Steve Ballmer has just announced he will be stepping down from Microsoft in the next twelve months and for his many critics, this is triumphant news. The happiest critic will likely be the author of the Mini-Microsoft blog I first reported on in 2005. The author, a Microsoft Employee was never a fan of the management and in a post today outlined the challenges regarding the timing of this announcement – it follows a restructuring which may have to be restructured yet again under another CEO. Moreover he goes on to suggest the next leader actually have programming experience. Many critics have suggested that after Bill Gates left the company, there wasn’t anyone at the top who understood the products which were being produced at the company – since Ballmer was essentially a “sales guy.”
A time of change like this is a great opportunity to evaluate your options and vision for the future. This in my opinion is what that vision should be:
1) Search is the fuel which enables Google to come out with products and services which in-turn hurt Microsoft. Android, Chromebook, cloud-based applications, you name it. If Microsoft was better at search – at least gaining significant share, it might slow Google down and force them to refocus on competing for marketshare.
2) Windows 9 has to be a slam dunk success. Windows 8 just didn’t do it for the industry. Moreover, comments from key suppliers like Asus regarding Windows RT not being very promising have to be overcome with an OS that users really want.
3) Cloud is an important area for the company – they have to be a huge player in this space. Missteps like choosing the name SkyDrive and then having a court rule you have to change it in the EU are problematic and going forward the company has to be sure to not mess up if it plans on becoming a major player in this vital area.
4) Mobile is a space where Microsoft truly innovated – I attended MWC called 3GSM back in 2002 or so when Microsoft rolled out its first mobile OS. It was huge news and we’ve seen how the company has lost tons of share in the past-decade to Android and iOS. The company’s new initiative like invading schools is smart and the marketshare gains of Windows Phone in South America are quite promising. Mobile may be one of the more exciting areas for the company in fact.
5) Interface design is where Microsoft has lagged since the company was founded. Steve Jobs famously said the company has no taste and another way of saying the interface designs chosen by Redmond have tremendous room for improvement and simplification. As we head towards wearable computing, we know there will be a need for a next-gen interface. So far Google has a device called Glass which puts them very far ahead of Microsoft and Apple has just received a patent for 3D gestures on mobile devices. Microsoft can’t afford to fall further behind in this area.
Microsoft has Xbox Kinect, one of the most amazing interfaces anywhere – but it is still being used primarily for gaming. It is time to tie Kinect into Windows and build the next-gen UI.
6) Social networking is another area where the company cannot afford to give up. A smart investment in Facebook and further integration between the leading social network and Bing were smart moves. There is more, much more which the company needs to do here to thwart Google Plus. Would a Twitter purchase make sense? Perhaps.
7) Office Apps are the company’s bread and butter but these applications have only recently come to non-Microsoft platforms and the reviews are essentially bad… This is not good news for a company which depends so much on the revenue from Word and Excel. The problem is that Microsoft thought they would be able to boost purchases of their own tablets by not porting to other platforms. This turned out to be a terrible miscalculation.
Senior Editor at TMC Peter Bernstein has some lucid thoughts on what skills the next CEO of the company should have – his article is worth a read. Also, TMCnet Editor at Large Doug Barney has high praise for Steve Ballmer and as the founding editor of Redmond Magazine has unique perspective of major value.
It’s worth pointing out that Microsoft products haven’t generated much excitement in the market compared to Apple and now Google with Android and Chromebooks. The next CEO of Microsoft should be chosen in such a manner that the letter “E” in their title stands for “Excitement” as well as “Executive.”