As part of Microsofts reorganization announcement Tuesday, the company crowned MSN and services as the new kings in its product lineup.
And, although the reorganization was described as a streamlining, it added another layer of bureaucracy to a company already leaking employees as it creaks under burgeoning middle management, according to analysts.
“What Microsoft has created are three super groups, a new layer of organizational bureaucracy,” said Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupitermedia Corp. “The seven divisions will stay the same and retain their own profit and loss. … Still, we now have three presidents, which we didnt have before.”
As it is, Microsoft Corp. has been suffering major employee defections to Google Inc. as well as overall employee dissatisfaction, as spotlighted by recent media coverage in publications including BusinessWeek and Forbes.
Those jumping ship as well as unhappy stay-behinds cited issues that include the companys increasingly suffocating bureaucracy, with workers chafing under new procedures, 14-hour strategy sessions and divisional infighting that derailed design and delays product releases.
An example of these tensions came this month when Microsoft took computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee to court to stop him from working for Google. At the time, Lee described how Microsofts 20 development centers in China duplicated efforts and even fought over the same job candidate.
Google, in contrast, isnt squashing its workers with middle management, Lee said in court. “[Googles] culture is very supportive, collaborative, innovative and Internet-like—and thats bottoms-up innovation rather than top-down direction,” he was quoted as saying in a BusinessWeek article this week.
Indeed, between the PowerPoint mindset now holding sway and this reorganization, some observers said they see signs that Microsoft is shifting from a realm ruled by innovation and technological breakthrough to one in which sales and marketing hold sway.
“Kevin Johnson [who was named as co-president of the new Platform Products and Services division] is more from a sales background, not a technical leader like Jim Allchin is,” said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
Allchin, currently senior vice president of Windows development, will retire by the end of 2006, following the release of Microsofts Windows Vista operating system.
Beyond this increasing bureaucratization and the ascendance of marketing-oriented leaders like CEO Steve Ballmer, the reorganization doesnt amount to much, analysts said.
“Theyll still have seven profit and loss business units from a financial perspective,” Rosoff said. “They were never all completely independent.”
Indeed, beyond the companys leadership shuffle, the most important move is that of MSN into the Platform Products & Services Division, which also comprises Windows Client and Servers and Tools, analysts said. Mobile and Embedded, meanwhile, is moving out of that division.
The relocation of MSN comes after Microsofts proclamation during a recent financial analysts meeting that the company has its eye on hosting services for businesses.
“I find the grouping somewhat interesting,” Jupitermedias Wilcox said. “Perhaps most interesting is MSN joining Windows and Servers & Tools. For one, it says something about MSNs future role in Microsoft. MSNs role will increase. Well see more services coming out of MSN.”
Acquisitions, APIs hint at
Microsofts interest in services was underscored by the companys recent purchase of FrontBridge Technologies Inc. FrontBridge is a hosted service that scrubs e-mail, with operations that include hosted CRM (Customer Relationship Management), e-mail, and helping companies set up and manage servers.
“Microsoft wants to start offering these types of services,” Rosoff said. “They already have a little, but they think this will be an area of growth.”
Wilcox said he even foresees MSN emerging as a development platform, as witnessed by Microsofts release last week of APIs for MSN search and Virtual Earth, a map program that competes with Googles maps.
But the API releases were just the tip of whats to come, Wilcox predicted. As buzz increases around the next-generation Internet, Web 2.0, Microsoft is looking to close ranks to protect its franchise, he said.
“It looks to me like Microsoft has connected its servers and tools and Windows, and on one hand, Microsoft is working to protect its core franchise,” Wilcox said.
“As things move more and more to the Web, at the same time, Microsoft will have an alternative set of offerings available, closely aligned with that core franchise.”
Does Web 2.0 threaten Microsofts hegemony? It depends on who you ask, Wilcox said. But one thing to bear in mind is that Web 2.0 is not a new idea; its been batted around for years, but is at the point where it becomes no longer just talk. Now the industry is seeing Web 2.0 come to life, with Salesforce.com being one very successful example.
“The company offers CRM software on the Web, it consumes [data] on the Web, updates are made quickly, much more so than what Microsoft has done with its CRM product, for example, and theres no impact on a companys existing infrastructure,” Wilcox said.
But as Microsoft moves to offer services and bolster its offerings to fight off the impending next-generation Internet, this major reorganization could well shake up a slew of impending releases.
In the next few months, products expected out include Xbox 360, SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio .Net 2005, BizTalk Server 2006, Windows Server 2003 R2, and an update to Windows Media Center edition.
“Its possible well see more delays, but its hard to say,” Wilcox said. “If Microsofts contention is right, things will be more efficient [with the reorganization]. … Either this was very smart, or it wasnt.”
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