VMWare’s Hidden Competition Strategy Executive, Charles Fitzgerald

This week was a lot of face to face networking and not much time on the Internet and blogging. One of the nuggets of data found is what happened to Microsoft’s Charles Fitzgerald, a general manager who was a big thinker in planning Microsoft’s competitive strategy. As Mary Jo Foley writes.

Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft’s General Manager of Platform Strategy, is leaving the company to join a startup.

Fitzgerald was Microsoft’s primary spokesperson for Microsoft Java back in 1996. Ever since, he’s been helping Microsoft position itself against its enterprise competitors. On Fitzgerald’s Platformonomics blog, he skewered regularly IBM, Sun, Oracle, Google and other Microsoft competitors.

Most recently, Fitzgerald was focused on explaining Microsoft’s Software+Services strategy to the press and analyst masses. While he was mostly a behind-the-scenes strategist, Microsoft trotted out Fitzgerald whenever the company needed to justify a new strategy/product plan or set the big-picture scene for company critics.

Microsoft officials confirmed that Fitzgerald will be leaving Microsoft “shortly” and declined to name the startup he will be joining. I e-mailed Fitzgerald, asking him about his decision to leave Microsoft. If and when he responds (not holding my breath here), I’ll add his comments.

One friend said Charles joined Pi Corp, Paul Maritz’s company one week before it was acquired by EMC, reporting directly to Paul. Charles had to have known he was joining EMC’s cloud computing efforts, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he know at the time that there were plans to make big changes at VMware (NYSE: VMW) like Paul’s CEO role.

Add up Charles Platform Strategy skills, his lack of visibility to the external world, and VMware’s changes, I place bets he is Paul Martiz’s Competition Strategy Executive. Paul Maritz’s public statements of having no fear of competing against Microsoft is backed by a trusted executive he has planning the strategy.

How good is Paul Maritz?  Valleywag has a post.

Once a high-flyer at Microsoft, Maritz was ousted in one of the software giant's typically obscure internecine battles back in 2000. Since then, he's quietly stewed in exile, starting a small software company which was bought by EMC, VMware's parent.

A lucky break for EMC to have Maritz on its bench. Ignore his cuddly-programmer looks; he is fearsome, and deservedly hated by enemies. Antitrust superlawyer David Boies couldn't make a dent in Maritz's armor when the executive took the stand in Microsoft's 1990s antitrust trial. VMware is up for a bruising battle with Microsoft for its software niche, which involves tools to let a computer server act like several separate ones — but I'm thinking Microsoft is the one we should feel sorry for.

Maritz's generation of leaders has mostly retired at Microsoft, yet most of their replacements' freshly scrubbed faces are still familiar to him. He knows all of Microsoft's dirty tricks, and he will enjoy serving them back at the young ones he once taught them to. This will be fun.

Take 2 executives who were frustrated at Microsoft and put them together in an opportunity to compete, and watch out.  Microsoft now not only has to compete on technical and marketing with VMware, they need to compete against their executive team on strategy.

I’ve searched for Charles’s presence in VMware, but he is hidden which means either he is busy inside VMware or my facts are wrong. If I had to place a bet, Charles is staying under the radar not telling anyone what he is planning at VMware.

Update 9:19a, Aug 7, 2008.

I missed Mary Jo’s post that had the tip of Charles at PiCorp.

According to a few different sources who asked not to be named, Maritz has hired Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft’s former head of Platform Strategy, to work at Smart Desktop, a division of Martiz’s Pi Corp.

Fitzgerald resigned from Microsoft in January 2008 and neither Microsoft nor Fitzgerald himself would comment on where he was going.

(I tried contacting Smart Desktop to see if Fitzgerald was hired, to no avail. I also tried e-mailing Fitzgerald, but so far, no reply.)