Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Did Microsoft’s departing Chief Software Architect just call the end of the Windows franchise?Not exactly, but Ray Ozzie’s late-night memo to Microsoft employees and executives contained some statements that ought to terrify them. Or at least spur them to action.
The thrust is that we’re entering a post-PC world in which the type of device, and the operating system that runs it, won’t matter. Instead, the computing world will be driven by always-on services that are accessible from simple appliance-like devices.
If he’s right, those devices won’t have to run Windows. And given that Windows is still Microsoft’s largest and most profitable business–it earned $13 billion in profits on $18.5 billion in sales in the year ended June 30–that ought to raise alarms.
The memo itself is worth reading if you care about Microsoft or its products. But it’s also 3,400 words long, which is a lot to ask of employees on their lunch breaks. So I’ve taken the liberty of interpreting some of the choicest parts:
Ozzie: Over the years the Windows client expanded its relevance even with the rise of low-cost netbooks. Office expanded its relevance even with a shift toward open data formats & web-based productivity. Our server assets have had greater relevance even with a marked shift toward virtualization & cloud computing.
Interpretation: Microsoft is still mostly reliant on Windows, Office, and server software, all of which face fundamental threats, which I’ve just outlined here.
Ozzie: Certain of our competitors’ products and their rapid advancement & refinement of new usage scenarios have been quite noteworthy. Our early and clear vision notwithstanding, their execution has surpassed our own in mobile experiences, in the seamless fusion of hardware & software & services, and in social networking & myriad new forms of internet-centric social interaction.
Interpretation: While we were busy protecting our core businesses, we blew our chances to build the iPhone, the App Store, and Facebook. It’s not like we didn’t see these things coming.
Ozzie: But as the PC client and PC-based server have grown from their simple roots over the past 25 years, the PC-centric / server-centric model has accreted simply immense complexity…. Complexity sucks the life out of users, developers and IT. Complexity makes products difficult to plan, build, test and use. Complexity introduces security challenges. Complexity causes administrator frustration. And as time goes on and as software products mature – even with the best of intent – complexity is inescapable.
Interpretation: Windows is a victim of its own success. When you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody.
Ozzie: Complex interdependencies and any product’s inherent ‘quirks’ will virtually guarantee that broadly adopted systems won’t simply vanish overnight….But so long as customer or competitive requirements drive teams to build layers of new function on top of a complex core, ultimately a limit will be reached.
Interpretation: It’s been a fun ride, but Microsoft can’t rely on its huge installed base forever.
Ozzie: There’s one key difference in tomorrow’s devices: they’re relatively simple and fundamentally appliance-like by design, from birth. They’re instantly usable, interchangeable, and trivially replaceable without loss.
Interpretation: There’s no way people and businesses are going to keep buying $1,000 PCs (or $800 slates) with $100 copies of Windows for the next 25 years. The iPad is just the beginning–wait until you see cheaper tablets and terminals start showing up in businesses.
Ozzie: To deliver what seems to be required – e.g. an amazing level of coherence across apps, services and devices – will require innovation in user experience, interaction model, authentication model, user data & privacy model, policy & management model, programming & application model, and so on.
Interpretation: Building services that work the way they’re supposed to is very hard. Microsoft needs its brightest people working on the future, not the past.
Ozzie: The one irrefutable truth is that in any large organisation, any transformation that is to ‘stick’ must emerge from within. Those on the outside can strongly influence, particularly with their wallets. Those above are responsible for developing and articulating a compelling vision, eliminating obstacles, prioritizing resources, and generally setting the stage with a principled approach. But the power and responsibility to truly effect transformation exists in no small part at the edge.
Interpretation: Hey you–the 15-year Microsoft veteran coasting along in your program management position, waiting for your next promotion. You’ve been warned. Get cracking.