Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The slow loss of blood continues ...

... at Microsoft, accompanied by the occasional spurt from a major artery, like their Director of Platform Evangelism, ie one of their head cheerleaders, leaving the company because, as he says, "I just couldn't go on being an evangelist for a gospel that I don't believe I can sing". Ouch.

I wonder when [or if] they're going to find a tourniquet. The usual cure prescibed, namely getting back to "building exciting products", is way too simplistic: where do you find enough products that are "exciting", can be shipped quickly, keep the tens of thousands of engineers at Microsoft busy and bring in enough profit to show up as anything other than a blip compared to the billions of dollars brought in by Office, Windows etc ? Some of those requirements are mutually exclusive -- if it keeps thousands of engineers busy, it by definition has to be a huge product. And if it's a huge product, it can't be shipped quickly. If it's "exciting", then it's probably meant for consumers, not businesses, and [as far as I know] most of Microsoft's money comes from licensing software to businesses, so it's not going to make the same amount of money as Office, Windows, SQL Server etc licenses. And you can't just parallelize the problem by trying to produce lots of exciting, small products -- [IMO] there aren't enough cool ideas around to create enough "exciting" products to move the earnings dial, expressed in billions of dollars, more than a blip. In many ways, these problems are a reflection of Microsoft's size. In retrospect, it might have been better for Microsoft if the antitrust trial had resulted in it getting split up. The resulting companies would have had more headroom to grow without having to deal with all the "diseconomies" of scale that MS now has to contend with.

Note that I'm not saying "Microsoft is doomed, flee while you can !". I think MS will continue to be a good company to work for for a long time -- they still have oodles of cash, their overall compensation package is pretty damn good, they are working on lots of stuff and, most importantly, they still have lots of smart, creative people working there. But it's now a mature, big company; there's nothing wrong with that, everybody has to grow up sometime. It's just not the special "Neverland"-like place [the Peter Pan-type Neverland, not the Michael Jackson-type Neverland] it used to be. [And not just in terms of shipping products, but also in terms of overall culture and atmosphere.]

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