Is Xbox the new center of the Microsoft universe?

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


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Seems to me

    Someone either has credibility or they don't. In this case he clearly does not (based on his employer flip flops and "beholden to revenue streams or walled gardens" comment). As a consequence, it is not clear to me why you would pay attention to ANYTHING he says. I certainly would not.
    • Its his opinion

      Its his opinion and just because you have a different opinion of an organisation doesn't mean that its a fact, if you read his earlier blog post he left google because of the internal change of emphasis after the change in CEO led to him feeling less happy with the company and he went back to MS because he felt the organisation had changed.

      I don't know how right he is but I'm more likely to take his opinion over yours unless you work for either google or MS? I've never been an employee of either company but I know of James Whittaker as one of the best test leads/architect in the software industry.
      • I don't believe

        I expressed an opinion on ANY organization. To suggest however that Oracle, Google, Apple, Microsoft and similar large organizations are not beholden to revenue streams and walled gardens shows a complete detachment from reality. It is not a question of opinions at all.

        Edit. Perhaps he should limit his comments to software testing, where he apparently has some credibility. On the subject matter(s) he did comment, he clearly has none.
      • Not beholden but respectful

        Most large organisations aren't beholden to revenue streams they respect them and its a critical difference.

        If more total revenue can be gained by destroying a revenue stream and replacing it then they'll do it in a heart beat, to quote Tim Cooks answer on ipod sales being canabilised by iPhone/iTouch devices "we don't mind so long as we are the ones doing the eating"

        Every large company has a focus on expanding revenue its just a case of whether thats from increasing existing streams or creating new ones, in James' opinion MS' in the search engine space has decided to focus growing revenue and are happy to take the risk of lowering revenue elsewhere
      • I do not want to belabor this discussion, but

        I believe Apple's progression from iPods to iPads was a brilliant and carefully laid out as well as executed strategy and not particularly relevant here. As much as I do not care for Apple much, Jobs did a phenomenal job moving Apple into new markets and revenue streams. The other three I mentioned are quite dependent on and therefore beholden to their existing revenue streams. Generating new ones has not proven to be easy. I think the very late "arrival" of Windows 8 and the controversies surrounding the Metro interface are pretty good evidence of the dilemma MS is facing.

        I would much rather work on a product making a lot of money for a company than a product that has struggled and gone nowhere for years. SW testers are not exactly the movers and shakers in a company or division in any event. It is simply quality control, which has little direct connection to revenue streams.
      • Testing has a massive direct connection to revenue streams.

        You couldn't be more wrong if you tried. Testing is of vital importance and does have an impact on revenue streams e.g. Vista not well tested from a user acceptance point of view, result? Poor sales

        Good testing isn't noticed, bad testing is because it results in bad products, the multinational I work for took a bath on a product because it had been poorly tested and the lead was fired.
      • Sorry if I hurt your feelings

        Testing is an additional expense required because people creating products (SW) do not do a perfect job. Please note "additional expense".

        In a perfect world, no testing would be required because the products would work perfectly "out of the box".

        It makes absolutely non sense to define a testing department as a profit center, only a cost center.
  • Consumerisation of IT

    I think MSFT firmly believes that next generation of IT will be driven by consumer and xBox being its most visible consumer product, it takes on added importance.
    My guess is that we will see a lower end xBox next year (like roku or apple TV) and with that xBox will also add channels like TWIT network etc.
    Also the fact that consumerization of IT is driving everything at MSFT is pretty clear in WP7 and W8. I agree with it totally.
    With W8 I have noticed heavy users on Windows have issue where as any normal user I have talked to have liked it a lot. I showed W8 running on my laptop to my girlfriend and a few of her friends and they instantly like it.
    There is this question going around that goes like ???What will MSFT offer over iPad???. I think xBox (of tomorrow and what it will bring) will play a big part there.
    Interesting time ahead???.
  • The other side of the post-PC era is the living room

    Xbox is outselling not just other consoles but almost every other TV-connected device; if PCs are going to lose their central position, this is the other half of the tablet equation. Appliances in the hand, in the pocket and on the wall. It's where Google is making its latest attempt to be more than search and ads, but I think Microsoft is on a roll ;-)
  • xBox as the center of the universe? No

    However, xBox I think will become the central MS customer-facing device in the coming years. MS would like it's customers to have a tablet for browsing the web, a larger monitor and key-board (maybe connected to the table via a dock) for content creation, and an xBox for sharing everything with the family. It is similar to how Apple is trying to connect all their iOS devices through airplay, with the family lynch-pin being AppleTV. However, Apple kept calling AppleTV a hobby, thereby limiting its appeal. MS already has one of the best-selling living room devices in the xBox, so it the goal now is making everything else work with it.
    • Well said

      This is definitely the future we're heading towards. Just to add to your post, there is one device you forgot to mention that is already a force in mobile "computing" and that's the smartphone. Other than I definitely agree with what you're saying.
  • I want enterainment on my tv sans additional anything "box".

