Microsoft today unveiled a major reorganization that will drastically change the way the company operates. But beneath the restructuring was a hidden message: Like Google, Microsoft wants to gather lots of private data about you, and use that to know what you want before you even do yourself.
In the words of Computerworld, "The reorganizations' three main angles are to focus the whole company on a single strategy, improving its capacity in all its business and technology areas and collaborating better around a common set of goals." Ballmer laid out the plans in a memo sent to all Microsoft employees.
The Operating Systems Engineering Group will be in charge of OSes for PCs, gaming consoles, back-end server systems, mobile devices including tablets and phones, and OS cloud services. The Devices and Studios Engineering Group will be in charge of all hardware development and their supply chain strategies. The Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group will handle back-end technologies, including for data centers, databases and enterprise IT systems and development tools.
Other groups include the Business Development and Evangelism Group, the Finance Group, and others.
Ballmer wrote another memo, laying out in more detail the reasons for the reorganization, and the company's focus in future years. And that's where things get more interesting. In a section titled "Next-generation decision-making and task completion," he wrote this:
"Our machine learning infrastructure will understand people's needs and what is available in the world, and will provide information and assistance. We will be great at anticipating needs in people's daily routines and providing insight and assistance when they need it. When it comes to life's most important tasks and events, we will pay extra attention. The research done, the data collected and analyzed, the meetings and discussions had, and the money spent are all amplified for people during life's big moments. We will provide the tools people need to capture their own data and organize and analyze it in conjunction with the massive amount of data available over the Web.
Does this sound familiar to you? It might. It very much resembles a vision that Eric Schmidt laid out for Google several years ago. He told the Atlantic in 2010:
"With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches. We don't need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about."
"We're trying to figure out what the future of search is. I mean that in a positive way. We're still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type."I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."
That aligns pretty well with Ballmer's vision. To do what Ballmer wants Microsoft to do and Schmidt wants Google to do requires gathering a vast amount of data about you. Microsoft has frequently criticized Google for doing just that. But it certainly sounds as if Microsoft will be following Google's lead.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with that data-gathering, as long as people are fully informed about its precise details, know how the data will be stored and used, and opt in to it. But that hasn't always been the case with Google.
Will it be the case with Microsoft? That's hard to say. But it's clear that getting this kind of data will be an important part of the company's strategy in future years.