The One Thing I Want to See from Microsoft

Ben Bajarin / June 13th, 2012

I have been following the news coming out of Microsoft’s TechEd conference closely. I was scheduled to attend the event but family circumstances altered my plan. There are a host of things that are of interest to me regarding Windows 8. Not everything I am interested in will be addressed until much closer to launch but it has been interesting to see the major messages around their next major software release at their TechEd conference.

The more I study the trends in the industry the more I am convinced that Microsoft’s future depends on them becoming a hardware agnostic software company. Throughout most of Microsoft’s history, all their major innovations and value have been strictly limited to companies who license their software platform Windows. This worked in a Windows dominated world but with the role of smartphones, tablets, and even shifting tides in notebooks / desktops, it is clearly no longer a Windows dominated world. I don’t personally believe we will see a Windows dominated world again the way we did as the computing industry was maturing.

Related: Why History Won’t Repeat Itself

If this is true then the market will support a multitude of software platforms. Which means for a company like Microsoft the key strategy should be to innovate through software for all hardware platforms.

The first obvious move could mean to bring Office to platforms like iOS, Android, and perhaps RIM IF they make a comeback. Reports have come out about Office for iPad and I hope they are true. Microsoft is committed to Office and it would be wise for them to re-envision office for every software platform. When Microsoft began taking the Mac and OS X seriously they brought office to the Mac in a relevant way and did not just port the Windows version. I believe they should do the same thing for iOS, Android, and perhaps Blackberry 10 if it gains traction.

But the thing I would really like to see from Microsoft is something new. Something not Windows and something not Office for personal computing. Microsoft’s innovations have revolved around Windows and Office but I wonder what is beyond. I’d like to see new software, for the new personal computing era, created by Microsoft.

Take for example Apple’s iLife suite of software. It blows my mind that Microsoft has not felt compelled to solve the problem of ease of use for digital media creation and management. I know Microsoft has relied on partners in this area like Adobe, ArcSoft, Pinnacle, etc., but given how key this experience is to consumers I would have thought it was important enough for Microsoft to control the way Apple does.

Even if the area of creativity is not of huge interest to Microsoft I would like to see them create new software or apps that is unique and fresh for their ecosystem and beyond. Windows and Office have been pillars for Microsoft but I am not convinced they are the only legs they have to stand on going forward. I appreciate their efforts to re-think user interfaces for the next era but I still want to see more. I also wonder if just re-imaging a user interface is enough in todays world.

We are entering a new era of computing where we will face new problems which will present new opportunities to solve through software. Which brings me to the one thing I am desperately interested to see from Microsoft. Vision.

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
  • FalKirk

    “The first obvious move could mean to bring Office to platforms like iOS, Android, and perhaps RIM IF they make a comeback.”

    Three reasons why that probably won’t work:

    1) Touch programs are completely different from desktop programs. The suite of Office programs would have to be re-written from the ground up. By the time Microsoft was done, they would only be the same programs in name only.

    2) On the desktop, Microsoft Office suite enjoyed monopoly status. In the Enterprise, especially, if you didn’t use Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc, you risked being unable to share your documents with anyone else. That special monopoly status simply does not exist outside of the desktop world. Since Office currently does not exist on phones and laptops, people have found acceptable, and sometimes superior, alternatives to the programs offered by Office.

    3) Are programs like Word, PowerPoint and Excel really all that superior in the first place? Or did they just win because their “Daddy” was Microsoft? And are the Office programs even suited to becoming phone and desktop programs? Word, Powerpoint and Excel are some of the largest, most complex and most powerful programs in the world. But the tablet thrives on small, focused, single-purposed Apps. If Microsoft successfully ports their desktop programs to the tablet, will anyone even care?

    No one knows for sure what will happen if and when Microsoft ports their Office suite to the tablet. But a successful transition is far from guaranteed.

    • benbajarin

      Really good points. I think they are all sound views and I can’t dispute them. The only thing in mind that Microsoft can do is really think outside the box and re-invent these applications and create new ones. I am convinced if they can not do this they are in a lot of trouble.

      Hence my last point on what I want to see… vision. I don’t think I have seen it yet.. Or if its there I have missed it–which is doubtful.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Office remains tremendously important in the enterprise, where complex documents and spreadsheets are comment. You might review such a document on a phone, but working on it is hard even on a tablet. Microsoft, however, is in the process of writing touch-optimized Office applications for Windows 8. We’ll see the results late this year or early next.

      • FalKirk

        “Microsoft, however, is in the process of writing touch-optimized Office applications for Windows 8.”-steve_wildstrom

        Will a touch-opitimized Office application actually work the same as it’s desktop namesake? How much will it cost? Will it work any better than existing alternatives? Will it have some special advantage when it comes to sharing data with it’s desktop counterpart?

        A lot of questions. We’ll have to wait until touch-optimized Office applications exist before we can begin to fathom the answers.

