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4/12/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft's 5 Next Tests

Microsoft made progress during the past few weeks but still has important things to prove. For starters, think Start screen and wearables.

services, such as Skype and OneDrive. These efforts are a start, but they don't get the job done, especially as Microsoft makes more of its core products, such as Office, into platform-agnostic offerings.

The Surface 2 couldn't boost Microsoft's tablets to profitability. Perhaps a Surface Mini could do the trick?
The Surface 2 couldn't boost Microsoft's tablets to profitability. Perhaps a Surface Mini could do the trick?

Here's one possibility for a turnaround: the long-rumored Surface Mini. Reports have stated for more than a year that such a device is coming. Most recently, the website Neowin claimed, without citing sources, that the Surface Mini will launch later this year and feature revolutionary stylus support that could make the device a premier note-taking companion.

Microsoft's OneNote app is already an excellent way to take notes, company execs have referenced the potential of technologies such as e-ink, and Nadella promised earlier this month that hardware innovations are coming. Does all of that add up to a Surface Mini? Time will tell, but Microsoft's tablet line needs a jolt.

3. What's up with the Nokia purchase?
When Microsoft bought Nokia's device business, many considered it a necessary expense, pointing out that other OEMs had not only declined to support the mobile OS, but also spoken disparagingly about Microsoft's Windows strategy. But now that Windows Phone licenses are free and Microsoft has a slew of new hardware partners, one wonders in retrospect if the acquisition was necessary.

At Build, Nokia revealed a strategy focused on emerging, high-growth markets. Android devices are popular in such regions, but many of the cheapest options run only older versions of Google's mobile OS, and do not have access to newer features. Nokia sees an opportunity to provide a better experience at the base of the market, and then presumably work its way up.

It's a good plan -- but Microsoft surely has larger goals. Cortana will enter the saturated US field before debuting in the emerging markets that Nokia's targeting, so perhaps Microsoft will reveal a new high-end handset to show off its digital assistant? Or maybe Nokia will help Microsoft drive down Surface tablet costs, thanks to superior supply chain leverage and better economies of scale.

4. Can the Xbox beat low-cost set top boxes?
Despite the PlayStation 4's superior sales, Microsoft's Xbox One has exceeded expectations. But gamers aren't the only pathway to living room dominance -- and it's tough to know how many non-gamers will shell out $500 for a new console.

Yes, the Xbox One includes impressive TV integration, Skype, an Internet browser -- and soon, many of the same Modern apps that run on Windows. But Apple, Google, and Amazon offer many of the same capabilities for less money. Amazon's offering already features gaming, and Apple's and Google's products will reportedly gain similar perks. Perhaps Microsoft needs, as some online rumors have speculated, a budget Xbox line, one that keeps the Xbox One's interface and entertainment capabilities but omits the Blu-ray player and emphasis on hardcore gaming.

5. After missing mobile, will Microsoft score with wearables and the Internet of Things?
Retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer initially dismissed the appeal of mobile devices, and Microsoft has spent the last several years trying to correct for this mistake. Can Microsoft avoid repeating history?

Google is accelerating its plans for wearable devices. Is Microsoft planning to join the field?
Google is accelerating its plans for wearable devices. Is Microsoft planning to join the field?

One could argue that it already has; cloud technologies rank high among "next big thing" candidates, and Azure is as competitive as anything in the marketplace. Microsoft has also teased intentions for the Internet of Things (IoT), although except for an early look at "Windows for cars" and some broad allusions to big data and pervasive sensing, company execs haven't said much of substance.

Wearable devices represent a rapidly growing strand of IoT that Microsoft will inevitably join, sooner or later. Reports last year claimed the company was developing a Surface-branded smartwatch. Many leadership roles have changed since then, so it's possible that that product, if it ever existed, has been scrapped. More recent Windows wearable rumors have focused instead on a Google Glass competitor. Perhaps we'll see the smart bra that Microsoft researchers prototyped last year.

Emerging standards for hybrid clouds and converged datacenters promise to break vendors' proprietary hold. Also in the Lose The Lock-In issue of InformationWeek: The future datacenter will come in a neat package (free registration required).

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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/17/2014 | 10:50:42 AM
Re: About the XBoxOne
"If MS could work on this device they could conceiably get a windows machine in the front of every classroom, boardroom and office in the US."

That might be true. Apple TV has become more popular among schools and libraries because the product is easy to use and "cheap enough," even if it isn't the absolute cheapest. It's easy to mirror content from an iPad to a television, and I've talked to teachers (and a few businesses, but not as many) that use it for presentations. The device can obviously do more, but the benefit of simpler presentations seems to have sold a lot of people. I've seen many presenters fumble with an uncooperative projector, so I can see why this lone function might sway people.

Ecosystem limitations and UI differences aside, Xbox One offers Apple TV's benefits and more-- but without the attractive cost. Seems like there's room for Microsoft to produce two Xbox devices-- a souped-up one for console gamers and a cheaper option for general media users.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/17/2014 | 10:43:03 AM
Re: start screen
I think you're probably right that Microsoft expected much higher Win 8 adoption, and much less backlash from users.

