Software // Enterprise Applications
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4/7/2014
11:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Does Microsoft Have Its Mojo Back?

Will free Windows licenses, the Internet of Things, Cortana, and other announcements put Microsoft back on the right track?

was a big mark against the platform, but Cortana meets, and arguably exceeds, the standard set by competitors such as Siri and Google Now.

The app isn't perfect. At Build, I asked Cortana for directions to Berkeley, which is about half an hour's drive from the conference's San Francisco venue. The app directed me to a town 3,000 miles away. Given that Cortana draws inferences from the user's location, one would expect it to know which Berkeley I meant.

Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant, is one of several new Windows Phone 8.1 features
Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant, is one of several
new Windows Phone 8.1 features

But Cortana projects as much personality as a beta as competitors do after years of development. It also features a more sophisticated backend than most, if not all, rivals, as well as hooks that let Cortana interact with other apps.

Cortana also represents some vindication for Ballmer, whose critics often argued that Bing was a misguided grab for consumer mindshare. For years, these critics seemed to have a point; Microsoft's search engine hemorrhaged money, a gnat buzzing in the ear of Google's unfazed bull. But Bing is more than a search engine; it's also the foundation for not only Cortana's intelligence, but also a growing breed of new, context-aware apps. Some of its old critics are starting to look short-sighted.

5. Universal Apps could close the app gap.
Mobile developers still prioritize iOS and Android, but Microsoft's new Universal Apps could change that. App makers can now use one set of code to create apps optimized for every kind of Windows device -- even the Xbox. Moreover, developers have the option to make a single app purchase transferrable across all devices; that is, if you buy an app for your phone, you might get it for your tablet and PC for free.

Microsoft also demonstrated ways to reuse old code in new apps and to harness Windows development tools to make iOS and Android products. Heading into Build, Microsoft needed to keep longtime Windows developers invested, attract new interest from the mobile and gaming crowds, and position Azure as the cross-platform cloud of choice. Thanks to the aforementioned moves, the company made progress on all of these fronts.

6. Quality, budget-priced Windows Phone 8.1 devices could stand out in high-growth emerging markets.
With Cortana, the new Action Center, several pleasing aesthetic tweaks, and other new features, Windows Phone 8.1 is a definite improvement. Nokia made clear at Build that it intends to cut into Android's base by extending premium features to down-market devices. Cheap Android phones tend to offer poor experiences, and Apple simply doesn't compete in the budget market, so Microsoft has an opportunity.

Microsoft has attracted praise for these moves.

Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel, said in an email interview that Microsoft's new licensing model will help it align with the "white box" OEM vendors who've driven Android growth, for example, and

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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JayMan1
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JayMan1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/12/2014 | 11:40:17 AM
Re: Implying that MSFT ever had any Mojo
That revenue came completely from the servers and Azure side, which was ironically (or not) run by Nadella in his previous role.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
4/11/2014 | 10:47:02 PM
Who Believes They Have Mojo?
The question isn't whether or not Microsoft has Mojo, it's who believes they have mojo?  I like my Dell VP8 Win 8 tablet but it doesn't just work as it should (still suffers from open hardware and bad device drivers).  Of course for $219, maybe I shouldn't expect perfection but I won't buy another (Dell or Win tablet).  Why?  I'm tired of waiting for device driver fixes and apps.  Now Microsoft has provided a chief rival with a version of it's own flagship product while I'm stuck using an interface that doesn't really work without a mouse.  If that doesn't say it all, what else does?

 

There just doesn't seem to be energy around Windows anymore.  My company just had an internal hackathon in which I was fortunate enough to participate.  No team built a Windows mobile, tablet or desktop app.  We all built Android and iOS apps.  Although there were a lot of Windows laptops, there were just as many Macs and and no Microsoft software was used to build or serve anything.  Linux servers and open source middleware.  Literally in the span of a few years, Microsoft seems forgotten by new developers.  Sure there are still plenty of older folks using Microsoft stuff but it isn't what leading talent cares about.  It feels so legacy and left out of the recnt mobile revolution.

 

Now I'm attending a software dev event and they gave everyone iPads to use during the event unless, you guessed it, you had your own iPad or Android tablet.  No Windows app and as usual, my Win tablet looks like a fifth wheel on a sports car.

