Nick's Notes

Open Microsoft?

Steve Ballmer was frequently quoted as saying “Windows first; Windows best” when describing Microsoft’s strategy for software. Satya Nadella has changed that position quietly and emphatically. The most visible aspect was with the initial release of Office on iPad – with the useful functionality tied to Office 365 – and the recent release for iPhone (and upgraded for iPad), not tied to anything and also integrating with Dropbox. Yesterday, I learned that .Net is to go platform independent too – which may mean that some .Net applications could run on OS X, in the future, for example.

Last week, CIO Connect was at Future Decoded – Microsoft’s big conference in the UK. We had a breakout session where Alistair Russell presented the results of our Innovation Survey, which Microsoft sponsored and have commented on – but they did not influence the editorial content. There was a powerful set of keynote speakers on the Monday morning, and a wide range of breakout sessions in the afternoon. Microsoft also showcased their incubator programme – giving airtime to smaller start-up companies – not something they have made a great deal of noise about. The theme overall was not particularly Microsoft focused, rather a more humanist view of how the power of computing and software could improve the world. Nadella’s sound bite, used widely in reporting of the Conference emphasised that.

Microsoft is changing. It still dominates the corporate environment and still sees a strong role for itself in supporting the CIO. But it does recognise that its share of the operating system market is closer to 18% than the previously quoted 98%. This brings an opportunity which Microsoft is beginning to address, but there remains a threat in the position vis-a-vis the CIO. Consumers increasingly dominate buying decisions, and Microsoft has less impact on consumers outside of Xbox, as they are a separate demographic, I think. BYOD has seen an influx of Macs into the enterprise – Microsoft is associated with the giving the CIO the tools to control rather than unleash the power of the hardware and software.

Competition is important and powerful. I’ve written blogs previous which talk of my love of Apple products – a bias I think I can justify – at least to myself. But make no mistake, a resurgent, open Microsoft is good for Apple, good for the industry and especially good for the consumer, whether embedded in a corporate or as an individual.

I once felt that the Office division would be best spun out of Microsoft. I felt that Surface was a toy, after I spent some time using an earlier version. With the changes I’ve mentioned and the release of Surface 3, which some of my colleagues love, I’m no longer quite so sure of either of those views. I still dislike the whole design model around the Windows operating system… but I’m sure Microsoft insiders will tell me to look at Windows 10. Maybe. But at least I may now be able take advantage of some of the good software Microsoft develops without having to use Windows, and both parts of that sentence are a good thing. And if Windows 10 is a success, then it will stimulate even more development in OS X. As I say, competition is a good thing – in both directions.

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