Foley on Microsoft

A United Microsoft: How Real Is It?

Mary Jo Foley on how Microsoft is trying to unite itself, and whether it's actually working.

Inside Microsoft there's an effort to present a single technical and business image. The idea, which drives the partner- and marketing-focused One Microsoft program, is it's better for employees, customers and partners to do business with a unified company than a bunch of siloed units, each acting on its own behalf.

In the not-so-distant past, say a decade or so ago, Microsoft was anything but a single, cohesive entity.

Stories about different divisions -- or even different teams within the same division -- competing over strategies and products were legion. I can't count the number of times I asked one business unit about a technology set for launch by a sister group only to be met with a total lack of knowledge or even an outright denial that it existed.

Some 'Softies blamed the lack of cross-divisional cooperation on the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust oversight. In those days, maintaining a Chinese wall between divisions at the company was a must -- part of an attempt to show Microsoft wasn't a bullying monopoly abusing its power. But I believe the internal Microsoft infighting was more of a cultural impact than externally imposed.

These days, Chinese walls are no longer necessary. Now Microsoft's top brass is working to prove the wood is all behind one arrow. And it does seem that teams in the old days that would have nothing to do with one another are actually sharing people, insights and code where it makes sense.

One example is Metro, Microsoft's design philosophy/language at the heart of its proliferating set of tiled interfaces. The story the 'Softies tell about Metro is that one day, designers across key teams (Xbox, Zune, Windows Phone, Windows) spontaneously got together and decided they should work as a team to create a common look and feel.

Whether you buy in to that historical recounting, there's no denying that Microsoft is moving toward more compatible (or at least more common) development, deployment and maintenance stories and technologies.

The new Windows Runtime at the heart of Windows 8, known as WinRT, will probably be the crux of the Windows Phone development platform with the release of Windows Phone 8 later this year. There are rumors that the next Xbox (code-named "Durango," some say) could be based on more of a "real" Windows or MinWin core. I wouldn't be surprised to see consistent music/video services, app stores and "hub" interface models make their way across Windows Phone-based devices, Windows PCs and tablets, and the Xbox.

While the ultimate result of more unification is good for customers, partners, developers and the 'Softies themselves, there will be plenty of growing pains along the way. Partners and developers who've spent much of their careers learning the Microsoft .NET Framework, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, XNA and other Microsoft-endorsed technologies will have to learn a new set of tricks and technologies to function in the new One Microsoft world. That said, the road to unity is a long and winding one, as some Microsoft devs are quick to point out. For instance, Microsoft's new power brokers might go out of their way to avoid the "S" word, but Silverlight will continue to be a Microsoft-supported technology for 10 more years.

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's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.


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