In the shadow of Microsoft's reorganization, many may be surprised to learn that the software giant is looking admiringly at Apple Computer's success.
As Microsoft gears up its services push, the company has taken a hard look at Apple's iPod. Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's newly appointed services guru, pointed to Apple's iconic music player as a "perfect example" of a product that marries hardware, software and services. He also pointed to Research In Motion's BlackBerry, which brings together an e-mail device, server-based software and wireless data service.
In both cases, people don't think about the individual pieces of the package, he said. They just think about the tasks they want to do, such as listening to their music or getting e-mail on the go.
His comments were the first detailed indications of where Ozzie and Microsoft are headed following a company reorganization last month. The reshuffle was seen by some as an attempt to better compete against services-based rivals such as Google.
Microsoft also wants to improve its product release times. When Microsoft releases its SQL Server 2005 database on Nov. 7, it will have been five years since the last version debuted. If Windows Vista arrives as scheduled next fall, it too will follow its predecessor by five years. That's too much time to make customers wait for a new release, concedes Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Although many Microsoft products have grown long in the tooth, the company is headed into a cycle that will see a flurry of big releases over the next year and a half. In addition to the new SQL Server, Microsoft is launching a revamp of its Visual Studio developer tools on Nov. 7. Next year will bring new, major releases for both of Microsoft's core franchises: Office and Windows.
However, the coming splash of new products could be the last such "big bang" for Microsoft. Many expect the company to offer more measured, but more frequent, releases in the coming years.
Some CNET News.com readers weren't bothered by the long waits.
"I don't mind the wait as long as the product is at least stable," wrote Thomas Miller in News.com's TalkBack forum. "Too many software developers release software far too early...and the customers pay the price."
Microsoft's executive ranks are also undergoing changes as part of the reorganization. Server unit executive Bob Muglia will now head the Server and Tools unit, a role previously filled by Eric Rudder, who now works closely with Chairman Bill Gates. Those moves follow the resignations of two key executives. Don Gagne, director of development for Microsoft Office, plans to leave the company in December to pursue a car racing hobby. Hadi Partovi, general manager of the MSN portal, is leaving Microsoft to start his own company.