SAN JOSE, Calif. Years ago while editing OEM Magazine I got an email from a young Microsoft firebrand about how the Internet would reshape personal computing. He had an unusual first name—J.
J Allard went on to lobby for Microsoft Corp. to reshape itself around the Internet tsunami. He later emerged as a driving force behind Xbox, the Microsoft videogame console many of us thought would never succeed. Since then his passion for personal technology has put him at the center of several consumer drives at the Windows giant including smartphone efforts.
But today Microsoft is struggling to maintain its edge with Xbox in the face of Nintendo's Wii, it's losing share in the smartphone sector and it just cancelled the Apple iPad alike called Courier--supposedly another passion of J's. For all J's energy, Microsoft has been playing catch up in markets increasingly defined by Apple and Google such as the smartphone, the tablet, mobile gaming and cloud services.
A Microsoft press release on the restructuring of its Entertainment & Devices Division—first reported by The Wall Street Journal--talks about the departure of J and the group's longtime boss Robbie Bach. It also talks about a smooth transition plan with CEO Steve Ballmer working with Bach's two top lieutenants. What it does not talk about is any new blood to invigorate the group with novel ideas at a time when mobile consumer devices are exploding in every direction.
Microsoft needs another J. In fact, it needs a K, L, M, N, O and P in today's climate. But these days a lot of those really smart consumer wizards are more drawn to companies south of Seattle like Apple and Google.
To be fair, Microsoft no doubt has a deep bench of talent to draw on. Interestingly one of its rainmakers, Joe Belfiore who introduced Windows 7 Phone earlier this year was not mentioned in the release.
One has to hope for Microsoft's sake the transition does not sidetrack what looks like two great projects—Windows 7 Phone and Project Natal. The next-generation smartphone environment—borrowing heavily on the Zune interface—and the novel controller-free games interaction technology are Microsoft's most promising products for 2010.
Meanwhile, the most important elements of Microsoft's consumer transition are yet to come.