For All The Wrong Reasons

Steven Levy, in writing for Wired, gives the world perhaps the first detailed look into Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect since Bill Gates stepped down. Interesting, fascinating, but ultimately entirely uninspiring if you’re an investor in Microsoft.

Upfront disclaimer: the opinions expressed in the post below are solely my own and do not reflect the opinion of my employer or any other company or group I am affiliated with.

While Levy’s piece is excellent and as promising as it may be to see what kind of attitude and atmosphere Ozzie brings to the stuffy Microsoft, one can’t help but notice that there is something still inherently Microsoftian about his plans to make the company relevant again (or still relevant going forward, depending on your point of view). There is a single keyword hidden between the lines of the article and which is embedded within Microsoft’s—including Ozzie’s—actions and plans. That keyword is “dominate.”

Take this particular phrase, written by Levy and not necessarily in line with Microsoft’s own view but emblematic of them nonetheless:

… a top-secret set of initiatives designed to make Microsoft as dominant in the cloud era as it was in the days of the desktop.

Microsoft seems to operate, still, on the mantra that they need to dominate a market in order to consider themselves successful in it. This is where their ideology is inherently flawed in today’s technology culture: a word like “dominate” made sense in the 20th century, but these first 8 years of the 21st century have shown that there is a new keyword rendering the old ones obsolete: empowerment.

If you look at the most successful technologies of today, you’ll find that empowerment is their common denominator no matter what kind of technology it is. You may need to stretch your imagination a bit to consider the fuel-efficiency of a Hybrid car an empowerment, but it actually is: monetarily.

The culture of empowerment is most prevalent in online services though; Flickr, Youtube, Google Search, Amazon: all of these empower the user more so than any other service has done prior to them. Yet to this day, empowerment does not seem to be word you come across very often in Microsoft culture. It’s hard to imagine that somehow, their strategy will pay off in a world of empowerment when their products are founded in ideologies from the last-century world of power and domination.

Perhaps with Ozzie at the helm of software technology, they’ll avoid making technology mistakes like they did with Vista, yet even in that scenario it seems that, at best, they’ll be doing all the right things—but for all the wrong reasons.

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