As for leaving users in the cold... It was Sinofsky's teams that made the most radical decisions and produced the roughest version of the OS. At least at a leadership level, those teams have been largely disassembled. Myerson leads the OS efforts now, but he wasn't part of the team that removed the Start button and menu, or decided users should boot only to the Start screen, or who let the OS ship with such lousy first-party apps, and so on.

Myerson made the comment about the desktop only a couple weeks ago. My interpretation at the time was that he basically meant, "Look, the people who were running Windows the last few years were confusing. Let me be clear: We are not killing the desktop."

He didn't make the point about previous Windows leaders quite this bluntly-- but the point about the desktop was pretty unambiguous. I don't think we can second guess Myerson by pointing to decisions Sinofsky made a few years ago, under a different CEO and different operating structure, and when Myerson wasn't even part of the team. Also, Myerson went out of his way to address the issue. It was a keynote-- so no on was harassing him with questions, or putting pressure on him to say something he didn't want to say. It was scripted, part of the plan. The Ballmer-Sinofsky Microsoft botched Windows 8's release, no doubt. The Nadella-Myerson duo carries the burden of fixing some of these problems, but not the responsibility for creating them.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/17/2014 | 10:11:37 AM
Re: start screen
Microsoft is so committeed to the desktop it left desktop users completely out in the cold with Win8?  Microsoft knows a billion people use the desktop every day to get things done yet screwed them royal with Win8.  Even Win8.1Update1 still doesn't correct the massive pain inflicted by Microsoft so that Win7 is still the choice for most desktop users.  So to what end did Microsoft take this approach?  My guess is they thought a billion users would switch all at once to the modern UI putting great sums of money in their pocket.  They guessed wrong and now lick their wounds.  iOS and Android to well without a "desktop" but these are mobile touch OSs.  Eventually Microsoft will need to admit one OS is not for everything and Win9 will do that.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/16/2014 | 7:06:46 PM
Re: start screen
Hmm, while I see where you're coming from, I don't think Microsoft will ditch the desktop in Windows 9. Most if not all of its application efforts might involve Modern/Win RT apps, but as Windows 8.1 Update shows (and as the future addition of windowed Modern apps solidifies), Modern apps and the desktop aren't mutually exclusive. Terry Myerson went out of his way at Build to emphasize that Microsoft is committed to the desktop and knows that over 1 billion people use and like it. He runs their OSes now, so if anyone's able to speak authoritatively on this topic, it's him. Unless his plans include facing off with a bunch of pissed off customers in a few years, I don't think he would have offered this reassurance if the desktop were in jeopardy.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 10:48:34 PM
Re: Optimistic
Very good examples - Novell and Lotus all lost the big business due to a wrong decision from the beginning. For MS, I will sit back and keep my fingers crossed. MS is not the same as before, especially when Mr.Gates is still in charge. Its future growth depends on its agility and ability of innovation. But the good thing is that, Windows OS is still dominating. But MS cannot afford lose any further footprint.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 5:43:27 PM
Re: start screen

I'll admit its just a guess  Win8 is actually a "hybrid".  The Win8 updates are a temporatary measure to stay in the game. Win9 will have a "unified" user interface more likely totally based on Metro otherwise its still just Win7/8.  Think in terms of all applications operating in Metro mode from the Start/Metro screen. Done right Metro can work across the board for either touch or non-touch devices without the schizophrenic behavior of involving desktop mode. 

anon0909414853
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anon0909414853,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2014 | 5:37:00 PM
About the XBoxOne
You are absolutely right!  They need a simple machine that requires a smaller Kinect and can be not much bigger than an Apple TV.  I am not sure if that is possible but it would be FANTASTIC!.  I would like to network my tv's together.  I would like to join them to a domain in my school district and run Power Points off of them,  It would be nice if they communicated with surface devices or any tablets so we can use big TV's during presentations and trainings.  I can get almost an 80" TV for half the cost of a smart board.  If MS could work on this device they could conceiably get a windows machine in the front of every classroom, boardroom and office in the US.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 5:32:36 PM
Re: Optimistic
Novell was the number one work group network vendor but refused to support native IP insisting IPX was the better route meanwhile Microsoft took OS2's networking ability from IBM creating Lan Manager which suported IP.  By the time Novell added IP the contest was over.   WordPerfect incrediblely decided NOT to support Windows and so did Lotus.  Again, by the time these companies offered a Windows version both Word and Excel dominated well before Office came to market.  I don't think Microsofts fate is to disappear as these examples show how well Microsoft can catch up but there's something different about Microsoft this time around that makes me less confident because of the mistakes with Win8 and Xbox1, something the old Microsoft would never have done.
petey
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petey,
User Rank: Strategist
4/14/2014 | 4:58:49 PM
Re: Optimistic
I'm not sure what pre-WWW means, specifically. But you get some points for an attempted mock. No disrespect to Facebook but let's see if it's still around in 20 years. Microsoft has been around for awhile like them or hate them. My opinion is they are beginning to make some interesting moves, and it should be fascinating to watch them over the next 5 yrs. office on iPad has to be one of their most interesting moves but I like their cloud offerings too
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 4:45:25 PM
Re: start screen
I would like to know how you know that. That would be one of the worst moves MS could make.

Why did they put out 8.1 then? Just to pacify people?  I don't think so.

 

 
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