Is Xbox the new center of the Microsoft universe?

Summary:Xbox is the 'new main street in Redmond,' according to a former Google engineering director who is now back at Microsoft. Agree?

When test expert James Whittaker quit Google to rejoin Microsoft earlier this year, his blog post on why he left Google was the talk of TechMmeme. His follow-up post on why he decided to go back to Microsoft has created far less buzz, but has some points worth pondering.

Whittaker mentions the usual reasons that many of the top folks at Microsoft cite when asked why they work at Microsoft and why they stay: Lots of smart colleagues, lots of resources, a chance to work on products that matter that are used by millions. Whittaker's claims that Microsoft isn't "wallowing in cash from the status quo" or "beholden to revenue streams or walled gardens" might raise a few eyebrows. But hey, it's his opinion.

All that said, it was Whittaker's observations on how Microsoft has changed since he last worked there that caught my eye:

"When I joined in 2006 the company was centered around Windows and Office. Today there is a new main street in Redmond and it houses the studios, not offices but studios, of the Xbox team."

It's true that more and more of Microsoft's heavy hitters have been moving to the Xbox/Entertainment division in recent months: Dave Cutler, Hoi Vo, Don Box ... the list goes on. Microsoft is a lot more anxious to tout Xbox and the Kinect -- its favorite examples of a consumer-focused Microsoft -- than it is to talk about the less-sexy money-makers, like Office, Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint.

Yes, even though it still trails the Microsoft Business Division, Server & Tools and Windows, Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices unit is making money, too. And Microsoft's brass can and does need to always be looking ahead as to what will fuel the company's growth in the coming ten years. But it does seem a little premature to me to declare Xbox the new center of the Microsoft universe (beyond a desired positioning/perception statement).

By the way, for those wondering if Whittaker wasn't talking up Xbox because that's where he is now working, that is not the case. He never mentioned specifically in his blog posts where his new team of a couple hundred developers sits. But I hear it's in Online Services, specifically in Bing Mobile. (He is working directly for Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall who oversees Bing services and the mobile/mapping/speech platforms.)

So why would the lead author of "How Google Tests Software" go to Bing? A side note in Whittaker's latest post may help explain that:

"Bing has completed a blending of development and test they call 'combined engineering' that Google was still trying to pull off a year after their big reorg."

It will be interesting to see what Whittaker and his band contribute to Bing Mobile. I've recently made Bing my default search engine on my Chrome browser. (I don't have automatic brand loyalties, in spite of my day job covering Microsoft. I just use what I find to be the best tools for my missions.) However, I find Google search results far superior to Bing Mobile results when it comes to local searches. So Google is my search engine choice on my Windows Phone ... for now.

Back to the topic at hand: Do you consider Xbox to be the current center of gravity at Microsoft? Why/why not?

Topics: Microsoft, Google, Hardware, Mobility

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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