Visual Studio. To hang onto the Windows install base and still support a diversity of devices, maybe we can look forward to Windows365. Buying Nokia may sound like a good idea (copying the Google buy of Motorola), but Nokia seems to be doing well on its own and is a good ambassador for Microsoft around the world. With its piles of cash and a lot of patience, Microsoft may slowly make some wins.
Split up Microsoft into separate companies, both winning and losing business.
We really have something to look forward to if the Office, Windows and developer tools divisions separate from hardware and devices. This might have a very interesting turn of events.
The Office team is making good progress into the cloud. But why the years-long delay in getting Office onto the iPad and Google tablet? From the outside, it seems that Microsoft culture to protect the Windows business has kept the Office team locked up. That needs to change. Similarly, maybe the Visual Studio team can embrace additional languages and platforms and extend the ecosystem to new places.
But wouldn’t such a move, where one business unit fails to support another, hurt the bottom line?
There was a time when IBM was in the same predicament. IBM had it all: hardware, software and great enterprise customers. Then, the “consumerization of IT” hit them. Although the IBM PC and the whole compatibility market was large, it was not advancing technologically. In a bold move, IBM trieD to bring it all back together again. PS/2 hardware was introduced with a new motherboard architecture, VGA and keyboard and mouse adapters, complemented by the OS/2 operating system, designed to unlock the value from the hardware.
With Microsoft as a partner, the strategy seemed sensible. However, when Microsoft Windows got popular on non-IBM hardware, the IBM Personal Systems division was in trouble. Microsoft OS/2 became Windows NT. Meanwhile, the other divisions within IBM were free to make software for Windows (and not just IBM’s OS/2). IBM became an enormous provider of enterprise software for Windows NT producing more titles than even Microsoft. Did the loss of PS/2 and OS/2 make a difference in the decades long performance of IBM as a company?
More importantly, would a split-up Microsoft change its culture enough to be able to do the same for its shareholders? Maybe we will get a chance to find out.