Sunday, August 9, 2009

Microsoft's Razorfish Sale: Refining Direction, Or Just Confused?

Microsoft's Sale of Razorfish in an auction to the Publicis Groupe suggests Redmond is may be trying to focus resources on fields in which it has native competence rather than parlay its wealth into domination of every market it can imagine. Aquired by Microsoft in its 2007 purchase of Razorfish's then-parent aQuantive for $6B. The $530M cash-and-stock purchase price reported in the Razorfish sale is less than 10% of Razorfish's all-time-high market-cap of about $6B, before the dot-com bubble burst.

After seeking to build a content business in order to draw traffic to feed its advertising business, and to build money-losing game console hardware to lock in business for its games programmers (whom Microsoft expanded by buying successful independent game designers, at least some of whom it later spun back off), and a series of music store partnerships and even a sole-operated music store to feed its DRM licensing ambitions, has Microsoft finally decided to retract operations toward those in which Microsoft has some proven success?

Time will tell whether the sale reflects a new corporate attitude toward disciplined expansion and toward growth in areas Microsoft knows how to compete. With Microsoft freeing Bungee (though retaining a game development contract governing Halo licensing, which presumably rewards Microsoft well), killing MSN Music (and presumably its customers' ability to continue listening to music bought there on any subsequently-bought hardware, see EFF letter on the subject; compare Yahoo and Google refunding their customers on store closure and death of support for content with orphaned DRM), shedding Razorfish, and otherwise divesting itself of businesses that once seemed integral parts of Microsoft's push toward global domination of every facet of the public's electronic lives, one wonders whether Microsoft is refining its push, capitulating, or simply has no idea at all what it is doing.

Whatever it is doing, it evidently can't follow Bill Gates' instructions.

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