Microsoft's future No. 4: 'Oort services' scenario

A near-death experience lets Microsoft embrace the cloud and again become a favorite of customers worldwide

Long adept at staving off targeted threats to its core revenue streams, by 2013 Microsoft finally fell prey to the micromarket effect. Linux on increasingly popular UMPCs (ultramobile PCs), the rise of OpenOffice in developing nations, and the customized productivity app marketplace borne of Google's App Engine application-hosting service and its Salesforce and eBay acquisitions -- all chipped deeply enough into Microsoft's core customer base that the company finally had to loosen its grip on the computing industry's once-best legal license to print money, its Office and Windows software business.

Ballmer's impassioned 2014 "cold dead hand" speech, during which he shook a 3D optical copy of Office 2012 in front of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, before smashing it on the podium and storming off stage, was his last as Microsoft CEO. Rumors of a Gates return went unrequited, as the Microsoft board began spinning off product divisions to stanch shareholder flight and stabilize the company around interim CEO Ray Ozzie.

Divested of the Mobile Devices, and Home and Entertainment groups, Ozzie began the arduous journey of distancing the beleaguered company from impending litigation brought about by the strengthening of intellectual property and software patent rights. With Software Arts v. Microsoft expected to serve as a litmus test for retroactive patenting, Ozzie released what became known as the "Microsoft Global Services Manifesto" memo in 2015, hinting at the possibility of open-sourcing Windows as part of his plan to reshape Microsoft around a "services-plus-services" agenda, a move Fox Tech 24/7 pundit Michael Arrington mislabeled the "Gerstnerizing of Microsoft."

Despite internal turmoil and the specter of a US$500 billion VisiCalc settlement, Microsoft ended up well positioned to make good on Ozzie's vision. Having successfully re-engineered its software for multitenancy during its "software-plus-services"-dominated early '10s, Microsoft shifted relatively easily into full-on Oort computing, an updated version of cloud computing that leveraged both Microsoft's decade-long buildup of datacenters across the globe and its recent accumulation of low-orbit satellites provisioned through deals with the American and Russian governments.

Corporations, having warmed to the notion of hosted services thanks to SaaS pioneers such as Salesforce and Google, welcomed the move, and what was once criticized as a small-business play began to win over Fortune 500 customers -- especially those whose technical infrastructures were left teetering on the brink of collapse as a result of the earlier implosion of Microsoft's software business.

On the client side, the breakdown of the Web/desktop divide spurred by Google, with its Gears technology, and Adobe, with its AIR suite, began working in Microsoft's favor, as users -- increasingly free of Windows environments and accustomed to ubiquitous muni-5G access, ultramobile tablets, and public thin-client terminals -- soaked up Ozzie's reintroduction of the Ballmer-banished Mesh initiative, now nostalgically coined Mesh 2.0, in early 2017.

Attracted to Microsoft's VPN-less approach to remote management and automatic services provisioning, companies also readily embraced Microsoft's proprietary Web-within-the-Web, collaborating with and conducting transactions with other organizations via Partner Mesh. Energy cost spurred by $500-per-barrel oil prices also pushed companies to adopt Microsoft's Live Work Live Mesh, technology that extended enterprise-grade services to employees' Personal Mesh environments so they could finally work anywhere they chose on whatever device got the job done -- an ethos extolled for years by myriad technology vendors in advertisements intended to woo stock investors but at last made real.

Developers, too, returned to the new-look, services-based Microsoft, after having wandered away from Microsoft due to waning Windows adoption rates and the once-lucrative ad-based application distribution model pushed by Google in the early '10s. Tapping into Ozzie's "feeds-within-feeds" application model for Mesh based on the long-forgotten XML, developers built a vibrant ecosystem around Microsoft's services offerings and were rewarded by the hidden fruit of Microsoft's ruined software empire: idle, and hungry, Microsoft sales reps.

Freed of the need to push software licenses on corporate customers, Microsoft's sales force -- many of whom counted themselves among the "Microsoft micronaires" whose life savings were decimated by the company's 2014 implosion -- found rich rewards acting on behalf of Microsoft developers, supplementing the services Microsoft provided its corporate clients with services from Microsoft's newly returning software developers.

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