A former Microsoft executive who figured prominently in the software giant’s Internet push of the 1990s has a crazy new idea for the company: it should spin off Windows and Office.
I know, it will never happen. But it’s a fascinating idea to consider in an age in which Microsoft seems a bit too overly focused on the cloud and not focused enough on making Windows, in particular, as good as it can be.
“The right thing probably is to bet the future on the cloud,” former Microsoft executive Ben Slivka told CNBC in an interview. Microsoft, he said, should spin off its Windows and Office franchises to “boost its growing cloud-computing business.”
For those unfamiliar, Slivka started and led Microsoft’s Internet Explorer efforts through the release of IE 3.0, and he penned an internal memo, The Web is the Next Platform, on December 12, 1995, in which he argued that the web would evolve into a full-featured computing platform that would one day surpass Windows. His email messages to other Microsoft executives during this time featured prominently in Microsoft’s antitrust troubles of that era.
Recommending that Microsoft spin-off Windows and Office is, of course, provocative, and a bald-faced attempt at getting headlines. And it will never happen for a variety of reasons: both franchises generate several billion dollars in profits and revenues every single quarter, for example, and the fate of Office is today tied very much to Microsoft’s cloud efforts.
But I think it’s also worth pointing out that Microsoft’s successes with enterprises and other businesses is very much related to its decades-long habit of supporting the legacy technologies on which they rely; dropping Windows would send a contrary message to the companies that are now themselves transitioning to Microsoft’s cloud-based solutions. And there are still synergies between Microsoft’s legacy and cloud solutions.
Still. For those, like me, who constantly doubt Microsoft’s devotion to Windows and its ability to keep this product modern and relevant, the spinoff idea is an enticing fantasy. Surely a company devoted only to Windows would be a better steward of the product than a company with its head in the clouds. And today, even Xbox has more in common with Microsoft’s cloud efforts than does Windows, and thus makes more sense as a part of the broader portfolio. Windows is, in many ways, an outlier, the one major Microsoft business that doesn’t really fit with Microsoft’s cloud focus.