Last Friday, Peter Burrows and Dina Bass at Bloomberg posted a story that purportedly revealed Microsoft CEO candidate Stephen Elop's thinking regarding the future of the world's largest software company.
Quoting "three people with knowledge of his thinking," Burrows and Bass said that "Elop would probably move away from Microsoft's strategy of using [Office] to drive demand for its flagship Windows operating system on personal computers and mobile devices... [because] Microsoft could create more value by maximizing sales of Office rather than by using it to prop up sales of Windows-based devices... [and] Elop would be prepared to sell or shut down major businesses to sharpen the company's focus," specifically mentioning Bing and Xbox.
Brushing quickly past obvious errors in the article (such as Microsoft's "refusal to adapt Office for Apple and devices based on Google's Android operating system hasn't helped its software usage" ignores the fact that Microsoft's been peddling Office apps for Apple products since before there were Office apps for Windows), we're left with the impression that Elop wants to put Office on every device -- and he's willing to cut both Xbox and Bing loose in order to do it.
The article also positions Elop as a Microsoft outsider -- a bizarre twist of the well-known facts that amazes me, in a myopic sort of way. Elop took over Microsoft's Business Division -- the Office part of Microsoft -- in January 2008. He moved to Nokia in September 2010, but he never strayed far from the Microsoft fold. Nokia sold its phone business to Microsoft in mid-2013, and Elop's due to go back on the Microsoft payroll in early 2014. Cade Metz's description in Wired of Elop as a "Trojan horse" certainly rings true.
The Office part of the revelation-attributed-to-Elop shouldn't come as much of a shocker to anybody who's been following Office's denouement. Microsoft is moving Office onto every platform it can corral, if not through Office 365 subscriptions or Office Web Apps, then directly on the devices, as in Office 2013 RT. The idea that Office should be held back as one of the Windows family jewels disappeared years ago, as best I can tell. Now it's mostly a question of how quickly, and to what extent, Office morphs to the mobile side.
But the part about cutting loose Xbox and Bing raised many eyebrows, including at least the two on my face. Microsoft's irascible head of corporate communications Frank X Shaw tweeted it succinctly: "We appreciate Bloomberg's foray into fiction and look forward to future episodes."
There are two excellent analyses that you should read if the possibility of a spin-off (or kill-off) strikes a resonant chord. Peter Bright at Ars Technica opines that Microsoft shouldn't hire any CEO who wants to kill Bing and Xbox -- and he gives a host of good reasons why such a move would amount to cutting off a 'Softie nose to spite its face. In the specific instance of the Xbox, Jason Evangelho at Forbes projects a fascinating future without Xbox, where Microsoft moves its games to Valve and Linux-based SteamOS.
With all the talk floating around, though, I think there are two important points that have been widely overlooked.