Anything Microsoft does is looked at through a prism cut from the glass of the company that Gates built. The days of the anti-trust trial, Hailstorm, and the browser wars may seem far away, but not for the Netscapes and Novells who foundered in the face of the Windows and Office steamroller. Yet refugees of those wars have reinvented themselves in the new world of the social network, most poignantly represented by Eric Schmidt and his third-times-the-charm Google.
In the context of Google, a reinvigorated Apple, and the rise of cloud computing, Microsoft has figured out they have just as much of right to be reborn. Ray Ozzie’s tenure at the company has been a kind of stealth startup transformation applied to the entrenched duchies of the old company, and it’s bearing fruit in new language not often heard from Redmond: open, cross-platform, Mesh, Silverlight, Azure.
Opening the LeWeb 08 conference in Paris, Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft Corporate Vice President for Strategic and Emerging Business Development presented this new face in a conversation with me embedded below. I’ll admit I like Dan’l and the new Microsoft, especially when viewed in the context of a troubled world economy and its effect on the shortened runways of the Silicon Valley startup community. There’s a sense that even with its plentiful assets, Microsoft and Lewin understand they have to come more than half way to gain a necessary trust.
Lewin heads the BizSpark initiative, designed to give startups a jumpstart with access to Microsoft servers, tools, and services for three years with the caveat that, wait for it, they are making less than $1 million in revenue per year and are willing to cut Microsoft a check for $100 at the end of the term. I’ll let Lewin explain the rest as he did on the stage yesterday, but stay tuned for the message behind the pitch – that Microsoft is ready to compete not just with itself but others for the hearts and minds of the Net crowd. Only when you compare carefully the various value propositions do you begin to see how far Microsoft has come – and how far they will have to continue to go.