Microsoft takes the path already traveled by Apple, Sony


A file photo dated 24 October 2011 shows a Windows logo seen through the glass at the opening of Microsoft's new store (logos in the background) in a shopping mall in Budapest, Hungary. (ZOLTAN MATHE/EPA)

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer announced Thursday that he’s taking the company in a new direction by streamlining into “One Microsoft” to propel it into the future.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s almost exactly the strategy that another member of tech’s old guard, Sony, proposed last year as part of a sweeping effort to break down old in-house rivalries and put strong focuses on hardware and software engineering. The name for that strategy? “One Sony.”

It’s a smart move in today’s technology marketplace, which relies much more heavily on the strength of a company’s ecosystem rather than any individual killer product. Companies today are measured by the quantity of apps in their app stores, by how well their products work together and by the multimedia content they let their users take from gadget to gadget. For Microsoft, which has been trying to define its own ecosystem in an effort to compete with Apple and Google, moving to control all the points where users may interact with a Microsoft product is a way to lock down and improve its competitiveness.

It is, in fact, arguably the same strategy that Apple’s had for years: focusing on how to bring a company experience to users from end-to-end. It can be a lonely path, and it’s certainly one that people thought would hold Apple back in earlier days. But the Cupertino, Calif., company’s need for control has allowed it to strongly define its brand.

For Microsoft, however, it could be a rougher road. For one, the company is notorious within the technology industry for tension between divisions. As GigaOm’s Barb Darrrow noted in her quick reaction to the news, “When I covered the company day to day, the best way to get dirt on Office was to ask the Windows guys and vice versa.”

Microsoft also, of course, is a company that has made its mark through partnerships with hardware companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Samsung, Nokia to get its products to consumers. Some of its partners were already cagey about its entry into the tablet market, and the company has had to walk a fine line between promoting its own products — which it has said offer the “ultimate Windows experience” — and making sure that it doesn’t step on its partners’ toes.

Microsoft also has to make sure that consumers are ready to come with them on the journey. The company has already had to remix some of the innovations it tried to introduce with Windows 8, after customers said they weren’t happy with all of the changes. Many Microsoft customers are business customers, who tend to adopt change slowly. The firm took an interesting move Thursday by putting several enterprise and consumer services under the same division heads, perhaps a nod to the increasing influence that consumers have on the business software market. But the reaction it got to Windows 8 may indicate it should refrain from moving too far, too fast.

Related stories:

A new Microsoft: Major reorganization puts focus on hardware, services

Sony teases new PlayStation announcement

Windows 8.1: All about Microsoft’s latest update

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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