The departures at Microsoft have hit a point where local journalists are starting to produce lists. Nick Eaton at the PI has this great list with dozens of links, and Sharon Pian Chan at the Times has another one here. Whether or not there is a wizard behind the curtain with some kind of a grand plan, change is on its way. This kind of turnover guarantees that a new Microsoft is being formed. A company with 90,000 employees will never be a blank canvas, but new ideas must be working their way into places that have not seen new ideas for a while.
Into this mix we add Paul Allen with his memoir out this week and a less than flattering account of early scheming by Bill Gates. This will keep Microsoft in the news for a while and start a whole new avalanche of What Microsoft Should Do articles. This does not take much prodding however. People have been telling Microsoft what to do for so long that advice sounds like the din of the cars going by on HWY 520. People suggest that they bring back Bill Gates, fire Ballmer, and ask if Microsoft is still relevant so often that if you want to make a suggestion, just get in line.
In an attempt to avoid adding to the cast of advice noisemakers, I am going to make a prediction or three about Microsoft’s future. Sure you could say that these predictions are thinly veiled suggestions – after all, the answers on Jeopardy are really the questions. Either way here are three thoughts.
Some think this is the name of the ship on Star Trek, but that would be the “Starship Enterprise”. Others may think of the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, but that would be the “USS Enterprise”. Those of us in technology marketing think of the Enterprise as bigger businesses who still control 72% of all technology spending. A very large part of that spending still goes to Microsoft. Microsoft knows the Enterprise and even without much innovation - it will take decades to blow that lead. They cannot coast forever, but I think it is a lot like the USS Enterprise which has to refuel its reactors every 20 years.
Most of Microsoft’s success in the Enterprise is a result of its ability to sell through channel partners. No one has the partner reach that Microsoft has with its over 600,000 channel partners. These companies, ranging from big consultancies like Accenture to Joe’s Computers next door, make their living selling Microsoft’s products and the services required to keep them going. Salesforce.com has been spending 50% of its revenue for ten years trying to make a dent in Microsoft’s dominance in this area. Admittedly Salesforce.com’s $1 billion in revenue is a dent. But as soon as Salesforce.com stops spending over $700 million in sales and marketing every year – then what?
Microsoft knows more about security than anyone. Microsoft has legions of very smart people evaluating and responding to attacks on Windows and releasing patches every week. Right now consumers willingly trade their privacy for “free” services. Consumers don’t care if Google reads their emails and Facebook analyzes their relationships because there has not been security Pearl Harbor yet. It is coming and when it does, consumers may reconsider. The galvanizing event does not have to be a municipal power grid take over by terrorists. It could easily be convictions for treason based on private emails and Facebook updates that consumers thought they deleted, but lived on in the cloud and were accessed by law enforcement and a Committee Against Un-American Activities. Sound crazy? What about kidnappers, bounty hunters, stalkers, or even paparazzi accessing mobile carrier databases and hunting people by electronic data trail?
Change is on its way at Microsoft and I think many people are going to be surprised.