Among the finest moments within the Fremont Players’ manufacturing of “Dick Whittington and His Cat” — a British Panto on stage in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood — comes when one of many characters, Fairy Bowbelles, tries to obtain her spells and charms from “the cloud,” with none luck. She by no means ought to have up to date to Home windows 8, she complains.
It’s a humorous, only-in-Seattle second, and a reminder that Microsoft continues to be a massive a part of the tradition right here — via all its ups and downs.
So the place is that this native know-how firm headed within the subsequent 12 months? By a decade of masking Microsoft, beginning again in 2003 on the Seattle P-I newspaper, I’ve made a custom of making an attempt to reply that query on the finish of every 12 months. However as I contemplated the annual train this time round, I got here to a realization: I’ve no clue.
Microsoft enters 2014 with out a new CEO to succeed Steve Ballmer, who surprised the industry in August when he introduced that he would be stepping down inside 12 months, a number of years forward of schedule. A lot of the corporate’s future hinges on this selection that it’s powerful to make predictions within the meantime.
In actual fact, that state of limbo is the largest danger dealing with the corporate proper now. Microsoft has been via a interval of unprecedented change in 2013 — not simply Ballmer’s retirement announcement but in addition a massive reorganization, a $7.2 billion deal to acquire Nokia’s smartphone business, the board’s first-ever concessions to an activist shareholder, and the top of the notorious “stack-rank” employee review system.
In the meantime, the normal engine Microsoft’s enterprise, the Home windows PC, is dealing with a basic menace from the shift to alternative forms of computing. Microsoft’s Home windows Telephone emerged this year as the clear No. 3 in the market, however the firm continues to be struggling to maintain up with Apple and Google in smartphones and tablets.
Within the midst of all this alteration, lots of the firm’s product releases have felt incremental or underwhelming in the course of the previous 12 months. That’s the place Microsoft is in bother if the CEO search drags out for much longer. The corporate wants a new chief to come back in and set a clear, daring imaginative and prescient, and mild a fireplace underneath the product groups.
And that’s the place Ballmer and Invoice Gates might have their greatest influence on the corporate within the 12 months forward … by letting go.
One main problem for the new CEO, whoever she or he might be, will be becoming into the corporate tradition and framework established by Microsoft’s two earlier CEOs — each of whom are nonetheless main shareholders, anticipated to stay on the corporate’s board. Trying on the large adjustments made by Ballmer on his method out the door, it’s arduous to flee the sense that the new CEO will be operating another person’s playbook.
That’s a basic problem for Microsoft’s board in its CEO search, and one attainable clarification for the longer-than-expected search. What govt value his or her salt would embrace a state of affairs like that? To be in a position to lead successfully, an incoming CEO wants a clean slate, or not less than a lengthy leash to make large adjustments if needed.
Other than the CEO search, the corporate’s upcoming 12 months will be defined by the Nokia acquisition, as Microsoft formally will get into the enterprise of creating smartphones, promising to reshape its profit margins in the process. One key query, as Nokia’s share of the Home windows Telephone market continues to rise, is whether or not Microsoft can nonetheless get different telephone makers to embrace Home windows Telephone as a substitute for Android.
Extra areas to look at in 2014:
And naturally, we’ll be ready to see if Fairy Bowbelles can obtain her spells from the cloud. After seeing the efficiency of “Dick Whittington” at Hale’s Palladium with my household this weekend, I requested the actress in regards to the Home windows 8 line. She mentioned it all the time will get a massive response from the hometown crowd — a mixture of cheers and jeers.