Microsoft’s Goal for 2014 – Don’t Die

It’s a lofty goal. It’s one I hope they succeed at.

You know, I had a quick thought – Microsoft is this year’s RIM. What I mean is, everyone knows that Blackberry is on its way out. It might take them a few more years to die, but unless something really horrible and press-worthy happens, they’re pretty much done. The bulk of the IT press has moved on to other, more interesting targets subjects.

However that doesn’t mean that Microsoft isn’t doing its best to try to stay relevant. Whether or not they succeed still remains to be seen; but I hope they succeed. The company is too deep into enterprise. They’ve got their fingers too deeply into the way I work and into the tools I use on a daily basis to get things done. While there are a few decent Microsoft Office alternatives out there, I don’t know of any [real] Windows alternatives that are worth seriously exploring at this time.

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I love OS X. It’s my OS of choice; but I don’t know of many organizations that deploy it in the enterprise. At least I’ve never been part of one. The same can be said of Linux. Both of these are awesome consumer alternatives, but when it comes to getting things done at the office, it’s Windows or nothing for many companies.

This being the case, my good friend, Preston Gralla had an interesting column. He’s wondering if after Windows 8.1, which was a free update to all Windows 8 users, and Windows 8.1 Spring Update (or whatever they’re really going to call Windows 8.1 Update 1), if Windows will be free at each client endpoint or not. Many Linux distributions are free for home use, and OS X is also free. Preston asks a good question regarding Windows. Will all versions of Windows also be free?

According to Preston (and, honestly, I happen to agree with him) – probably not. Windows endpoint licensing is still a very big business for Microsoft – $4.1 and $4.3 billion in the quarter ending in March 2014. That’s a huge amount of revenue that Microsoft would be giving up if it made Windows free. An ad-based OS based on Bing and sales of Microsoft Services won’t make up for that in a year, let alone in a quarter. Don’t count on a free desktop version of Windows any time in the future.

Updates, Service Packs, yes…perhaps. But full desktop licenses..? Not likely gonna happen. Microsoft may pass on the licensing fees for Windows Phone and perhaps low end Windows tablets (those in the < $250 range). Microsoft doesn’t make a lot of money on Windows Phone and wants to jump start sales of Windows 8 (read Windows RT-based) tablets. They won’t be leaving a lot of money on the table related to those and could conceivably write off those licensing fees to cost of doing business. However, I don’t see Microsoft leaving their mac-daddy money for Desktop Windows licensing on the table. It’s too lucrative a business for Microsoft to abandon that level of revenue to the cost of doing business.

Now, about the RIM analogy… yeah, Microsoft has to do something to help stimulate business. PC Sales are really falling off; and they are desperately trying to find a way to bring people’s money out of mothballs and to a bank account near them.

PC usage is being abandoned for tablets and smartphones. Both Android and iOS are doing well in this new computing space because casual users can spend small amounts of money and still get the basic computing experience – mail, social networking, web browsing – in a small, light, very portable form factor that doesn’t cost as much as a PC.

Microsoft pretty much has the enterprise market fairly well in hand…at least for now. The consumer market where tablets and smartphones are really taking over the computing experience is where they are having the most trouble. They need to figure out how to capture a decent amount of market share here, or they’re going to face further revenue problems. BYOD and CoIT movements are very popular and businesses are making a serious dent into Microsoft’s enterprise market. With basically no presence in the mobile computing market (i.e. the market that many consumers are embracing for their computing experience) the amount of shrinking PC sales overall, and with CoIT/BYOD intruding on what has historically been a solid Microsoft market, Microsoft has to act and act quickly.

If they don’t, they could see themselves exiting the market entirely; and that would be very unfortunate.

No other desktop computing platform commands the level of support that Windows does. Most other mobile computing platforms – even though they can stand on their own – have a symbiotic relationship with what can be considered their desktop counterpart. I hate to beat a dead horse here – Ballmer’s already been replaced by Satya Nadella – but Microsoft’s failure to perform strongly in the mobile market is becoming a bigger and bigger mistake every day.

Nadella needs to get someone with a clear mobile computing vision in place over at Microsoft and he needs to get them in place and moving Microsoft’s mobile platform moving immediately. Without a solid mobile vision, Microsoft is going to face a really tough road in the future. They’re a LOT bigger than RIM/Blackberry, and having the same thing happen to them that happened to Blackberry is going to be, at least I think, nearly unrecoverable not only for Microsoft, but for the computing industry as a whole. Microsoft is too big to die. They have too big of a shareholder base…too big of a consumer and enterprise user base to be allowed to fail.

However, I don’t see anyone on Nadella’s SLT – Senior Leadership Team – with a clear and credible mobile computing vision right now. Windows Phone is and has been a marketing train wreck since 2006 (when it was still Windows Mobile). Microsoft Surface Pro tablets are ok, but the dual MetroUI/ ModernUI and Desktop interfaces need to be rethought and reworked. It might be VERY anti-Microsoft to totally admit defeat and separate the two, but it might be the only thing left to Microsoft at this point that will allow them to move forward.

Combine Windows Phone and Windows Tablet into a single OS (much like iOS is) and leave desktop Windows to its own devices. Market the hell out of mobile computing. Get units in the hands of end users. Make them affordable, high quality and easy to update. Hell, give them away with the subscription of Office 365 if you have to; but do something and do something serious and soon.

If you don’t, consumers may be happy to leave One Windows at the office and leave home computing to iOS and Android, where they’re much happier and the update, upgrade and hardware cycles are familiar, easy and well established.

What do you think? Am I totally off my nut? Is it premature to compare Microsoft to hot mess that Blackberry is, or are they kissing cousins? Why don’t you join me in the discussion area and give me your thoughts on it all?

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  • Waris

    “A clear mobile computing vision”, for sure, but however, it might be too late. Apple and Google dominate the marketvery strongly with their operating Systems, I can’t see how Microsoft should get a pertinent market share next years.

    Is Microsoft Office the key? No, it isn’t. For sure, MSO was / is the standard office suite which most users privately and / or professionally used to work with, and Word, Excel, and PowerPoint formats are defacto worldwide standard. But in the meantime on the mobile market, in absence of MSO, other office suites could establish.

    E.g. SoftMaker Office Mobile for Android (or TextMaker Mobile, PlanMaker Mobile, Presentations Mobile as single apps) opens/saves all kinds of MSO formats faithfully (in contrast to others), it is very feature-packed – and cheap. Why should any user of such an office suite buy a Microsoft Phone or Tablet just because of Microsoft Office? Or buy an expensive version of MSO for Android in the future? No one will.

    • Christopher Spera

      EXACTLY. and I think Microsoft finally got that through their heads today with the release of Office for iPad… Granted, its about 2-3 years LATE to the show, but they did finally leave the Windows first, Windows only sort of mentality behind…

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