Microsoft is at a crossroads.

Not only is the corporation in search of a new CEO, but
given that the next chief executive will not be drawn from its early management
team, as Steve Ballmer was, Microsoft is headed for an entirely new, as yet
unscripted, phase in its development.

On October 1, Reuters
that three of Microsoft’s top 20 investors are calling on
Bill Gates’ ouster as chairman. While Wall Street’s current disenchantment with
the company is not news, this is arguably one of the most important reports
about Microsoft for this year so far. Their point: the influence that Gates has
on the company needs to be set aside for its future success.

Beyond that, you have to wonder whether this would have
happened just five years ago. They are, after all, talking about Bill Gates.


There are some very strong signals from within Microsoft
that a major overhaul is necessary. The Wall Street Journal last month
published an
with lead independent director John Thompson, who is one
of the few prominent African American tech executives.

Disputing the belief that investor pressure lead to Steve
Ballmer’s retirement, Thompson said that he realized that an overhaul could
take up to five to seven years, longer than he planned to remain CEO.

“I give Steve an enormous amount of credit for saying,
‘look, while it may not be the best time to do this from the vantage point of
all of that’s going on, it is, in fact, the best time to do this for the
long-term health of Microsoft,'” Thompson said in the article.


One of the things the Microsoft and its new CEO will no
doubt have to address is the fallout in its own community from its
recently-announced decisions to discontinue
both TechNet
and its top-tier Certification

This summer’s announced cancellation of TechNet generated
considerable anger among IT professionals, who had inexpensive access to
Microsoft’s enterprise software for over a decade.

On August 30—ahead of a long Labor Day weekend—Microsoft
sent an email stating that it would retire its Masters level certification
exams, effective October 1, 2013. This caught many off-guard, and not
surprisingly produced a sustained chorus of protest.

“The community as a
whole,” writes
Paul Robichaux
in an email, “seems to be experiencing perfectly
normal feelings of skepticism towards Microsoft’s motives, anger at the clumsy
way the announcement was handled, distrust of Microsoft’s claims of
transparency, uncertainty at what should happen next, and a generalized sense
of betrayal.”

Himself an MCM (Microsoft Certification Masters) instructor
since the first rotation in 2007, Paul explains that Microsoft left candidates
without an upgrade path: “In other words, if you are MCM for Exchange 2010, you
now have no way to get to MCM for Exchange 2013.” He adds that these “are
people who in some cases have invested upwards of $30K of their own money,” and
who now are seeing the value of the certification go “down to zero,” since
“Microsoft has very visibly shown that they do not value MCM as a credential.”

, a Microsoft MVP for eight years, writes in an email that
even though the company “seemed to try to improve their education offering,”
with the MCM announcement one month ago, the “reality is that Microsoft has not
had a clear strategic view with consistent education over a long time on their
Certification story.”

Regarding TechNet, Leguizamo asserts that Microsoft is “on
the fire line” for taking away “a perfectly legal, valid option for those
individual Microsoft enthusiasts that cannot afford MSDN, particularly in
economies in Asia, Africa or Latin America.”

Robichaux notes that “the product group folks I’ve talked to
in Lync and Exchange were just as surprised by the (MCM) announcement as the
rest of us,” adding that “I think there’s a recognition that MSL (Microsoft
Software Library) was solely responsible for this decision.”

Seeing the need for damage control, Robichaux says that “Microsoft
is taking some tentative steps to try to keep the various product-specific MCM
communities together, but I expect that community bonding to be driven more by
the community than elements of Microsoft.”

, a solutions architect for unified communications
environments based on Microsoft Lync, writes in an email that “there’s a massive disaffection about
quality and reliability of training and certification programs from IT pros.
Microsoft will have to work hard on a new program and it’s going to take time
before trust is re-established.”

On a more
positive note, Giombini says that MCM holders “still retain a top level
certification,” and that “this might potentially make them a closed elite group
to which no others can access now.”

Could this do lasting harm to Microsoft’s standing in its
own community? Leguizamo thinks so. “Microsoft as a key participant in the
industry cannot afford the luxury of making these mistakes.” Don’t overlook the
community, he says: “It is important that Microsoft realizes that it doesn’t
have strong relationships at the executive level,” and that “it is the IT
people that play the advocate roles within Microsoft’s target business in the

His advice to IT pros regarding a future MCM program is
succinct: “Wait for Microsoft to have a clear plan.” Don’t invest time and
money in a program “that is headed to nowhere.”

To regain both its credibility and former standing among the
community, Microsoft along with its future CEO will not only have to fully
acknowledge their mishandling and miscommunication of the MCM and TechNet
announcements. The corporation will have to put forth a serious and authentic
plan for a replacement of its top-level certification, and with that, address
the vacuum created by terminating TechNet.

Given the feelings and views expressed in the Microsoft
community, that might be a tough sell.