Microsoft Doubles Down on the Open Future

I’ve been hinting at a broader theme I’ve noticed surrounding Microsoft. Of all the platform companies, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft is the one who is going all in with cross-platform solutions and taking a break down the walled garden approach. Fascinatingly, this may be the very thing that positions them best for the future vs. all other platform competitors.

It’s important to understand that Microsoft is also building not just platforms like Windows and Azure, but also the picks and axes (tools and technologies) to enable the future. But, it is important to know Microsoft is focused on the platform of the future. During the opening moments of the BUILD 2019 keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said something incredibly important that gives us the key context to Microsoft’s platform vision. Nadella said, “we are building Azure to be the world’s computer.” Note the language, not Microsoft’s computer, or their customer’s computer but the world’s computer.

Engrained in that language is the idea that Azure is a platform for people to build the next generation Internet upon. This extends beyond but does include apps, into things like mixed/augmented reality, machine learning, AI, robotics, computer interfaces (gestures and speech) and much more. In a world that seems to be diverting to closed ecosystems, Microsoft is all in on being more open than ever, and that may make competing with them more difficult.

I first started to hint at this openness when I wrote about HoloLens 2. The most impressive part of the demonstration I received was not just the HoloLens 2 experience, but that right next to me were people with an iPhone and Android phone using their phones to see the same thing I was in augmented reality. It was then it hit me that Microsoft is not out to create walls but to make sure anyone using their services to build and consume will not run up against any walls ever again.

Microsoft understands their competition wants to keep some, or all, of their ecosystem, closed. However, their platform competition doesn’t exclude Microsoft from embracing competing platforms also, and the HoloLens 2 example makes this clear. A developer can use the Azure holographic development framework and write one augmented reality and create one augmented reality experience that can run on any platform. This was a clear sign to me Microsoft will embrace and extend competing ecosystems as much as they can, and that will end up being a very attractive value proposition for developers.

At BUILD yesterday, Microsoft continued to show their willingness to embrace competing platforms for their own advantage. Whether it was fully embracing Linux, or the new Windows Explorer running on Google’s Chromium framework, Microsoft is using its competition to its advantage for tools, apps, and services and working to make Azure the background for future app development for any platform.

Lessons Learned from Missing Mobile
There are many reasons Microsoft missed the smartphone platform. One of them was their abuse of a dominant position with their partners and an overly too controlling posture with their platform. It seems that was a lesson learned as Microsoft is actually taking a much more open approach today with regard to Azure and the Azure development tools and Microsoft services which run on Azure. All of which are far more open by definition than Windows ever was.

In missing the smartphone platform battle, Microsoft eventually realized the best strategy was to embrace Android and iOS with their apps, services, and developer frameworks, and as a result, it set them up for the cloud platform future. Missing mobile may have been the best thing for Microsoft when it comes to their future and be better positioned to catch the next wave of computing.

The good news is, this new and invigorated Microsoft seems to now understand the playbook and the company has fully bought into the strategy.

The Intelligent Cloud vs. the Intelligent Device
As we think about Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple, I think it is worth pointing out again the age-old debate of intelligent clouds vs. intelligent devices. Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are focusing more on the intelligent cloud and less on the intelligent device. Where Apple is entirely focused on the intelligent device. It’s tough to say which one is good or bad, but that it is notable the differences in approach from companies building intelligent cloud platforms and Apple building an intelligent device platform.

Remembering that developers control the fate of all these companies, the idea that Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are enabling developers to create software for the intelligent cloud, that is also free of walled gardens, is interesting to keep in the back of our mind. Developers will look for scale, and these platforms that truly provide a write once run everywhere solution may end up being the most economically sensible thing for them to do. With Apple developers write software for Apple. With Microsoft developers can write software for every platform. This seems significant.

There is nothing wrong with Apple’s intelligent device strategy. The only concern I have is Apple’s developer platform limits developers to iOS and the future of Apple’s software platforms. The world seems to be moving more to cloud-centric platforms that enable the software to run on every platform, and if developers start to commit more effort to that strategy, then Apple is just another platform for their apps not THE platform for their apps. There is a significant difference between the two. Apple has benefited from being blessed by their developers, and there is a concern a more open world gives developers more opportunity to distribute their software and services.

The battle to watch is for the next development platform. I still tend to believe the cloud platforms will be the ones the future of software and services are developed upon and how Amazon, Google, and Microsoft battle this out is fascinating. As of now, I still feel Microsoft is taking the most open approach of the three and something in me senses that will yield the most fruit.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *