28th Oct, 2010

Three MSFTeers Finally All Out

Throughout 2005, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was under tremendous public pressure to counter the insurgency of Google, in terms of both business and talent. The year before Google had just established its presence in Kirkland, practically backyard of Microsoft’s Redmond campus, at the time widely seen as an extraordinarily bold attempt to thumb its nose at the biggest software empire. (Looking back today, that move seems just routine.)

Pressed in an interview published by Business Week on Sept.26, 2005, Ballmer countered forcefully:

“How are we doing in terms of talent? We’ve brought on fantastic new talent. People like Ray Ozzie, I don’t think I need to say more. Gary Flake, who has joined us in the MSN area [and] is really the technical guru and genius behind everything that had happened at Overture, a fantastic addition to our team. Li Gong who has joined our MSN team in China, who was one of the leading architects at Sun Microsystems (SUNW ). These are all people who have joined us in the last six months.”

Well, everyone has seen the report of Ozzie’s recent resignation. (and possibly his swan song memo Dawn of a new day). Not as widely reported is the quiet departure of Flake, whose Live Labs has now been folded into Bing. Myself? I left way back. For completeness, Blake Irving, who hired me to Microsoft, also left not long after and has re-emerged now as Chief Product Officer at Yahoo.

Why we all left? For all its talent pool and financial resources, Microsoft is squarely stuck in the innovator’s dilemma. (Some might say it never had that dilemma. But allow me to use the analogy here.) Despite all that got spent on MSN and Windows Live, the internal forces that go against new innovations and new businesses (and thus new threats to those incumbent senior officers) are simply too powerful. In the past 5 years, MSN’s mandate has oscillated between “be profitable now” and “take market share first”, with each change of direction resulting in massive realignment, reorganization, loss of time and opportunities, and the loss of talented people who want to succeed.

How can MSN/Live/Bing succeed? Assuming that Ballmer does not want to spin it off, then the easiest solution is to fold all of those entirely into the Windows division and make it Steve Sinofsky’s responsibility. That way, maybe all woods will be finally behind the same arrow.

Responses

I think a lot of it is because their websites are just crappy.. and they don’t link into each other very well. It would be nice if they had a universal bar or something on the top of all their pages with the stuff they want people to go to.. one to live essentuals stuff.. one to bing. one to MSN.. one to a store… but they are all totally different pages.. and unpredictable as to where you can go to.

Course. I have the same view about mozilla.. I never know what site to go to for what.. mozilla.org or .com.. or spreadfirefox.. or getfirefox…

If everything is on a different domain and nothing really links to each other.. its hard for people that even like whatever it is to discover other things they may like.

People that love firefox may not have a clue about thunderbird.. people that use hotmail not have a clue about bing.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Planet Mozilla, Christophe. Christophe said: Mozilla and China » Three MSFTeers Finally All Out: For all its talent pool and financial resources, Mi… http://bit.ly/cpC8oI #innovation [...]

Do you think their vacillation between going for profit and going for market share will continue, or have they anchored into one of the strategies for the near term? If so, which one?

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To Sam — the failings of MSN/Live/Bing is much more beyond the multi-website issue, although the issue is definitely a problem.

I also take your point that there are multiple Mozilla-related websites, where some are run directly by the Mozilla corporation and some are not. Can be confusing at times. Something worth working on a bit harder, for sure.

To Sethb — the wavering between going after share or after profit will continue, no doubt. Right now, it appears that they are going for share primarily, partly because trying to be profitable right now simply does not make sense. The current share is not big enough to sustain for the long term, and they simply have to invest much more than they can take in.

Hi Li,

Are you willing to publish the link to translation in any foreseeable future – please reply to this email yes or no (so I doen’t send anything else, if you say no to localization)? I doen’t want to steal your time (really), or just busy lately? Can you answer me to my email? Thanks!

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