Microsoft can still move deftly

Today could mark a resurgence of the tough, feisty, quick-footed Microsoft.

It might be big and rich, but it's hard to characterize Microsoft as lumbering. Not with the surprise announcement today of a major management shake-up and curiously updated emphasis on "services." What a difference a couple of days makes. It was only last week that Microsoft hosted the biggest PDC ever to usher in its biggest product pipeline ever. I guess it didn't go over so well. Maybe a return to the 1980s isn't in Redmond's best interests after all.

Excuse me, but did we not just witness a pogrom of sorts? Didn't the good ship Microsoft just hiccup, jettison some ballast, and hoist a new sail? I knew they were hedging their bets on REST and AJAX and Google, but unless this is a PR stunt -- and the timing indicates that that is highly unlikely -- then Microsoft has turned a major corner. Wow.

It will take time to discern just how momentous this is, but my take is that this move shows decisive change in strategic direction by CEO Steve Ballmer. I have to say Ballmer did not come away looking so good from the weekend's edition of Business Week, where the cover story was a mugging of the Microsoft strategy and culture and an indictment of sorts on Ballmer's five-year tenure as CEO. Oracle's current Fusion frenzy and IBM's SOA product surge last week must also have made for some soul searching too. And there's that pesky Google and the  eBay/Skype thing -- what's that all about? To be in Redmond looking outward, all the world is disquieting.

Well, "services" are now not merely on-ramps to the Windows ecology, apparently, after all. And the old guard of the retro emphasis on tools-Office-platform synergy as the future at Microsoft may be riding their palominos in the direction of the sunset. Perhaps the PDC showed that winning the hearts and minds of developers and ISVs has more to do with "services" than Windows "connected systems."

One thing for sure: CTO Ray Ozzie is rising -- and fast. Allchin and Rudder will be just fine; no worries for them. And the Gates/Ballmer grip on the till remains firm. A key question is whether the middle executive ranks in Redmond can act on this apparent new mandate. Can the ship, in fact, be steered collectively and deliberately? For them, like the rest of us, it's all about execution.

In the past two years the IT world has clearly changed. It took Microsoft took a bit longer than many to face it, and some R&D and pride will need to be swallowed as a result. But today could mark a resurgence of the tough, feisty, quick-footed Microsoft. The lesson is that you should never count these guys out. At least not yet.