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Title: Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era
Author: Mary Jo Foley
Publisher: Wiley
Copyright: 2008
ISBN13: 9780470191384
Pages: 285
Price: $27.95
Rating: 91%

 

If there’s any one outsider who’s qualified to write about Microsoft and its plans now that Bill Gates has reduced his role at the company, it’s Mary Jo Foley. Mary Jo is the author of the popular ZDNet All About Microsoft blog, formerly led the team producing Microsoft Watch, and covered Microsoft on behalf of other industry publications for years before hooking up with Ziff-Davis’s online properties.

 

A History with the Company

 

Readers of All About Microsoft and Microsoft Watch will be familiar with the products, initiatives, and personalities mentioned in Microsoft 2.0. That said, Mary Jo does a great job of distilling her information into a compact format that lays out the puzzle pieces for what the future might hold. And she did it all without direct participation from Microsoft.

 

Why would Microsoft not provide official access to the company’s decision makers? For competitive intelligence reasons. Mary Jo has covered Microsoft for over 20 years and could use any access to executives or product team leaders to sniff out clues that would confirm deep background or off-the-record information gathered from her existing sources. Here’s Microsoft’s dilemma: if the conversations offered any information not available to the general public, Mary Jo could leverage it against her existing sources; if the Microsoft reps merely repeated what was already known, they could be seen as stonewalling a legitimate journalist. Given the choice of risking strategic surprise or appearing defensive, Microsoft chose not to participate.

 

Breaking News Nightmare

 

The only area where the coverage in Microsoft 2.0 isn’t reasonably up-to-date is with regard to Microsoft’s attempt to purchase Internet search competitor Yahoo. CEO Steve Ballmer has championed the acquisition as a necessary step in challenging industry leader Google for revenue from search and online advertising, but most commentators are skeptical that buying the company running a distant (and declining) second in search will help the company running a distant (and declining) third catch up to the leader. Both All About Microsoft and Microsoft Watch have devoted considerable time to the Microsoft/Yahoo saga. The first draft of the book arrived on the editor’s desk before the initial offer occurred, so the relative lack of coverage here isn’t particularly troubling.

 

Content-Rich and Interesting

 

In Microsoft 2.0, Mary Jo analyzes how Microsoft stacks up in the many industries in which the company has staked a claim, spending a bit of time on the Windows and Office franchises that fueled Microsoft’s growth and continue to provide tens of billions of dollars per year to the bottom line. Unlike other commentators, some of whom also publish under the ZDNet banner, the author doesn’t see Windows or Office collapsing under the onslaught from open source software or Software as a Service within the next five years.

 

Even though desktop software isn’t going away any time soon, Microsoft does recognize that online services, which the company addresses through its Software + Services initiative, will gain traction and erode customers’ reliance on shrink-wrapped software bundles. Mary Jo spends quite a bit of time on Microsoft’s plans to provide products and services that anticipate these changes, but she doesn’t ignore the work done by Microsoft Research. Microsoft invests heavily in basic research to advance the state of the art in programming language design, natural language processing, speech recognition, and numerous other disciplines. Unlike applied research, which is meant to produce marketable products and processes, basic research expands the overall knowledge base without the need to earn back the money spent on a particular effort. Companies that invest in basic research do so because they believe that the long-term benefits of their work will offset the costs; the lack of specific return on investment requirements frees researchers to pursue promising paths without looking over their shoulders to see if the accountants are smiling or frowning.

 

Microsoft 2.0 contains plenty of information on the company’s cloud computing endeavors, micro-kernel operating system development, and Microsoft Surface products, among other topics. Mary Jo’s comprehensive coverage makes her book a must-read for anyone interested in Microsoft’s potential directions for the next five years.

 

Curtis Frye  

 

 Curtis Frye (cfrye@techsoc.com) is a Microsoft Office Excel MVP, freelance writer, and corporate entertainer. For more information on his Excel books and free help files, visit www.thatexcelguy.com. If you’re looking for a keynote speaker or entertainer to kick off a sales meeting or provide after-dinner entertainment, visit www.curtisfrye.com.