Steve Ballmer will be out as Microsoft CEO sometime within the next 12 months. Will his successor run the same company Ballmer is leaving?
There have always been calls to break up the software giant, dating back to the days when the Department of Justice successfully painted Microsoft as a monopoly. At the time, the government was unwilling to go that far. But with Microsoft's top leadership now on the way out, the question is again coming to the fore.
With Ballmer retiring, speculation will be whether MSFT worth more broken up and sold in parts.— Mitch Kapor (@mkapor) August 23, 2013
There are two scenarios in which Microsoft could split up. The first fault line falls along the enterprise and consumer boundary: one new company would sell or manage Windows, Office, Bing and Xbox to consumers and the other, more enterprise-oriented company dealing with Windows Azure, SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics and SQL Server.
The pros of this sort of split are pretty obvious: each business would be able to focus on its core customer base and pull the most profit out of their brands.
But in recent months, Microsoft has stated its intentions to become a "devices and services" company. This has been reflected in its corporate decisions and marketing strategies, but it could also make a difference in how a hypothetical split could occur.
One such idea would be to not split the company so much as keep a solid core and sell off everything else. That core could include Windows 8 (with Windows Phone), the Windows Azure cloud platform, SharePoint and Office 365. Everything else that wasn't strictly a device or service (Xbox, SQL Server or Microsoft Dynamics) could be sold off piecemeal or consolidated into new spinoff companies.
Bing is the oddball here. It's most definitely a service and should stay in the core company, but it is also losing money (though admittedly less money than when it started). But I think Bing should stay. If and when Windows mobile devices take off, a homegrown search engine will be better than outsourcing search to Google.
A smaller, leaner Microsoft would have a big impact on the rest of the IT industry, since so many partners and customers are directly touched by Microsoft. But with all of the extra baggage the company has been lugging around for decades, now might be a great time to shed some weight and come out a stronger company in the end.
Something needs to be done, though, and soon. Since 2001, Microsoft shares have risen just 33% growth, while the rest of the NASDAQ jumped 59% in the same period. And Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall, at least to judge from its recent management reorganization.
There are arguments to be made, of course, for keeping the company together. Bing has serious potential to be a key component for any Internet of Things strategy Microsoft might have. Xbox could be a big gateway for Microsoft in the living room.
But it's going to be a tough slog.