Today Microsoft released a couple of major announcements regarding the restructuring of their entire business. The complete One Microsoft email from Steve Ballmer along with an internal memo entitled Transforming Our Company are available online at Microsoft’s news center, but what does it all really mean? That’s actually a bit difficult to say; clearly times are changing and Microsoft needs to adapt to the new environment, and if we remove all of the buzzwords and business talk, that’s basically what the memo and email are about. Microsoft calls their new strategy the “devices and services chapter” of their business, which gives a clear indication of where they’re heading.

We’ve seen some of this already over the past year or so, in particular the Microsoft Surface and Surface Pro devices are a departure from the way Microsoft has done things in the past – though of course we had other hardware releases like the Xbox, Xbox 360, Zune, etc. We’ve discussed this in some of our reviews as well, where the traditional PC markets are losing ground to smartphones, tablets, and other devices. When companies like Apple and Google are regularly updating their operating systems, in particular iOS and Android, the old model of rolling out a new Windows operating system every several years is no longer sufficient. Depending on other companies for the hardware that properly showcases your platform can also be problematic when one of the most successful companies of the last few years (Apple Computer) controls everything from the top to bottom on their devices.

There’s also the factor of cost; when companies are getting Android OS for free, minus the groundwork required to get it running on your platform, charging $50 or $100 for Windows can be a barrier to adoption. When Microsoft talks about a shift towards devices and services, they are looking for new ways to monetize their business structure. The subscription model for Office 365 is one example of this; rather than owning a copy of office that you can use on one system, you instead pay $100 for the right to use Office 365 on up to five systems for an entire year. This sort of model has worked well for the antivirus companies not to mention subscription gaming services like World of WarCraft, EverQuest, etc., so why not try it for Office? I have to wonder if household subscriptions to Windows are next on the auction block.

One of the other topics that Microsoft gets into with their memo is the need for a consistent user experience across all of the devices people use on a daily basis. Right now, it’s not uncommon for people to have a smartphone, tablet, laptop and/or desktop, a TV set-top box, and maybe even a gaming console or two – and depending on how you are set up, each of those might have a different OS and a different user interface. Some people might not mind switching between the various user interfaces, but this is definitely something that I’ve heard Apple users mention as a benefit: getting a consistent experience across your whole electronic ecosystem. Apple doesn’t get it right in every case either, but I know people that have MacBook laptops, iPads/iPods and iPhones, Apple TV, iTunes, and an AirPort Extreme router, and they are willing to pay more for what they perceive as a better and easier overall experience.

Windows 8 was a step towards that same sort of ecosystem, trying to unify the experience on desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and the Xbox One; some might call it a misstep, but regardless Microsoft is making the effort. “We will strive for a single experience for everything in a person’s life that matters. One experience, one company, one set of learnings, one set of apps, and one personal library of entertainment, photos and information everywhere. One store for everything.” It’s an ambitious goal, and that sort of approach definitely won’t appeal to everyone [thoughts of Big Brother…]; exactly how well Microsoft does in realizing this goal is going to determine how successful this initiative ends up being.

One of the other thoughts I’ve heard increasingly over the past year or two is that while competition is in theory good for the consumer, too much competition can simply result in confusion. The Android smartphone and tablet offerings are good example of this; which version of Android are you running, and which SoC powers your device? There are huge droves of people that couldn't care less about the answer to either question; they just want everything to work properly. I’ve heard some people jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly) suggest that we would benefit if more than one of the current SoC companies simply “disappeared” – and we could say the same about some of the GPU and CPU vendors that make the cores that go into these SoCs. Again, Microsoft is in a position to help alleviate some of this confusion with their software and devices; whether they can manage to do this better than some of the others that have tried remains to be seen.

However you want to look at things, this is a pretty major attempt at changing the way Microsoft functions. Can actually pull this all off, or is it just so many words? Thankfully, most of us have the easy job of sitting on the sidelines and taking a “wait and see” approach. Steve Ballmer notes, “We have resolved many details of this org, but we still will have more work to do. Undoubtedly, as we involve more people there will be new issues and changes to our current thinking as well. Completing this process will take through the end of the calendar year as we figure things out and as we keep existing teams focused on current deliverables like Windows 8.1, Xbox One, Windows Phone, etc.”

