Despite Microsoft's leadership problems and Windows 8 struggles, there are still huge opportunities for partners and customers.
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For all the doomsday headlines, there is much to celebrate about Microsoft lately. But in other cases, yes, it's reasonable to have skepticism about its direction.
As both a Microsoft partner and industry watchdog, I thought it appropriate to share some glass-half-full, glass-half-empty observations from the trenches.
Glass Half Empty
There are currently a number of notable "empties" in the Microsoft ecosystem. It's important to note that what one sees as half empty others might see as half full. But here are examples of what I consider empties.
-- Ballmer. Microsoft is a company presently in search of a CEO successor to Steve Ballmer. Interestingly, while a CEO departure is typically thought of as a low point, Microsoft's stock price did jump up 7%, or close to a billion, upon the announcement of Ballmer's resignation. However, there is a void in place at a time when direction and leadership is critical for the company.
-- Windows 8.1. While Windows 8.1 is certainly a welcome improvement over Windows 8, there are a number of product features that remain a bit clunky. Windows 8.1 has some nice features such as the Start button, groupings of modern apps, improved search and SkyDrive integration. But there are two areas in particular that require further investment. First, the interface must be fine-tuned to make it more intuitive. There are still too many scenarios where one has to ask: Where do I go to do something? Try doing a search for "printers" and see what you get. Not much!
Second, the volume of apps readily available in the marketplace for Windows is still not great. With all of the dollars that Microsoft has in its coffers, more incentives should be offered to partners to get them developing Windows 8 apps. After going with a Nokia Windows 8 phone, I returned to the iPhone due to the lack of quality apps.
-- The cloud. For a company with a heritage firmly entrenched in the "un-cloud", its 180-degree turn to the cloud is a massive switch and perceived as disruptive for organizations continuing to invest in their own hardware. I am a fan of the cloud and we see organizations moving to it. However, most of the organizations we deal with -- typically global or national -- remain fully vested in on-premises technology with a growing interest in an on-premises/cloud hybrid approach.
In truth, Microsoft is really the only game in town that spans both worlds; however, its relentless push to the cloud overshadows the reality of a hybrid story (i.e., Microsoft team members are heavily compensated on cloud sales rather than on-premises, and this influences the messaging).