Can Microsoft rise to Ozzie’s challenge?

By Dave Bailey
02 Dec 2010 View Comments
Computing reporter Dave Bailey

The question, “Is the desktop PC a dinosaur on the way to extinction?” was addressed again recently by Microsoft’s ex-chief software architect Ray Ozzie, who published a blog on the subject.

Ozzie recently resigned, which was a bit of a shock to the financial markets, resulting in a couple of percentage points dropping off Microsoft’s share price, as analysts recognised Ozzie as perhaps the most forward-thinking top executive at Microsoft.

Ozzie’s blog post came in at nearly 3,500 words, but here is the key passage, aimed at galvanising Microsoft employees.

“So at this juncture, given all that has transpired in computing and communications, it’s important that all of us do precisely what our competitors and customers will ultimately do: close our eyes and form a realistic picture of what a post-PC world might actually look like, if it were to ever truly occur,” Ozzie writes.

He continues: “How would customers accomplish the kinds of things they do today? In what ways would it be better? In what ways would it be worse, or just different? Those who can envision a plausible future that’s brighter than today will earn the opportunity to lead.”

So Ozzie wants Microsoft to question how it deals with a world where PCs are not a significant category in the device market. But it is the last comment that sets up the biggest challenge for the company, because the most plausible future is one where mobile devices dominate, and mobile – especially the smartphone and tablet sector – is an area where Microsoft is struggling.

It has just rejigged its consumer offering with Windows 7 Mobile, but the fact that Apple and Google are forging ahead with their own mobile strategies, with Apple in particular working up quite a head of steam, does not bode well for Microsoft in the mobile space.

This argument may clash with Microsoft’s recent financial results, which saw it post profits of £3.4bn on the back of £10.1bn in sales, but Ozzie knows that the big challenge is ahead.

Don’t forget Apple’s latest financials had the company posting £2.7bn profit on revenue of £12.7bn, with four million Macs, 14 million iPhones and more than four million iPads sold.

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer will no doubt be hoping that the title of Ozzie’s blog, “Dawn of a New Day,” will see Microsoft looking to a positive future, but that depends on whether Microsoft’s mobile and tablet strategy succeeds.

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