Whatever happens to Microsoft over the coming year or two, these are exciting times for technology enthusiasts. Microsoft has been with us for 37 years now, and clearly they intend to stick around for the next 37 as well. Enjoy the ride!

Source: Microsoft News

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  • twtech - Saturday, July 13, 2013 - link

    The right way to do it would be to have one application/core, multiple interfaces. Desktop, phone, tablet, and 10-ft are all different use cases, with different types of input, and deserve different dedicated interfaces.

    There's no reason though why you couldn't have the same underlying core OS tech for all of those devices though. That's a good idea. But trying to force someone to use a phone interface on a desktop with a 30" monitor though is a terrible idea.
  • twtech - Saturday, July 13, 2013 - link

    I really want to get rid of Microsoft products. It's just that there are no viable alternatives.

    Linux is not there and may never get there as long as Linux developers continue to think it is reasonable to expect average people to enter in sequences of complex shell commands and modify configuration files in order to accomplish relatively basic tasks.

    MacOS is even worse than Windows in terms of going down a rabbit hole and getting stuck tied into one company's system with limited options.

    There's not really anything else available. Again, I would love to completely separate myself from Microsoft products, but it's still not an easy thing to do right now.
  • Calinou__ - Sunday, July 14, 2013 - link

    Linux is there. You're doing it wrong. Also, command line is part of life; deal with it. Hiding it is not a good thing. The only configuration file I had to edit (/etc/fstab) was to enable TRIM on my SSD. That is _not_ hard unless you're stupid.

    Oh, by the way, it's OS X, not Mac OS X, Mac being Apple's computer brand.
  • maximumGPU - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    "Linux is there."
    "Also, command line is part of life; deal with it."

    right on both counts, as evidenced by the massive adoption rate in the Linux user base every year.
  • lmcd - Monday, July 22, 2013 - link

    I'd say it is, given that I was able to stick my grandparents on a Linux machine (KDE) and they couldn't tell the difference until I told them. Ironically, they started having problems right after I told them. With things they had figured out successfully.
  • Thornik - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    > a consistent user experience across all of the devices

    Most stupid thing I ever heard. Like creating flying-running-swimming-jumping car.
    I understand when MS tries to avoid writing applications for every device, but as soon as these devices has different nature, it's IMPOSSIBLE to make "one fit all" UI. I don't think MS beliefs to itself.
  • Jaybus - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    I see the benefit in a UI that is familiar to people, but I am not certain it applies across all devices. All the rage is everything moving to a smartphone accessing SaaS apps. Well I don't see how anyone can be productive editing full page documents on a 4 inch widescreen. If people are editing full page Word / Excel documents on mobile devices then they must have far better eyes than I do and remarkably dexterous fingers for typing on a touchscreen. I call BS.
  • Notmyusualid - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    Wow, I don't know where to start with this one....

    $50 to $100 might be a barrier to adoption, but annual subscriptions to Office are easier to swallow?

    So, I have two laptops, one I decide to use more than the other, and just over a year later, when I have problems with one, I whip out the spare on the way to my meeting - but wait, it needs to sync like 'Steam', and gain further payment before I can use it? Now where did I put that Linux disk?

    I have to say I'm really not surprised. After the fowl taste that Win 8 left in my mouth (yet more bloat, more cpu usage at idle, larger OS footprint), not to mention the amount of work they spent removing the Start Menu, that everyone I know says they want there. With such a mental disconnect from their users such as that, I'd fire the entire research & marketing team.

    As an MCP I say this from the heart - MS reminds me of many governments, paid by us, depending on us, but always behaving in a manner that we don't like or agree with.

    If you don't agree with me, then where do you get your research from. I know of businesses in Denmark that have moved entirely over to Open Office. I know of Asian high-street computer stores selling their machines with Linux, a first for my eyes.

    So despite being pro Windows for many years, I say to you Microsoft, begin subscriptions for Windows, and watch yourself sink like rock.

    They even killed Forefront Threat Management Gateway, a very useful product, despite a campaign calling for them not to do so.

    *shakes head in disbelief*

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