Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thoughts on Wrapping Up Microsoft's FY10

Well, here's to wrapping up FY10. The kick-off of the Annual Review Season is our long, long, sloppy kiss goodnight to the fiscal year that was.

How are various things wrapping up?

Entertainment and Devices: with Bach and Allard out of the picture the E&D snow globe got a shaking where it's not clear how things are going to change. I was surprised at the number of pro-Bach comments in the last post, and a number of commenters believed that Mr. Bach had what it took to be the next Microsoft CEO. I respect your opinion, but I have to admit I did my best "ba-roo?" reading that.

Regarding Mr. Bach's departure: you can't call it accountability. Accountability would have been right after the red-ring o' death $1,000,000,000USD write-off. Come on, when senior leaders get together to consider what kind of emergent opportunities to get into, it's all about the billion dollar market. Perhaps they wrongly assumed that it exclusively meant income. It's pleasant that we have an entertainment presence like the Xbox and that Sony took a hard one on the chin, but did it really need to take that much money away from the shareholders and tarnish our reputation so much? And leave so much more unfulfilled around TV media entertainment that is getting rapidly covered by competitors?

Given the swirling flakes in the E&D snow globe, does E&D need to be Sinofsky'd? Discipline can be a good thing. You don't want every project to be like Forza. Willy-nilly feature development without stringent peer reviews and pre-checkin testing: dumb. Agile? So is using two hands instead of one to smear poo all over a wall. You've got twice the mess to clean-up. Those days should be behind us. More than anything, E&D needs leadership that oozes passion for everyday joys and who show up late Friday afternoon to play with what's new this past week and give praise and feedback. It needs joy and delight and laughter. And while running the trains on time is good for everyone, it doesn't need the stoic, passionless, data-driven rectilinear styling of a Sinofsky org's Switzerland.

No, rather than Switzerland E&D needs Italy. It needs curves and "oooo's!" and non-linear surprises. Sinofsky, I'd say, is on a three-release effort with Windows so he's busy anyways. I can't imagine if he was brought in to help pull things around, though, that it would go very well... I imagine his lieutenants first job would be to put the ribbon into the Zune client app and Media Center and then try to figure how to wedge it into the Xbox dashboard. Nanites would start flowing through everyone's bloodstream, and their skin would turn sickly pale... the trains would run ontime, just to dull destinations.

Kin: we put a lot of time + effort around Danger and producing the Kin (well, maybe more effort could have been spent on keeping the services running). Kin is not made for me or my social circle, so I can't judge it as a device. Sales will be the deciding factor here. And I'm sure when the first quarter numbers are released, we'll just say, "Well, we have an update to the Kin feature phone that we are sure will increase uptake significantly." Like fully supporting Facebook and Twitter features. I love the green dot, though.

And I do like Kin Studio, which I think pushes Kin over the top for some Millennials. If Kin Studio could be adapted soon to be a feature available for every WP7 phone user then we'd really surprise and delight potential phone users.

WP7: As for the WP7 phone: goodness. I'm hoping it's great and I like what I see. I like that a number of 3rd parties are already in the tube to deliver apps. I have sore glutes, though, from all the WP7 demos I see: every time a WP7 PM says, "Let me try this" my buns seize up hoping that it goes smoothly this time vs. the PM mumbling something about regressions in the latest build. There's still plenty of runway to go and time to fix all the various bugs and oddities, but it makes me apprehensive regarding the overall quality bar and wondering, "How did this go in so busted to begin with?" Several someones being agile, no doubt.

While we've been chasing the iPhone hockey puck (of what, two releases ago?) we risk that the real puck of today is Android. Maybe. The Android ecosystem is still too chaotic, but its potential is showing (thank you, Vic). We have to not only have great 3rd party apps on release but also show commitment in having our own series of Microsoft applications constantly going out of the door. For important as the mobile platform is, it's surprising how little we're invested in developing our own series of applications for it, hoping that developers will meander over to our party.

