Foley on Microsoft

Give Me a Blank Check, Microsoft!

Foley's list of the top 10 things she would do if she was in charge of Microsoft's check book.

Microsoft Technology Evangelist Robert "Scobelizer" Scoble is constantly begging his bosses for a blank check to buy a company or two on Redmond's behalf. Here's what I'd do if Gates and Ballmer gave me that check:

  1. Buy a major application vendor to add to the Microsoft Business Solutions stable. Microsoft never got the chance to buy SAP, which would have been either the coup of the decade or fodder for another U.S. Department of Justice antitrust investigation. Still, Microsoft could benefit from some complementary apps. How about Siebel (snatched from Oracle’s clutches in the eleventh hour)? Sybase? Or even Intuit (perhaps the second time’s a charm)?

  2. Scoop up a company with experience in software as a service. It probably wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to bid on software-as-a-service (SaaS) poster child Salesforce.com, because the Redmondites just started shipping version 3.0 of its hostable CRM product. There are lots of other SaaS fish in the sea, though. (Just ask Yahoo!, which wisely snapped up Flickr late last year.)

  3. Forget Opera. If you want a browser vendor, buy IE add-on maker Maxthon. [In the original print version, the company listed as the IE add-on maker is Marathon, which was a typo.—Ed.] Rumors flew late last year that Microsoft was sniffing around Opera Software, whose biggest strength is support for multiple operating systems. Microsoft has all its eggs in the Windows basket, though, so why not buy one of the many IE add-ons? Marathon is one that’s received numerous kudos in the past year.

  4. Stop messing around and just buy AOL once and for all. A combined MSN-AOL would be a powerhouse, and one with which cable vendors and other third-party entities would be hot to partner.

  5. Pony up some cash and commit to a real Yahoo! partnership. If buying out AOL is just too expensive, too repulsive or both, why not counter the growing Google-AOL momentum with a little Microsoft-Yahoo! mojo? And don’t just do a namby-pamby search or ad partnership. Make it all-encompassing and use Yahoo!’s newfound popularity to simultaneously boost your own image.

  6. Hire Peter Quinn. Whether you think former Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn was on the right or wrong side of the OpenDoc vs. Office file-format battle (we think Quinn let a little open-source fervor get in the way of sound policy), hiring him would be a huge PR coup for Microsoft. Give the guy some kind of internal CIO-style responsibilities, or send him out on the "Office Switcher" circuit.

  7. Hire a new ad agency. I’ve never seen a Microsoft ad I really liked. The "Start Something" campaign, upon which the Redmondites are dropping oodles of dollars, is more of the same. Ditto with the Office dinosaur campaign. A new agency would have its work cut out for it with the launch of Windows Vista, Office 12 and the fledgling "Microsoft Live" services all slated for the coming year. Now is the time for a fresh start.

  8. Steal some Apple designers for your Xbox and Smartphone teams. Regardless of how technically savvy Microsoft gets on the consumer front, it just can’t command the same level of cool as Apple. Do a Google search and go on a poaching run. Siphon off some of those iPod and iMac designers and turn them loose.

  9. Offer cash rebates on Software Assurance (SA). It has been almost four years since Microsoft launched its ill-fated Software Assurance licensing program. Even though the company has tried to sweeten the SA pot with a variety of incentives, SA still has a bad reputation and has left an unpleasant taste in customers’ mouths. A cash rebate or money-back guarantee would help smooth things over.

  10. Increase your dividend by more than a penny. Microsoft raised its quarterly dividend 12.5 percent at the end of December. That amounts to one cent more than the current dividend. Whatever happened to the Christmas spirit?

If Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer handed you a blank check, how would you spend it? Send your wildest, craziest and most maniacal investment ideas to me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com or post them below!

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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