Microsoft has always put on a good game face when it comes to the cloud. It introduced Azure 2 years ago to much fanfare, a platform for building cloud applications. Then it moved some Office functionality to the cloud.
With Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie pushing them along, Microsoft kept a cool cloud front, but earlier this week Microsoft announced that Ozzie was leaving, and it leaves open the very large question: What happens to Microsoft’s cloud initiative without him?
All through this year, Ballmer has insisted that Microsoft was all in where the cloud was concerned, but I never felt like he genuinely meant it. It’s hard for a company whose bread and butter is based on the desktop to make an about face and go after a business that for all intents and purposes renders its core business obsolete.
For Microsoft, Windows and Office have always been front and center. They are the big money makers in the company with huge profit margins. Ozzie represented a 180 degree switch from the desktop. He built a cloud platform and pushed for an online version of Office to compete with Google Docs.
Increasingly, consumers are living in the cloud and where consumers go employees soon follow. While I’m not suggesting that Microsoft’s desktop business is going anywhere any time soon–it’s far too entrenched for that–the general direction of the software business is in the cloud and on mobile devices, and try as it might, Microsoft seems to have trouble getting traction in either of these areas.
I have a theory it’s a bit like IBM back when it was launching the PC. The legend has it that there was a big debate internally about how nice to make the computer keyboard. Eventually the engineers lost out to internal politics, which wanted to protect IBM’s profitable typewriter division.
It’s hard to move forward when you’re living in the past, and all of Microsoft’s greatest glories happened in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since Bill Gates left, the company seems to be adrift, lacking in any real leadership or direction.
That Ozzie chose to leave just as the cloud initiative was beginning to take flight, suggests that maybe he wasn’t getting the internal backing that Ballmer’s public comments suggest. Maybe instead he was facing his own version of a typewriter turf war.
The fact is that Ozzie had the vision to take Microsoft in a new direction. If Microsoft had bought into his vision, he wouldn’t be leaving. If you take cold, clear look at Microsoft over the last several years, other than xBox, they haven’t had many consumer-side successes outside their desktop comfort zone.
And if Microsoft hopes to survive long term as a viable company, especially on the consumer side, it is going to have get its head and heart off the desktop and into the cloud.