Here's what I'd do if I ran Microsoft.
My brand is "Hot"
"Hot" not "Live" (which doesn't exist), not "Windows" (which is in trouble), not "MSN" (yeuch!).
- Skin Hotmail.
I'd tidy up Hotmail to make it CSS compliant. Then get a bunch of designers to churn out multiple Hotmail "themes" (ie. templates + CSS sheets). Get some input everywhere from the ZenGardeners to Design Outpost. Let users choose from a fifty different looks for their Hotmail page.
The result would be cheap, cheerful and generally get Hotmail talked about for a while.
Take most of the advertising off Hotmail. And talk about it very publicly. Maybe put some very discrete text-ads like Google's but nothing more. Tell people I'm willing to lose money on this in order to make Hotmail a more comfortable place for my users.
- Spelling and grammar-checking in Hotmail
Whatever it is that MS do with Spaces, blogs, homepages, social networking etc. etc. It should be blended in and standard with your Hotmail account.
- Skin Hotmail.
Open Source Security
I'd admit, right now, that security is not a question of private advantage but of public good. It should be treated as such.
Vista and IE 7 must have an architecture with fairly loosely coupled modules. (If not, MS are fucked anyway.) Take all the security related modules, and release them under a BSD-style license, without patent restrictions. This includes malware detectors, live-updating code and things that check for pirate copies of Windows etc.
Ownership of all these modules should be given to a new, independent, non-profit institution, spun out of Microsoft with some reasonable financing and some good staff. (Think of the Mozilla Foundation.)
This foundation should have a general remit to be responsible for protecting the Windows ecosystem from all threats. As some of its products will be folded back into the main (proprietory) Windows codebase, employees should have the right to see the rest of the Windows source-code.
Channel 9 and MSDN are the same thing
Developer mindshare has always been a key part of Microsoft's success. Ever since MS were a company that made Basic, the whole edifice is balanced on their ownership of the development tools and leadership of a developer community. And, largely, MS have understood that and served that community pretty well. MS development tools are pretty good and not allowed to get rusty. Compared to Sun or Apple or IBM, MS have been relatively forward in opening up and allowing their geeks to take part in the global geek conversation. Channel 9 was a statement of intent and a recognition of the way things are going.
Compared to the free-for-all of MS blogs and Channel 9 and the expectation of smart developers around the world, MSDN looks corporate and restricted and simply ugly. It's time for Channel 9 to take over. Time for MSDN 2.0.
- Lose the subscription charge. Everyone who wants an account can get it for free.
- Copy all the documentation into wikis and let people get in there and edit it. There'll need to be some policing by staff. But generally let the wiki stay up-to-date and reflect real problems people have.
- Ultimately - and there's a question of "sequencing" here but, nevertheless, ultimately - the conversation with developers is more important to MS than the revenue from the tools. VisualStudio, the various compilers and .NET libraries should eventualy be released as free (open source) software.
- MS should really embrace Python. (It could be another scripting language, but Python seems to be most likely.) VS for Python should be given equal billing with C#, ASP and VB.
We don't need a browser. We need Flash
Seriously. What value is there in Internet Explorer? MS will never make a penny selling it. The browser is one of the most commoditized components of the web. There's no "rent" to be captured there. Pitifully little incentive for anyone to violate standards like HTML, XML or SVG.
The idea that MS should try to "own" the browser is based on a flawed analogy with the early 90s competition between Windows, OS2 and Mac; an analogy which Netscape originally encouraged (as in "the browser will commoditize the OS") to their own destruction. In fact, while browser standards are commoditizing the OS, the specific flavour is not an issue. Almost unanimously web-service developers are highly wary of getting locked in to IE or Firefox specific code and are targetting all browser standards. Treating the browser as an "ownable" platform is absurd.
There isn't even a public service value in competition between Firefox and IE. Because Firefox is free software, there are dozens of micro-projects pushing it in different innovative directions and building new things on top of it.
IE is a waste of time and money and attention for Microsoft. I'd simply forget it. We can channel some of the team and resources into supporting Mozilla. (And maybe folding some of the good bits into the Mozilla code-base.)
At the same time, there is a remarkably successful proprietory platform on the web. One which has the kind of domination that MS can only dream of. And which seems to have its status almost by accident : Flash.
Seeking advantage for MS, and if I hadn't completely cured myself of the habit of wanting to own platforms, I'd put some serious thought into how I could get hold of, and embrace and extend Flash.
I wouldn't want to buy Adobe / Macromedia. But I might want to buy Laszlo Systems and push Flash authoring into Visual Studio.
I'd make Flash a first-class citizen of the XBox and of XBox Live Market.
I'd put a player as standard into Windows (probably as part of Media Player).
Like I say, if I was still not cured of the whole "embrace and extend" tactic, this is where I'd probably try it. To allow some of the Windows media file formats to be embedded in Flash.
Oh, and as we're in the realms of pure fantasy here, why not buy Broadband Mechanics and put Marc Canter in charge of the MS assault on the home.
Update 2007 : I wrote some stuff about the opportunities of Excel.