Microsoft gets a new vision

By : |May 18, 1999 0

Vision 1—the first two decades
For decades Microsoft has stuck to an operating philosophy where one man, Bill Gates, has
dominated every single decision worth making. Gates started off with Paul Allen helping
him on his way to global domination. Then Allen fell ill and left the company in 1983.
That left Gates with the increasingly onerous business of handling a company that had long
left its Micro-soft (yes, there was a hyphen initially) days behind in a long and
sustained period of explosive growth. In this period Microsoft went from being a compiler
shop (Basic) to a company with MS DOS as its flagship and finally the software company
with the blockbusting success of Windows (in all its incarnations), Office and BackOffice.

The Department of Justice mess
Next came the confrontation between Microsoft and the US government. By virtue of its
success and some rough tactics, Microsoft came under the Department of Justice’s
microscope for its alleged rough tactics and monopolistic ways. Soon there were cries from
some for the software giant to be split up and still others for the Windows source code to
be thrown open.

Vision 2—power to the managers
It’s in this climate that we find Microsoft reinventing itself yet again. The company
has always had an amazing ability to change itself and escape from the jaws of defeat at
the last moment. Remember Netscape? They had a head start in the browser market and the
browser was supposed to supplant the OS. At that point Microsoft was stumbling along in
its botched attempt to beat AOL—the Microsoft Network and a still born Web
programming language named Blackbird. And yet in a years time Microsoft had turned around
with over 2000 people working on Web apps and Internet Explorer came out of nowhere to
become the leading browser today.

Do what you want, where you want
Microsoft’s ditched its old slogan of a PC on every desk and home for a new one. This
time around they’re talking about “giving people the power to do anything they
want, anywhere and on any device”. It sounds nice and is currently exemplified by
Microsoft’s push to have Windows everywhere from CE on portables to NT in the
enterprise. But Microsoft’s new vision goes beyond a neat new slogan.

Let the managers decide
In a break from the past when Gates and Ballmer have called the shots on every major
decision made, groups at Microsoft are finally getting to make their own decisions. They
still have to meet their financial targets but other than that they can get cracking on
their own without having to get the Big Two to approve every little step they take. There
are four groups in all, each focusing on a major customer segment. One focuses on
developers, another on business and enterprise applications, a third on business
productivity tools and finally a consumer and commerce division.

The vision hangs in the balance, until the DOJ

It’ll be interesting to see how Vision 2 pans out. Vision 1 has been stupendously
successful but with Microsoft ballooning into a 30,000 employee mammoth (there were 476
employees when Allen left) it wasn’t viable to continue with it. Vision 2 looks OK
but everything hinges on the outcome of the DOJ trial. If Microsoft emerges largely
intact, then this would be a good plan for the short term. However, if the worst (for
Microsoft) should happen, Microsoft could end up having to change strategies once more.

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