Microsoft: The next quarter century Pt II

Paul Gross is Mr Mobility and Rick Belluzzo has his finger in most Microsoft pies
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Paul Gross: No strings attached. At Microsoft's annual worldwide global sales meeting in Atlanta this year, Paul Gross made his entrance suspended from a supposedly invisible cable high above the stage.

Get it? Wireless?

Gross gets it. Big time. And the reason he, the senior vice president of the mobility group, understands what Microsoft needs to do to become a player in the wireless space is due to his past four years at Microsoft.

Gross was one of the many managers that Microsoft picked off from Inprise (formerly Borland International). He got his start at Microsoft as vice president of developer tools. He went on to manage Microsoft's fledgling messaging, collaboration and mobility efforts a year ago.

When then-president Steve Ballmer asked Gross to pull together a cross-divisional group focusing on wireless, Gross knew he had his work cut out for him, as Microsoft's corporate culture has emphasised the competitive over the cooperative.

But pull he did. Gross brought together individuals from MSN, Windows, developer tools and the business productivity group.

"We're addressing mobility over all," Gross said in an interview with ZDNet News. "We have a whole range of clients now: things that work on PCs, PDAs, microbrowsers, cards installed in the back of phones. At the same time, we're also building the server infrastructure that is to be built into the carriers' networks. And we also have got work going in serving up content to the Internet."

Despite its massive mission, the mobility group operates almost as though it's a stand-alone startup, according to Gross. The unit has responsibility for everything from development to marketing and sales. This kind of consolidation allows the unit to react to changes more quickly than the Microsoft juggernaut, Gross claimed.

In the coming months, Gross' mobility division has a lot of products to push through the pipeline. It's working on Microsoft's wireless-access middleware, codenamed Airstream, producing Microsoft Research's email prioritisation software, called Priority, and developing wireless jackets for the Pocket PC platform and next-generation phones like Microsoft's "Stinger", which builds upon Microsoft's Pocket PC platform.

If that weren't enough, the group is also working on some of the first .Net services that Microsoft will be delivering to carriers, as well as some new MSN Mobile and "white-label" services (such as vendor-branded versions of Hotmail).

That's a lot of balls to juggle simultaneously, and Gross knows it. "In many ways, this [wireless] is proof beyond the pudding of Microsoft's intent to go beyond the PC to multiple devices," he said. "If we don't make it, it could hinder Microsoft's mission to empower people through great software at any time, any place, on any device."

Richard Belluzzo: The big winner. When Microsoft reorganised for the umpteenth time at the beginning of August of this year, the biggest winner of all was Rick Belluzzo, group vice president of personal services and devices.

Belluzzo, who will achieve his one-year Microsoft milestone on 2 September, is heading up some of Microsoft's riskiest and most necessary new ventures. Reporting directly to Belluzzo as a result of the latest corporate shuffle are the heads of a variety of Microsoft's .Net initiatives, as well as vice presidents of Microsoft's gaming, TV, wireless, MSN and Transpoint online billing divisions.

Belluzzo is the guy ultimately charged with the daunting task of transforming Microsoft from a software company to a services company that also happens to sell software. What does a former SGI workstation chief executive and longtime Hewlett-Packard printer chief know about software -- or services, for that matter?

"I've run organisations very much larger than Microsoft," said Belluzzo in an interview with ZDNet News. "I know how to define pieces, set up teams, free teams and then bring teams back together."

Belluzzo defined his management style as contrasting strongly with that of his longtime friend Steve Ballmer. "Steve and I are very different. It's a good difference. Steve has a huge capacity for absorbing information and detail," Belluzzo said.

"I chose to come here [to Microsoft] for the variety of impacts and opportunities," Belluzzo said, explaining his decision to join Microsoft to fill a year-old vacancy running Microsoft's interactive media division (a role many expected prodigal son Microsoft vice president Brad Silverberg to accept).

"You could go run a vertical service company in a particular area and be involved in the travel business, finance business, a dot-net platform, a services and technology company, or a telco or retail partner. But you've got to be the right kind of person to come here and do all of that."

Belluzzo's definitely getting the chance to wear all these hats -- and more. First and foremost, he is defining what kind of services Microsoft should supply as opposed to those it should provide via partnerships.

"Today, services means MSN," Belluzzo said. "But now we're also starting to get into other platforms. You'll see the PC and next-generation MSN services this fall. Then TV, Web Companions, other wireless devices and games [become part of the services picture]," he predicted.

In recent weeks, Belluzzo has been faced with one of the company's bigger crises. Microsoft's failure to deliver promised set-top box software on time has thrown its contracts with AT&T and United Pan Europe into jeopardy.

"We had very ambitious plans for client and server [in the TV space]," Belluzzo acknowledged. "It's been more challenging to get the work done than we thought. We will get that fixed. We've been there before. You have only one chance with a solution that needs to be available, extensible and scalable. There's nothing we can do except get the job done."

That seems to be the no-nonsense Belluzzo's motto on all fronts. No justifications. No blame. Just do it.

Go back to Part I/ The next quarter century

Take me to the Windows Special

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