Until fairly recently, many Microsoft watchers -- including Softies themselves -- would likely say that the Redmond software maker was far more focused on business users than consumers. But there's a noticeable shift happening in where Microsoft sees innovation taking place.
Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie summed things up rather succinctly at the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting last week:
"(S)omething has happened over the last at least over the period of time that I've been in this industry, which is when I came in: technological innovations first hit within the corporate data center, and it worked its way outward. Nowadays the most exciting things are happening in consumer electronics, and the technology innovations really find their way into IT, as opposed to the other way around.
"One of the things that I'm extremely happy about, about Microsoft, is the breadth. The fact that we have Robbie (Bach's Entertainment and Devices) business all the way at the front edge lets us build things and work them into an enterprise in a way that matches the way that it's working in the entire ecosystem. And I think IBM in general, or any IT company that lacks that consumer component, is going to be disadvantaged from the perspective of IT.
"We have situations where enterprises really benefit from the fact that the people who come in from the outside already know how to use the tools and technologies. They buy the interesting phones before IT has embraced them and certified them. And this can be challenging for IT, but business also benefits from those dynamics that are going on, on the outside."
Sure, some might view Ozzie's pronouncements as a justification as to why Microsoft has been willing to take a hit on Xbox, Zune and even Windows Mobile in the name of "diversification." If anyone doubted Microsoft's intentions to stay in, and even beef up, its consumer investments, it sounds like those doubts are unfounded. Redmond is in the consumer market for the long haul.
Do you agree with Ozzie? Can a software/services vendor be successful without a consumer presence?
Update: Sounds like Microsoft's intentions to be more of a player in the consumer space were also a theme at TechReady5, a week-long conference for Microsoft's tech staf that took place in Seattle last week. David Ziembicki, a Senior Consultant with Microsoft Consulting Services, blogged about the consumer messaging at TechReady from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner:
"What struck me most about both his "Gates') keynote and Kevin Turner's is the much increased focus on the consumer space.
"Consumers are driving a big portion of the tech industry today and that makes its way eventually into the corporate market. Both are extremely important to Microsoft for obvious reasons. They hype and success of the iPhone, Wii, etc. demonstrate two areas BillG says Microsoft needs to improve. The first is the design and approachability of the hardware itself. The second is the user interface experience like the touch capability of the iPhone and the Wii controller. In each of these areas Microsoft has had research and demos for a long time (like Microsoft Surface) but haven't gotten them to the market quickly enough. My impression was that across the board there will be focus on hardware and user experience."