News flash: MS reorg will rock the Windows world

WinInfo subscriber Tim Spofford forwarded me a couple of articles from the Seattle Times that, frankly, warrant some special attention. In 1997, Microsoft executive Brad Silverberg, who was then in charge of the Windows and Internet teams at Microsoft (the two had been combined into a single operational unit in a vague attempt to show product cohesion between IE and Windows), lost big in some sort of internal debate about product strategy and took a leave of absence. If you're not familiar with the implications of a leave of absence, let's just say that this usually results in a year off and the eventual retirement of said executive.

Not this time.

It seems that Silverberg had some specific fears about the direction Windows was heading and he fought, unsuccessfully, to get other executives, such as Jim Allchin, Moshe Dunie (now on his own leave of absence, a.k.a. he's out), and Paul Maritz to listen to his pleas. Silverberg had his own strategy, one that would meld Windows to the Internet and position the OS for the future. More importantly, he wanted Internet Explorer to be developed separately from Windows so that it could have a clear release strategy and be developed simultaneously for other platforms.

He lost. With Windows 98, IE was melded to the OS and then, with the development of Windows 2000 heating up in early 1998, the IE team was moved into the Windows 2000 group. So Silverberg bailed, sure that Microsoft was heading for disaster. And with his sabbatical, Jim Allchin took over the entire Windows team, while Moshe Dunie headed Windows 2000, leading it into years of delays and broken promises. When CEO Bill Gates gave day-to-day control of the company to VP Steve Ballmer, Ballmer began to crack down on the delays and problems. The first casualty of this was Dunie, who was basically shown the door in December, which was when Windows 2000 was originally scheduled to ship. By that time, a previously-unscheduled Beta 3 was still four months away and it was clear that Windows 2000 was careening out of control. Ballmer needs to do something and, if the reports are to be believed, Silverberg may be just the answer.

According to the Seattle Times, Ballmer is considering reorganizing the company along the lines of Silverberg's original plan. It would look something like this:

  • Consumer group. This would include the Windows (consumer) and Internet groups and might very well be headed by Brad Silverberg, who has found his time off boring and unproductive. If Silverberg returns and this strategy plays out, he will be seen as a conquering hero.

  • Enterprise group. Responsible for the Windows (NT/2000) and BackOffice product families, this group would likely be headed by Jim Allchin, assuming he gets the chance. Allchin botched the release of "Cairo" and is currently in charge of Windows 2000 (he also came out looking pretty poor during his stint as government punching bag at the Microsoft antitrust trial). If you want to take bets on the next axe, he's the most likely good candidate.

  • Development group. A renewal of the company's relationship with software and Web developers would be a key goal to this group, which would work on Visual Studio, MSDN, and other components that represent the core of the company's technology strategies like COM+ and Windows DNA. Frankly, the Web changes everything: Microsoft needs to keep developers working with Microsoft technology, not products that work on any Web browser on any platform.

  • Office group. This group would be responsible for Microsoft Office and other Office family and related products.
Alot of this hinges on Silverberg's return and the ability of the company to admit that it screwed up.

"The company has a very high opinion of Brad (Silverberg) as a technologist and leader," said Microsoft spokesperson Marianne Allison. "Even on leave he's made valuable contributions and Microsoft would like to have him back."

Sounds like they want him back, doesn't it? Silverberg is a charismatic leader that inspires loyalty from those who work for him.

"The browser effort was a unique, exciting moment in Microsoft history," said John Ludwig, who worked for Silverberg during the development of Internet Explorer. "It would be fun to try to recapture the magic."

So, the future is uncertain at Microsoft, but this much is clear: With or without Silverberg, you can expect a massive upheaval soon. And Windows 2000, which is spiraling out of control, may soon be reshuffled again to include the Consumer product I mention in my opinion piece today. Meanwhile, there could be more sabbaticals or outright dismissals coming soon.


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