    We shouldnt need another power supply plugged into our walls powering yet another box to do something that should be built into the tv itself like streaming internet music and video, accessing a centralized dvr, video, music, and image catalog. If we want advanced gaming let us connect our tvs to a centralized xbox somewhere else the same way. Let us stick an xbox in a closet somewhere and use it for games on any tv in the house. But don't make us have yet another "box" at each tv. That's the way it was in the bad old days. If you need "something" at each tv then work with the oems to build it in. If intel and yahoo and google can work with oems to do this then certainly MS can too.
    Johnny Vegas
    • I could not agree with you more

      The only problem is that each "box" is an attempt to extract more money from your pockets. It is about "revenue streams" and "walled gardens", Mr. Whittaker's naive or dishonest statement notwithstanding.
    • Conversely...

      ...I remember the days the of the TV-VCR. Or, even the TV-DVD combo. Problem with a single everything device, is that when the VCR became irrelavent, so did the TV as a result of the combo.

      I think the way Apple and Microsoft with AppleTV and XBOX keeping it out of the tv is much smarter. Because those appliances can change so rapidly and dramatically faster tan the TV is likely to, you can decouple and extend the usefulness of your products.
    • So I should either trash my flat panel

      and get a combo unit, or keep that, pay less for the XBox, and get the same thing.
      I do like the idea of a centralized xbox, but why raise the price of a TV as it has the connecting software in it that I won't use, or force gamers a choice of only a couple TV's with this feature?

      An inexpensive "XBox Extender" that plugs into each TV to access that centralized XBox is a smarter choice, IMHO.

      Though I'm wondering if the XBox will become the new "Windows Home Server" in the near future?
      William Farrel
  • Xbox will be the new Consumer based Main St for MS

    I think Xbox has the potential to be every households Entertainment hub over the next 5-10 years. It will no longer be just a "gaming" console. But a place for everything from Movies, Music, games, sharing pictures with family in via video chat, etc. IMO it has the potential to be the biggest piece of Microsoft out side Windows.

    Microsoft sees this, hence the move of some big names into that division. Microsoft has the potential and means to take PCism to the next generation with full integration and a truly seamless interaction between computing, entertainment, working, and mobile (including cars).

    Xbox may also become a household's "central computer" with tablets as "thin clients."
  • YES!

    You are correct. It started in 2010, rolled out in 2011.

    When you walk on campus, xb takes up a majority of the campus buildings. Whereas business server is only in one building and much of the other groups are hidden. Even xb land has the best cafeterias. All the xb groups buildings have brand NEW buildings, brand new cafes, brand new parking everything new inside, the rooms are designed fancy... Then you look at the other groups and the low motivation, low innovation, boring atmosphere elsewhere on campus.

    The past two years the only groups hiring were from kinetic or xb. Thats it.

    To say MS is focused on XB only is correct. XB is the only focus.

    The reason I left MS is this reason.
    I do not want to support a world dedicated to imaginary gaming. Games are about violence, thats it. THERE ARE ZERO titles about education. Only game titles about WAR, DEATH, GUNS and some others. The younger generation is completely non socialable and getting worse. At age 13 most teens thirty years ago had loads of friends and spent majority of ttime OUTSIDE. Today, teens play games EVERY second the can. When home from school instead of going outside, they stay indoors, playing war games, killing fighting for enjoyment. When not at home playing games they are rising the bus play games on the phone. When walking down the street, they are playing games/watching movies on a 3 inch screen. I see kids today getting worse with every year. The things that have helped shape our society is at risk from technology because of video games impact on the youth of today.

    When a mega company like MS dedicates majority of resources (70%) in video games, they are a gaming company. With 70% resources on campus working in XB needs to be highlighted more. The profit is driving ms business into a dark area training children to become r/c DRONE pilots. War is this country only action for business and MS is creating more troops for Americas endless wars. The tipping has already pasted and this country is in the decline due to the amount of energy and resources dedicated to violent games. Also thought needs to be done around the notion video games are fun. When in fact video games are violent and breed violence in children at the hands of MS.

    I left cause I would not work for a company that main profit was based on creating more violence. To work in business environment going to the xbox land was like wearing a suit to the beach. Another point to draw is the recruits they manage to recruit out of college to work in video games as it draws attention by the same children they bread these past years. So the kids out of school do not want to work in business division. So the hiring teams who love to hire out of school cause they only have to pay them a fraction of pay, will continue to recruit prospects devoted to games.

    I left Redmond cause I will not support a growing video game company that was once the best software company in the world. They lost focus.

    Not much in the future for this company in terms of business.
    • What?

      What is this i don't even.......?
    • Huh?

      I think you're missing the point of this article here... Plus, I could care less if you worked there, and then quit?

      The xBox is a Media device, you can stream videos, music, pictures, and play games all in one box. Violence and sex sells yes, but you should be blaming the Video Game companies, not the company that makes the Console...

      That's like blaming your iPod shuffle for playing music you don't like....
      P.S. if you don't like violent games, don't buy them?
      • you don't get it!

        M$ is the enabler of evil things in business, faith and entertainment.
        The Linux Geek