As Microsoft plays catch-up in smartphones and tablets, it woos developers at its Build conference this week to write apps that work on all of its platforms.
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One Microsoft Way. The irony dripping from the address of the technology giant's headquarters never fails to tease a smile out of me.
In days gone by, the second entendre was more a commentary on the company's heavy-handed reign over the software world. You know, like One Microsoft Way or the highway.
That's a stark contrast to the scene today at One Microsoft Way. The company is playing catch-up in the two crucial personal electronic device markets, and must now court developers to write apps that work on its platforms.
Toward that end, the company is pitching One Microsoft Way as a benefit to developers. With so much commonality across the new Windows platforms, developers can leverage their investment by stretching apps across Windows smartphones, tablets and PCs.
That's the message the company is serving to developers at the company's Build conference, which is being held this week on campus at One Microsoft Way. During his keynote address, CEO Steve Ballmer signed into his own SkyDrive account and ran all his own demos as he tried to convince developers how great life can be for consumers who opt for an all-Windows quiver of devices.
And, of course, he underscored how profitable things could be for developers who exploit the write-once-sell-thrice opportunity.
It's a huge opportunity, Ballmer asserted. Of course, that's only if developers buy into the One Microsoft Way pitch. If they don't, then Microsoft will have a classic chicken-and-egg problem on its hands.
The PC market may have stalled, but it's the only appreciable base of systems Microsoft can point to as its own. By Ballmer's accounting, there are 670 million Windows systems now in use that could be upgraded to Windows 8, and another 400 million Windows 8 PCs he says will ship next year. Build apps for Windows, he told developers, and the owners of all those systems could be your customers.
Without those units, then Windows barely registers. Windows' share lags far behind the leaders in the smartphone segment. And it hasn't even finished its first week in the tablet market.
So how viable, then, is the One Microsoft Way model?
For starters, I should say that it's not entirely true that an application written for, say, a Windows Phone 8 device will just work on Windows 8 PCs and RT tablets. But there are enough common building blocks underneath each OS that the promise not too far off.
Second, and more important, there is a growing body of analysis that says consumers are amassing a collection of displays because they do different things on each of them. Yes, there is overlap. If you want to watch a full-length movie on an airplane, you'll probably pull out your tablet or laptop. But if you're home, you'd more likely turn to the 50-incher.
I like to call smartphones the first responders, because they're most likely with you when you want to connect. But it's rarely the device used for more detailed work or play.
There are opportunities for those who understand the inter-relationships between the information in our lives and how we interact with it across our growing collection of devices. And while the One Microsoft Way isn't perfect, it is a more complete picture than what Apple and Google are serving up at the moment.
So for now, at least, developers are listening. Maybe it's because there's enough substance behind the pitch to draw them in. Maybe it's due to their recent frustrations with the other two guys. Or maybe it's because Microsoft is loading them all up with free Surface tablets, Lumia 920 smartphones and 100 GB SkyDrive accounts. (Reporters and analysts didn't get the gifts.)
Whatever the reason, there's enough here to believe that, for now at least, One Microsoft Way isn't the Wrong Way.