 

What baffles me is the money Microsoft reportedly spends on R&D.  Where is the market leading innovation resulting from the billions invested every years?  It's almost as if Microsoft cannot even keep up by following others, much less lead.

There also seems to be some karma at work.  People seem to shudder at the thought of using Microsoft.  It's like they finally feel freedom and don't trust them after years of questionable practices and results.

 
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
4/8/2014 | 2:01:47 PM
Re: Windows 8: best supporting OS
@ Shane
"Give Cortana Scarlett Johansson's voice. Game changer."
Indeed. :) They will also need to rename Cortana to Samantha, right? I'm all for it. As long as she doesn't leave with SirI and other assistants.
But the way, the new Start menu looks neat and useful, doesn't it?
Charlie Babcock
IW Pick
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 6:33:42 PM
Why Windows has become more like open source
Not to crow or anything, but back in January 2009, InformationWeek predicted: "Why Windows Must Go Open Source." We didn't claim Windows would become an open source project but that free versions would emerge to keep developers, particularly mobile developers, engaged with the platform, in the face of open source competition. And according to Michael Endler's point number one, that just beceme true. Steve Ballmer might have enjoyed greater longevity, if only he'd read the piece. http://www.informationweek.com/software/operating-systems/why-windows-must-go-open-source/d/d-id/1076104
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 5:26:29 PM
Re: Implying that MSFT ever had any Mojo
"...and then wonder why nothing is selling"? Microsoft posted record revenue of $24.52 billion in its most recent quarter, squeaking out an operating profit of $7.97 billion. So it's selling a few knick-knacks here and there. Microsoft certainly isn't the hottest tech company on the planet -- we'd all like to see it innovate more -- but it still knows how to make money. 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 4:39:08 PM
Re: Implying that MSFT ever had any Mojo
I doubt Microsoft can regain its former dominance but that's for the best. The company more or less rested on its laurels for two decades while the industry changed around it. Nadella appears to have positioned Microsoft to thrive in the new reality. At least Microsoft will get to see Apple suffer through the same diminuation of dominion as cedes its leadership position to Google for a few years, before the game of music chairs continues.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 2:32:51 PM
Re: Implying that MSFT ever had any Mojo
"so hopefully their future is now brighter - but not in simple terms of sales and people feeling like they are forced to use the stuff - but in their producing great products people want to use."

Semantics around the word "mojo" aside, I think this is the key point. ;)

Microsoft still faces problems-- Windows XP, Surface, etc. But before Build, it faced even more problems: old developer-new developer balance; Windows versus cross-platform; license revenue versus cloud services revenue; feature deficiency on mobile phones; developer hesitancy to re-write apps for different Windows platforms; no Office on iPad; price and feature competition from AWS and Google; and so on.

Nadella didn't completely solve this longer list of problems, but he did a lot to point the ship in the right direction. The last parts of Ballmer's tenure were marred by his hesitancy to embrace what works now, rather than what worked once upon a time. His strategies advocated partial solutions (were this not the case, Nadella, in his former role, wouldn't have led the Azure to such rapid growth) that were sabotaged by Windows protectivism. Nadella still has work to do, but I think he's justified new optimism.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 2:15:55 PM
Re: Windows 8: best supporting OS
Give Cortana Scarlett Johansson's voice. Game changer.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 2:04:45 PM
Re: Windows 8: best supporting OS
Great points, Shane.


Regarding marketing-- I think Microsoft's Windows ads have gotten much better lately. It's the recent Samsung ads that annoy me. But you're right: Microsoft has some momentum that could translate to consumer traction, and with Windows Phone 8.1 about to launch with new features and new hardware, Nadella will face pressure not to repeat the poor messaging that sometimes characterized the Ballmer years.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
4/7/2014 | 1:59:20 PM
Windows 8: best supporting OS
The challenge for Microsoft is to keep up the momentum as a cross-platform cloud/mobile champ without letting Windows 8.1 fall off the map. It's clear Windows OS is transitioning to a supporting role. But with BlackBerry out of the picture, Windows can be a solid third option on smartphones and tablets. Cortana, free Windows licenses (which should reduce phone prices), and the Univeral Apps program for developers put the company in a position to finally get some consumer attention. As long as they don't screw it up with lousy marketing as they did repeatedly in the Ballmer era.
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