How Microsoft Can Become More Innovative

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 | 11:15 AM

How could I not love this page one WSJ article about Microsoft-the-innovator

"Throughout its history, Microsoft has been slow to grasp some of the computer industry's biggest technology shifts and business changes. When it decides to embrace an innovation, the company has often succeeded in chasing down the leaders, as it did years ago with Lotus Development Corp. on spreadsheets that allow users to organize data, and a decade ago with Netscape Communications Corp. on Web browsers that transformed the experience of using the Internet. For years, this catch-up-and-surpass approach worked well.

Early this decade, however, companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. exposed holes in the approach. Microsoft was slow to see the potential in Web search and online advertising, and despite heavy investments, has so far failed to catch industry leaders Google and Yahoo Inc. It also was late coming to market with its own music player, and despite a push, remains far behind Apple. Today, a host of Web-based software services from Google and others threaten to reduce the importance of Microsoft's personal-computer software."

What is the solution? Craig Mundie, the man designated to replace Bill Gates, has quite the challenge on his hands:

"Mr. Mundie says advances in technology that represent "fundamental change" or "whole new business opportunities" are "more disruptive, and so people aren't as focused on them" at Microsoft as they are on developing new features for existing products. "When they encounter them, they are naturally a bit more skeptical."

Microsoft's product groups -- business units built around products such as Windows and Office that produce much of the company's cash -- have long had enormous clout in its corporate culture. Star product-group managers, the company's so-called shippers, get the big, profitable products like Windows out the door year after year. For them, meeting deadlines is all-important; longer-term thinking about technology isn't.

Mr. Mundie is trying to help shift some clout to the company's long-term thinkers and to gain more attention for new technologies and businesses. He nurtures small groups in areas he considers promising long-term bets for Microsoft, such as health care, education and super-fast "quantum" computers. During the past year, to attract foreign talent, he has opened more than 50 small research centers in such distant locations as Egypt, Chile, Malaysia and Russia."

Essentially, the approach is to tear a page from the R&D wizards at Google, and encourage greater creativity from the non-product groups (product groups are Windows, Office, Internet services, X-Box, etc.) to anticipate the next major shift in computing technology.

In other words, Microsoft, in seeking to become more innovative, is copying Google's model.

How Classic is that!


Behind Microsoft's Bid To Gain Cutting Edge: A History of Catch-Up
Mundie Follows Gates As Long-Term Thinker;
WSJ, July 30, 2007; Page A1

Tuesday, July 31, 2007 | 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (36) | TrackBack (0) add to | digg digg this! | technorati add to technorati | email email this post



TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How Microsoft Can Become More Innovative:


I don't intend to defend MS in particular, but then --

I believe one big caveat on this topic is the big lack of product liability and quality standards for software, relative to most other product categories. I'm not suggesting we should have stricter liability, just that its lack creates a disincentive. (I'm a software engineer and I honestly wouldn't want to be forced to sign off on everything I do and imagine the bureaucracy that would invariably come with it at my expense.)

Having said that, (initial) innovation and bringing to and supporting known technology in a diverse mass market are two different activities. MS is putting its focus on the latter.

As soon as a product addressing a non-trivial (and often open-ended) problem area leaves the phase of its initial clean-slate design and prototyping, it will be subjected to feature creep and tweaking beyond what its original design can reasonably support.

So far I have not seen a single product, proprietary or free software, that has gone through this yet stayed in good and lean shape. Even in the free software world, people will not find the time or interest to do the needed redesign/reengineering (for which BTW they will be denied the fame of the innovator, coming back to the original topic).

But then look at all other areas of business -- how much real innovation is there relative to mundane activities, and at best refilling old wine in new bottles?

Posted by: cm | Jul 31, 2007 11:52:21 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

Recent Posts

December 2008
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31      


Complete Archives List



Category Cloud

On the Nightstand

On the Nightstand

 Subscribe in a reader

Get The Big Picture!
Enter your email address:

Read our privacy policy

Essays & Effluvia

The Apprenticed Investor

Apprenticed Investor

About Me

About Me
email me

Favorite Posts

Tools and Feeds

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Add to Google Reader or Homepage

Subscribe to The Big Picture

Powered by FeedBurner

Add to Technorati Favorites


My Wishlist

Worth Perusing

Worth Perusing

mp3s Spinning

MP3s Spinning

My Photo



Odds & Ends

Site by Moxie Design Studios™