        • andrewonedegree

          This is the whole point behind the Metro design concepts, to be able to deliver more complex apps in a simpler fashion that allows for any device to really use the capabilities of those apps. From the Metro versions of Office I have seen (admit quite limited) I think they have got it spot on.
          You must also remember that “chrome” or traditional applications will always be present, photoshop, Visual Studio etc so touch isnt everything – hence Microsoft have kept the old desktop and everything you can already do in Windows 7….Just remember though that the Windows 8 tablets (running intel chips) will still give you access to the desktop, making them a no brainer in my book for business….
          Once launched im sure people will start to appreciate metro more. I have even though at first I hated it…

          • FalKirk

            “Once launched im sure people will start to appreciate metro more”-andrewonedegree

            It’s all a big unknown, Andrew. Will Windows 8 be successful on Windows RT tablets, Windows 8 Tablets and Windows desktops? Will Windows RT be more, less or equally popular than the Windows 8 Tablet? Will initial hardware configurations be an advantage or drawback? What will the prices be and how much will it matter? Will Microsoft Office on RT matter or will its impact be negligible? Will Windows developers (and others) move to Metro?

            There are so very many question and, although I enjoy the speculation, I won’t trust any answers until there are hard sales numbers available. And I really won’t trust the initial sales numbers either. They might be skewed by a burst of initial enthusiasm and the holiday quarter. It will probably take at least until the first quarter of 2013 to have an inkling and until the end of 2013 to know for sure whether Microsoft’s grand experiment is a success, failure or something in between.

            But it’s sure fun pondering the possibilities.

          • andrewonedegree

            True, I think your timescales are spot on for all of the Windows 8 devices (including mobile phone). Speaking out of experience of using Metro (not being a fan at first) I can see why people will start to appreciate it once launched more and more (thats what triggered my initial comment)…
            On the desktop I guess Microsoft need to compare like for like sales with Windows 7 which has been a massive success. On the tablet front, any sales will be a benefit, no matter if intel based tablets or RT (I personally think RT will sell against Android tablets and Intel more aimed at power users, businesses / people who want to use a tablet as a laptop).
            Some of the questions though I think we have already seen answers too. For example, developers are embracing Metro design concepts (I see websites now and lots of dashboards that already look like Win8 apps) and delivering metro based apps. My company has a number of .NET developers all of which are excited about delivering Metro apps and the fact its one UI and almost one set of code across all devices. Though Metro I dont personally feel fits for all types of apps, probably 80%, leaving 20% being developed for the traditional desktop. I also think we know Office will go to the metro world and that means run with the same experience across RT and typical Windows 8. This move also allows Microsoft to build on Office 365 services, delivering a experience that is the exact same between the cloud and more typically approach to office (shred move I think).
            No matter what, I think its going to be an interesting 18 months for the tech market and Microsoft…

          • FalKirk

            Good discussion. Very good discussion.

            The question with Metro is whether it will be a break out product or whether it will suffer the same fate as Windows Phone 7. I predicted that Windows Phone 7 would struggle to gain traction but never did I expect it to struggle anywhere near as much as it has. Will Metro take off or is it just the third mobile operating system in a two OS horse race?

            I can see from your comments that you think that Metro is already building sufficient momentum to reach the crucial “tipping point” necessary for platforms to become self-sustaining. Time will tell.

            One wildcard for me is Android Tablets. They have been so weak and there’s no indication that they’re growing any stronger. Perhaps Windows Tablets will rapidly displace them. That would change everything including, I think, the dynamics in the smart phone markets as well.

            Right now Android is a one-trick pony (although it’s one hell of a trick). They’re only viable in phones. If Microsoft can present a vertical solution reaching from phones to tablets to desktops, that would be very powerful. But Microsoft must establish themselves in tablets first. Without a serious presence in tablets, it will be Windows that is stranded on desktops and only Apple will be in a position to take care of every facet of our personal computing needs.

            “No matter what, I think its going to be an interesting 18 months for the tech market and Microsoft…”

            Could not agree more.

  • Rich

    Ben, Microsoft is having a lot of trouble getting their head out of 1990s Windows. That is why you haven’t seen them show vision.

  • Don

    They’ll have to work on their pricing structure as well. $120 for the personal office suite won’t work when you can buy the same for less than 50% (OS X or IOS) or free (Droid)…

    • andrewonedegree

      Agreed, but Microsoft only really makes money from selling software. Unlike some others (Google) it cannot simply run massive projects at a loss and charge advertisers for it….

  • andrewonedegree

    Microsoft is already delivering so much of its software across multiple platforms – and services. Think office, think SkyDrive even. With Azure Microsoft is delivering masses of services and solutions across all platforms and all forms of devices, but the beauty of Microsoft approach is that it also allows third party developers to do the same….That cannot be said of Microsofts competitors….
    Its also curious that people forget all the other areas Microsoft delivers software and more…The massive one staring people in the face is Xbox and Kinect (consumer facing)…Microsoft isnt just Windows and Office, its just that the media, and most of us think Microsoft, then think Windows and Office. Thats actually testiment to how successful both those products are….
    If you look at Business software alone you see a whole host of software developed by Microsoft, Share Point, Exchange, Dynamics etc…Basically people forget to look past the two most obvious bits of software they deliver. If you look at any software area Microsoft will more than likely have a product in that market space – fact.
    Im sorry, but this seems a bit of a poor article and as usual a bit of a bash at Microsoft with actually zero true facts being written. Far too many people now see Tablets and Phones as the only areas of innovation / software even. You have to look past whats right there in your hand to actualy see everything that Microsoft is doing…

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