Summary: With the departure of Microsoft’s CEO, what does the future hold? Irrelevance, unless a visionary comes to change course.

Microsoft’s original vision — a PC on every desk and in every home — was a grand, future-looking vision. And Microsoft succeeded, that old vision is today’s reality; everyone has a computer and Microsoft is largely to thank for that.

But today? Microsoft’s Ballmer-guided mantra, "We are a devices and services company", is not a grand vision. From the outside, Microsoft appears to be directionless, reactionary, playing catch-up.

Directionless: What’s the grand Microsoft goal, what are they trying to achieve? The answers seems to be the mundane business goal of selling more copies of Windows. OK, that makes business sense in the short term. What about the future?

Reactionary: Microsoft got a PC on every desk. But instead of pushing computing forward via the web & mobile devices, they’ve been reactionary: letting these revolutions happen outside the company, then retrofitting their old stuff to the new paradigm.

Catch-up: Microsoft had a PDA, but never advanced it; it couldn’t make phone calls. Microsoft won the browser war, then did nothing; it couldn’t open multiple tabs. Microsoft had a tablet, but never pushed it to its potential; it never optimized for touch.

Instead, Microsoft stagnates while a competitor steps in and blows us away with PDAs that make phone calls, tablets that boot instantly, app stores that reward developers for developing on your platform, and browsers that innovate in speed and security and features. Microsoft continues to play catch-up, when they should be leading technology forward.

Microsoft needs a grand vision and someone to drive it. They need a forward-looking leader to drive this vision. If they want to be a devices company, innovate with hardware – maybe flexible, haptic displays for Windows Phone, for example. The huge R&D budget — $9.4 billion in 2012, outspending even Google, Apple, Intel and Oracle — could play into this.

Will the next Microsoft CEO be a forward-looking tech visionary? Microsoft is headed towards consumer irrelevance and business stagnation. I’m convinced it will arrive at that destination unless a future-minded visionary reroutes the mothership.

Startup! Use your software superpowers

Just finished giving this tech talk:



It may sound grandiose, but it’s essentially true: developers have a superpower. We’re the inventors of the modern age. We have a unique power that is new to humanity: we can build useful things and instantly put a thousand eyeballs on it. All for about $0 and very little time investment.

(My startup company, BitShuva internet radio, was the product of about a weekend’s work, where I churned out a minimally viable product and published it in 2 days. The net result is several radio stations across the web and a few thousand dollars in the bank.)

The things we’re doing with software are diverse and jaw-dropping:

Software is doing that, and more: giving us turn-by-turn directions, driving our cars, winning Jeopardy!, challenging Chess champions, letting us communicate with anyone in the world at anytime…the list is staggering and is only increasing.

And we, software developers, are the ones who make it all happen. This bodes well for our careers.

Building software is a superpower that shouldn’t be wasted building CRUD apps for insurance companies. That may be necessary to pay the bills, but developers should build their side projects to advance their goals and tackle the things they want to tackle.

Build your side project, build what’s interesting to you, build what you think the world needs. If nothing else, you’ll expand your horizons. And if it works out, you might just have contributed something useful to the world and even made a little money on the side.