After last week's rush to decipher the winners and losers in Microsoft's latest reorg, I've had some time to re-read the supporting memos and documents.
CEO Steve Ballmer's reorg memo, especially, is worth a second (or third) look, especially because it strongly hints at some of the future technologies Microsoft is honing as part of the broader push to morph into a devices and services organization.
One of these new technologies -- InfoNav -- is mentioned plainly by name, but somehow most (if not all) of us Microsoft watchers simply failed to notice it on first pass. Here's what the memo says:
"We will provide the tools people need to capture their own data and organize and analyze it in conjunction with the massive amount of data available over the Web. Bing, Excel and our InfoNav innovations are all important here. Decision-making and tasks mean different things in personal versus professional lives, yet they are important in both places."
InfoNav, which last December was known as "InfoNavigator," according to a mention on Microsoft's careers site which I found and which was subsequently pulled, is another of Microsoft's burgeoning family of business-intelligence tools. InfoNavigator is/was an incubation project funded by Chairman Bill Gates' Office, and was in "early decision" stage, preparing for a version 1 release, the job posting said.
Other BI tools in the Microsoft family currently include several Excel add-ins, include PowerPivot, PowerView, the just announced and renamed PowerMaps and PowerQuery. Microsoft demonstrated these front-end tools working with its coming Office 365 PowerBI service during last week's Worldwide Partner Conference.
Given the reorg memo describes InfoNav as part of its "next-generation decision-making and task-completion" set of products, suited to both consumers and enterprise, it sounds like Microsoft is using some of the machine-lerarning infrastructure behind Bing as part of the coming InfoNav offering.
Update: Microsoft Technical Fellow Amir Netz said that InfoNav is the natural-language querying piece of the new Power BI service. It's not clear when/if InfoNav will become part of other future Microsoft services.
Update No. 2 (July 17): Inside Power BI, InfoNav is now known as "Q&A," a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed. "Q&A is a natural language query engine that helps users ask questions of their data by typing into a dialog box which the system then understands and generates answers in the form of interactive tables, charts and graphs." Q&A was developed together by Server and Tools, Microsoft Research and the Bing teams, the spokesperson said. The spokesperson declined to say if and when other Microsoft services would be powered by InfoNav/Q&A. (I'm betting it will, given Ballmer's reorg memo called the technology "InfoNav," and not "Q&A.")
InfoNav's not the only previously-leaked product that's part of the new set of deliverables coming from the reorged Microsoft. It sounds like "Moorea" is still alive and well in Microsoft 3.0, as well.
Moorea, based on leaks over the past couple of years, was believed to be an extension of Microsoft's OneNote product, which some expected to debut as part of Office 2013. While OneNote is focused on notes and notes about content, Moorea was supposedly more focused on the presentation, collection and curation of the content. It was almost like the missing link between OneNote and PowerPoint. While users currently create things Office content in the form of slide decks and spreadsheets, what would authoring and storing content look like if deliverables were meant to be consumed in digital form? That was/is supposedly the guiding pricinple behind Moorea.
Here's the part of the reorg memo where I believe the Softies are describing Moorea in its evolving form:
"We will ensure that the tools handle multimedia (photos, videos, text, charts and slides) in an integrated way and natively online. These documents/websites will be easily sharable and easily included in meetings. They will offer complex options such as imbedded logic and yet be easy to author, search and view. These documents will be readable from a browser, but the experience will be infinitely better if read, annotated or presented with our tools."
There's also a hint in the reorg memo about Microsoft's continued focus on meetings -- both "formal" business and informal consumer ones.
Back in January 2011, Office chief Kurt DelBene (who is retiring from Microsoft as part of the just-announced reorg), told those of us attending a Microsoft "Future of Productivity Event" that Microsoft had made "a major investment around making meetings great."
He noted that Microsoft had been doing work on improving every phase of meetings -- from Outlook invitations, to notetaking (with OneNote), to broadcasting (with some of the new features in PowerPoint 2010). He said he could see all of those phases pieced together "over time."
That was all before Microsoft bought Skype, of course, which no doubt has had a major impact on how Microsoft is now planning to reimagine meetings. Here's what last week's reorg memo said on this front:
"Social communications are time-intensive, high-value scenarios that are ripe for digital re-imagination. Such innovation will include new ways to participate in work meetings, PTA and nonprofit activities, family and social gatherings, and more. We can reimagine email and other communication vehicles as the lines between these vehicles grow fuzzy, and the amount of people’s digital or digitally assisted interaction continues to grow. We can create new ways to interact through hardware, software and new services. Next-gen documents and expression are an important part of online social communications. We will not focus on becoming another social network for people to participate in casually, though some may use these products and services that way."
Bottom line: While the latest Microsoft cross-company reorg redraws the organizational lines, a number of the company's long-planned products and technologies are pushing ahead, whether or not they have new overlords.