Batten down the hatches -- it's Microsoft reorg season

Steve Ballmer has a plan to counter Carnival cruise levels of disarray at Microsoft, but the real change must start at the top

Storm winds are a-blowin' in from the Northwest. Microsoft's latest OS is on the rocks, its mobile phones are an albatross, and its experiment in designing and building its own tablets has only succeeded in making its longtime hardware OEMs contemplate jumping ship.

This can mean only one thing: It's time to reshuffle the deck chairs and tell the band to play on. Not that Windows 8 is an iceberg or Microsoft is sinking ... yet. But it's taking on water. Even Captain Ballmer appears to have noticed.

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According to AllThingsD's Kara Swisher, whose sources are almost always spot-on, CEO Stevedore Ballmer is planning "what is likely to turn into a significant restructuring of the massive software company." Per La Swish:

What seems likely is an organizational structure that will focus on configuring Microsoft around devices and services, both in the enterprise and the consumer space, and simplifying its management. Currently, Microsoft has a rather convoluted set-up, with other major units such as Business Solutions, Online Services and Microsoft Office.

But how Microsoft's flagship software product, Windows fits into the new org is still under debate, for example.

After months of malingering, it now seems that Microsoft will get around to addressing the basic UI problems that have given Win H8 such a lackluster reception. (Though as InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard notes, Windows 8.1 "Blue" will still disappoint anyone who doesn't want his or her PC to look and act like a smartphone.)

It's not just Windows 8

At the same time, rumors are (ahem) surfacing that Microsoft is contemplating slashing the price of its Windows RT OS for Arm-based Surface tablets. Because it apparently believes that cutting the price of a mostly-incompatible-with-anything-anyone-actually-uses OS will suddenly make it more compatible. That sounds like vintage Microsoft thinking.

Meanwhile, Microsoft CIO Tony Scott has left the company to "focus on personal projects." According to GeekWire's Todd Bishop, it's not related to any of the other turmoil going on in Redmond, but the timing -- on the eve of Microsoft's TechEd Conference -- can't help.

Rumors abound as to what Microsoft has in store. A familiar one that comes around periodically involves selling off its Xbox and Bing divisions and going all in on the enterprise. That would make a lot of sense in many ways; I've always felt that one of Microsoft's biggest mistakes was that it didn't let the U.S. Department of Justice break it up into two or more companies some 13 years ago. Redmond has largely bungled its consumer products; I'd guesstimate 99.9 percent of Microsoft fanboys are enterprise users. But because this move makes sense, it probably won't happen.

Microsoft is big -- it's the devices that got small

There was a time when Microsoft was convinced it could be everything to everybody, that it had the clout to simply impose its will on the marketplace. That was in the days when 95 percent of computing devices ran Windows. Now less than a third of them do. Those days are long gone. Companies like Apple, Google, and Samsung have opened such a huge lead on Microsoft in the consumer space they're no longer visible on the horizon. You can no longer force consumers to use products they hate just because corporate says so.

What also doesn't seem likely is a change at the helm. Despite the many "significant restructurings" that have occurred during the Ballmer era (I've lost count), not much ever seems to change up there. That's why any reorg will amount to little more than interior decorating -- putting up a few new chintz curtains in the galley and shuffling the lifeboats.

If Microsoft truly wants to go in a new direction, it needs a new captain -- one who's unwilling to take the ship down with him.

If you were Microsoft, how would you navigate? And are there any nautical metaphors I missed? Post your thoughts below or email me:

This article, "Batten down the hatches -- it's Microsoft reorg season," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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