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How Many Tries Does Microsoft Get?

Microsoft revamps its corporate structure to “rally behind a single strategy.” What took so long?

When Windows 8 turned out to be strange and disappointing, the problems had a familiar ring. After all, this came from Microsoft, the company that also gave us Windows Vista. The fact that Microsoft, which does a lot of things right (such as Xbox and Kinect and even Office, love it or hate it), managed to also do something wrong felt perfectly Microsoftian (Redmondish?).

Equally Microsoftian: recognize that things aren’t working smoothly and reorganize. CNNMoney counts at least seven major restructurings of the company’s operations since 2002. The latest one was announced today, in an attempt to get everyone working together more seamlessly on linking hardware, software, and services. The head of HR tells the New York Times that “this is the biggest thing we’ve ever done.” Eight product divisions are being consolidated into four. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, “managers will oversee different kinds of functions—like engineering, marketing and finance—and apply them to multiple product and service offerings.” 

It all makes sense, of course, but it doesn’t change the underlying fact that even if Windows 8 had been a huge hit, PC sales are experiencing the longest decline ever, as the AP points out. To deal with that trend, Microsoft probably needs to take even bigger risks, like creating more of its own hardware. You’ll know it’s setting a bolder course when its executives stop talking in big generalities that reflect the company’s traditional role as the glue of the PC era. For instance, when we asked CEO Steve Ballmer in our 50 Disruptive Companies package last winter about his vision for the future of computing, he trotted out a familiar line about “empowering people and businesses to realize their potential.” There are any number of ways to execute on that idea, which is why you shouldn’t be surprised to someday see yet another restructuring.

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