ScottGu we need you: Please unscrew Windows

With news about Terry Myerson’s imminent departure from Microsoft, and with the Windows team scattered to the far corners, we may have a chance to get Windows back into usable shape. Scott Guthrie is just the person to pull it off.

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News last week of Windows’ demotion from shining cash cow to a set of appendages tucked under other parts of the organization caught many of us by surprise. As you’ve no doubt read, Windows honcho Terry Myerson is headed out the door, while Windows itself gets split into multiple pieces, absorbed into different parts of the organization:

  • Windows Core, the “guts of the platform” gets assimilated into Scott Guthrie’s Azure activities as part of the loftily titled “Cloud and AI Platform team.” The Windows Core organizational concept is nearly as old as Windows itself — there were Core Teams in the late 1990s and in December 2003, Microsoft created a “Windows Core Operating Systems Division” just for the legendary Brian Valentine. It’s going to Jason Zander, who becomes the EVP of Azure and Windows, reporting to ScottGu.
  • The rest of Windows as we knew it — the user interface, feature packaging, OneDrive and other online services, Surface, and the like — gets jumbled in with Office 365 and moved to the new Experiences & Devices group under Rajesh Jha, the former EVP of the Office Product Group. One guess which way this is heading. Let’s hear it for Microsoft 365 and the rental model.
  • Panos Panay continues to run the Windows Devices effort. Joe Belfiore leads “Windows client experience” — which seems to be a decent step toward making the Windows PC a usable peripheral for your phone. Both report to Jha.

That's a lot to absorb. Something about comeuppance in the subtext. Tim Sneath, who was with the Windows team for 17 years, and now works for Google, has a very bitter take:

It is incredible to see Windows demoted to a product without a seat at the highest table. … The most senior person with Windows in their job title is ‘merely’ a Corporate Vice President, last I checked, and is not part of the Senior Leadership Team. … While the Microsoft I first loved is no more, it’s clear the company still has a bright future ahead of it  —  just in a different arena.

Which certainly matches my observations and expectations.

People I know love to demonize Meyerson, but it isn’t at all clear to me how much of Windows’ deterioration is due to him, how much stems organically from old age, and how much the ecosystem devolved around him — both inside and outside Microsoft.

This much is clear: The frenetic push to get two new versions of Windows out every year is killing the product. We’re seeing the direct result of that push in deteriorating — I’m tempted to say “destructive” — patching regimens, not just for Windows 10 but for the long-neglected Windows 7 and 8.1. People who were once neutral about Windows have turned into “anything but Microsoft” advocates.

I don’t know if there’s any way to turn around the decline, but I do know that what’s being tried right now isn’t working. Windows is no longer a reliable platform. More than anything else, if Microsoft wants to hitch Windows to its other offerings and charge for them, Windows has to be stable. It isn’t.

Customers are smart enough to realize that paltry improvement in a small number of rarely used features isn’t worth the headache of surprise updates, broken systems, and inscrutable bugs.

Scott Guthrie is in an enviable position right now. He has the ability, the authority, and the know-how to stop the madness. If Microsoft wants to do more in the cloud for Windows customers, it first has to stabilize Windows down here on the ground. Two major updates a year just doesn’t cut it.

So I’m calling on you, ScottGu, to make Windows whole again. Slow down the hell-bent pace. Give us a platform that’s more of a platform, and less of a showboat for little-used technologies, even if they’re cool, even if the folks on the cutting edge oooh and aaaah. What we need is a stable Windows, even if we have to pay for it. You’ve pulled a lot of tough problems out of the fire. This one’s important to a billion people.

Nobody in their right mind is going to love Windows. But at least we can detest it less.

We’re holding a wake on the AskWoody Lounge.

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