And as the mobile application platform grows up into more interesting devices, the Windows hardware platform is growing downwards to meet it. There's a collision of development philosophy dead ahead and it needs to be solved this summer, not within years. Microsoft seriously needs to woo developers, and if you're giving them an ever-changing flowchart of constantly updated development platforms when the competitors have straight lines, you've lost a big campaign and potentially the war. Windows, E&D, and DevDiv must be forced to reconcile the future of application development and distribution from mobile to client to cloud by Microsoft's CEO, or start FY11 with leadership that can.

Natal: I'll get a Natal device when it comes out, though I don't know how much I'll use it in the cozy space I have our Xbox in. I'm not redecorating for Natal, which means every time I boot it up I will look around at all the various potential ankle and knee injuries. It might be worth it, though, if I can swing a light-saber, force-push, and even wave my hand for a Jedi mind-trick. But not for playing paint kick-ball.

A big Windows opportunity for Natal: some smarty plugs it into his desktop and a driver installs and Win7 magically lights up for Natal interaction. Word spreads. Win7 works with Natal and you can go all Minority Report now with your laptop and desktop! That's a Jobs-worthy show-off moment: "Oh, yes, an iPad. How nostalgically quaint to have a device you have to actually smear your fingers around the surface to do something with. Now, watch my Cheetos plastered fingers bring up Media Center to play some recorded World Cup! And after that, I'll navigate the universe with Worldwide Telescope!"

Pop a cap in your ass: which by cap, I mean Market Cap and the reflections and abundant free advice issued forth when Apple passed Microsoft with-respect-to Market Capitalization this past week. A lot of focus came down on Mr. Ballmer, who shrugged it off as much as he shrugs off the lost decade of MSFT stock price. A nice case study of attitude begets results. While Microsoft has its three-screened head in The Cloud (can't wait to see that marketing campaign [eye-roll]) Apple continues a consumer-love affair of joyous design and content delivery. One bit of free advice I naturally loved: What Will It Take to Save Microsoft (MSFT) - a snippet from the end:

And I see no end to the misery. Microsoft should learn from longtime brother-in-arms Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), whose CEO Paul Otellini has cut a complicated beast down to the operations that really matter. That's the kind of sugar-free medicine it would take to save Microsoft from itself, and of course, something that drastic will never happen.

What a shame.

Yes, we need our Neutron Jack at this point. We have our supposedly endangered cash cows and then a lot of products and operations clinging on. Many of which that would never exist in a sane company. Spin-off those groups to live or die on their own, with Microsoft owning appropriate stock such that if their survival instinct kicks in and they flourish, it will be a nice hefty return. You also have to realize that product groups are way overstaffed and just need engineers, in this day and age, that can do it all vs. being silo'd into their coding, testing, or spec'ing narrow band. Specialization is not sustainable. And the Partner system needs to be nuked away: more and more it's leading to bad short-term shiny decisions meant to make Partner. Well, this list goes on. I think our next CEO comes from the outside, because only an outsider at this point can scrub the company clean and ensure that the corporate DNA is rewritten.

Stealth Layoffs: comments here for a while have been saying don't expect anymore large layoffs but do expect ongoing stealth layoffs, the kind that don't trigger the WARN act, let alone publicity. If you see your leadership meeting with HR far more frequently than usual, should you be nervous? Well, first step, ask what's up. If the answer is unsatisfying and doesn't ring true: yep, be nervous, especially as FY10 wraps up and new FY11 reduced budgets kick in.

If you or your group has indeed been affected, please, if you will, share as much as you can.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Microsoft's Robbie Bach Retires... Whoo-Hoo! (And J is gone, too.)

Just a quick celebration of this morning's news: Robbie Bach is retiring from Microsoft.

I'm so happy for him. And for Entertainment and Devices. And Microsoft.

This is a great opportunity for E&D to evolve and restructure. And, of course, a great opportunity to really screw up who to put in charge and such.

And yes, J Allard is out of here as well. Don Mattrick and Andy Lees step up. Also: David Treadwell side steps. And Office shuffles up a little bit.

What would you do with the various groups, products and who else would you put in charge?

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