When Warren Buffet offers to throw thirty billion dollars into a charity even someone like Bill Gates has to pay attention -and one result is that Ray Ozzie, of Lotus Notes and Groove Networks fame, is now the proclaimed heir apparent to the "Chief Software Architect" title at Microsoft.
That should make a difference - if for no other reason than that Gates has never been either a visionary or programmer and Ozzie is both.
So assuming that Ozzie survives the infighting, Gates makes good on his commitment to reducing his grip on the reins, and nothing dramatically unexpected happens, what can we expect?
The man's career long focus has been on ways of getting people together -the exact opposite of the wintel PC's tendency to isolate people. The stuff he's put his heart and soul into, whether at Lotus or at Groove, has been PC focused for sales reasons but conceptualized for centralized systems with other people pasting on distributed update and the like afterwards.
So if you were Ozzie, where would your focus be? On what you know, right? same as before: on making communications enabling tools -i.e. these days, on desktop and telecom integration.
If so, what would your first step be? I know what I'd do: re-invention is slow, expensive, and unreliable, so in his place I'd look at licensing MacOS X on openBSD as the foundation for the next generation Microsoft OS - with the 10.5 "Leopard" telephony support already built in. Then I'd do a "peace in our time" deal with IBM to put it on cell - thus making the next generation PC both very fast and completely consistent, at the hardware, software, and interfaces levels with next generation super computers, playstations, televisions, and telecompression gear.
Linux, focused on x86, wouldn't be competitive with Microsoft supported BSD for server functions; Apple, stuck on Intel(!), wouldn't be competitive with Microsoft on Cell for performance or security, and IBM would be left in the cold again, free to compete with Microsoft -but on Microsoft's terms and using Microsoft's software.