Finally, here is the last of my three-part post and advice to the Microsoft CEO du jour. In my first and second posts, I went through the easy separations. Now it gets interesting.
The third group and separate business? Applications.
I want to say that I consider this both desktop and server level applications. This is where I really think Microsoft failed big time. There is one application that everybody uses: email. And Microsoft owns corporate email – to this day, even with the erosion that they have caused themselves. They doubled their failure by ignoring the application on both the mobile device and on the mail server end. How, you ask? Easy – go ahead, find a version of Outlook that will run on Android or Linux. We hear our Apple folks talk about Outlook on iOS, but even that’s not the same. Going a bit further, go find a copy of Exchange that runs on a headless Linux server.
Let’s go a bit further. How many versions of Office that run on Android are there? How about ANY Microsoft server-based application that will run on Linux? By ignoring non-Microsoft-based operating systems, Microsoft itself has opened the door to greater competition. Everyone wants to do things cheaper, and in the server space, Linux gets pretty darn cheap! Add to that the performance and availability characteristics of Linux over Windows in server environments, and this becomes a no-brainer.
Author note: While Linux has certain portions of this advantage still today, the gap – to Microsoft’s credit — has narrowed significantly. I don’t want anyone to think that Microsoft Server OS was [more] un-reliable in any specific application. Linux certainly has its own shortcomings.
Given this, if you were a start-up developer, and you had a choice of using Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (commonly referred to as a LAMP server), or Windows Server 2008, SQL Server, and IIS which would you use? Your start-up costs are $0 vs. $thousands, respectively. On top of that, your customers’ deployment costs short of your application are also $0 vs. whatever Microsoft’s licensing costs are to that customer.
What this really shows is that Microsoft is, down deep, an operating system software company, not an application development company. By spinning the applications into a separate group, or even sub-groups, the resulting company would be free to innovate to its heart’s content. It would also eliminate the whole argument that Microsoft-developed applications use undocumented calls in APIs.
Frankly, I’d love to have Exchange running on Linux. I think the end result would be a much better solution. I would argue that SQL Server would also benefit from a Linux core.
The real question becomes, where do you put things like SharePoint, Lync, and other applications that rely on Active Directory, SMB, Internet Explorer, and some of the other proprietary pieces of the Microsoft puzzle? And what about the “consumer” products like Xbox, mice, keyboards, and whatnot?
Well this is where the fourth company comes into play. While Active Directory isn’t required for either desktop or server products to operate securely, SMB and Internet Explorer is required, and can’t be easily separated in the short term.
This is where the rubber really meets the road in the difficulties that Microsoft has to surmount. My recommendation would be that key technologies, particularly Active Directory and SMB, be spun into a company on their own. The good news is that now, the possibility of better control and sharing for non-Windows devices becomes a larger reality.
For what it does, Active Directory’s features, manageability, and user security are excellent. In this day of BYOD, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to manage a Linux, Android, or iOS device as part of an Organizational Unit? While LDAP and Samba work pretty well, it’s not always easy to configure. This spinoff would allow an independent business unit to develop, and probably more importantly, to license the protocol and database technology for just about anyone who wants to write to it.
What do you do with the consumer products? Well, the only real product is Xbox, and while I’m sure it’s profitable, it’s really not a big part of the Microsoft Empire. I’d sell it off, or make it the fifth company. Everything else, just dump it. Really, when I go to buy a mouse, keyboard, or headset, I’m really not looking for “Microsoft” on the label. I doubt that any of these items is really manufactured in-house anyway.
While I’m sure I’ve left tons out, and that anybody in the world could pick this series and ideas apart, I think the concept of what I’m trying to put across is clear. Microsoft has become the Exxon Valdez of its own destiny. A similar scenario was IBM in the 80’s and early 90’s. Finally they (IBM) realized that they couldn’t own it all, and much of the corporate culture changed, for the better. Microsoft can do this too, but only if they take my advice…