The Dog Days are Over! What will Microsoft do now?

Like the Florence + The Machine song says, the dog days are over.  Yep, it’s the day after Labor Day in the U.S., most kids are back to school now or will be very soon, and we’re all getting back into the swing of things with fall encroaching upon us.  This summer wasn’t going out without some drama, however, particularly as Microsoft has been burning up the newswires lately.  Microsoft has some major changes in the works, and a lot of us are wondering what that means.  I guess it really depends who you ask, and that is a question Microsoft is hopefully asking too – it’s survival and any hope of an epic comeback depend on it.  Let’s take a look at what’s happening out in Redmond these days and how it will affect us as technologists and solution providers.

Exit Ballmer, Stage Right…

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft helmsman for the last several years, announced a couple weeks ago that he’ll be retiring within the year.   Numerous industry pundits have opined on what led up to this, and what it ultimately will mean for Microsoft’s future.  Ballmer in recent years I think recognized the infighting and fiefdoms at Microsoft as significantly contributing to the company’s current predicaments – heck, anyone who’s worked at Microsoft or had even cursory inside knowledge of the company could have seen that coming even back in the late 90’s (when I incidentally was an orange-badge contractor there).  How’s that going to affect us, you say?  It put Microsoft’s overall shallow trajectory and momentum in various divisions and markets (consumer, datacenter, business software, mobile, services, etc.) into serious question.  Whoever replaces Ballmer has to do one thing well if he/she and Microsoft are going to survive this metamorphosis into a “devices and services” company: execution.  It’s the one thing that Microsoft has screwed itself on time and time again resulting in missed market opportunities due to demand or timing (mobile), and costly ground given to competitors and innovators such as Apple and Google (devices and services, respectively).  The positives that Microsoft should continue to capitalize on are in server/datacenter and cloud technologies.  There’s still money to be made in virtualization and in the blue skies of Azure if Microsoft continues to strategize and develop these areas to meet businesses’ back-end needs.  Their ability to do this in the server market by providing clear and congruous products and solutions to enable companies to transition from legacy Windows Server environments into modern, virtualized, hybrid-cloud datacenters will be key to enabling the company’s success in other markets as well.  Tip to the next Microsoft CEO from us “techies” – don’t allow your underlings to screw the developer and systems professional base who’s been advocating for you through all of this – discontinuing TechNet and disavowing developers in mobile isn’t going to get it done!  Remember, we’re the ones telling our CIO’s whether or not what you’re doing is worth the checks they’re writing to you.

The Imminent Demise of Windows XP, and the Rise of Windows 8.x

We all know that XP support is going to meet an abrupt and bitter end of life and end of support in April, 2014.  The final milestone (tombstone) in the Windows XP product lifecycle is quickly becoming problematic for the roughly 34% of the midmarket companies who are still sitting on XP.  I’ll be addressing this topic in a future post, but for now, let’s just say that any company who doesn’t heed the warning bells we’ve been ringing and shouting from the rooftops about getting off of XP for over a year now will be in a precarious position come April 2014 when it will be a hacker’s open season on vulnerable XP desktops which won’t have security support.  I pity the company with XP production desktops infected with a zero day exploit on April 9, 2014.

The positive in this is that Windows 8 is growing – recently surpassing OSX in midsize companies’ install base.  In my opinion, especially with SMB and midmarket orgs, the early Windows 8 decries of awfulness were in many cases unfounded and heavily biased – many who have come to use Windows 8 with OR without the touch interface have gradually accepted it, and many have even come to find invaluable features/improvements in the OS over its predecessors.  Face it, it’s here, and it’s staying.  Deal with it.  With the imminent release of Windows 8.1, which is supposed to herald some marked feature improvements in UX and functionality, adoption should continue to rise.  Will it be on the tablet devices that Microsoft wanted it so badly to be on to compete with iOS and Android?  Not likely, at least early on, but with more directed focus on devices and lessons learned from the overpriced Surface tabs and the associated Windows RT debacle, Microsoft can succeed in midmarket and enterprise organizations with solid execution and valuable, customer-focused innovation.

“We’re a DEVICES and Services Company…so We’re Buying Nokia!”

As I prepared to relax on the last night of the Labor Day weekend, I of course was interrupted by the Twitterverse’s digital diarrhea surrounding Microsoft’s announcement to buy out Nokia’s mobile devices division and license certain other Nokia technologies in one of Microsoft’s famous cross-collaborative exclusive licensing agreements.  There’s already a lot of whiteboard and blogosphere quarterbacking going on suggesting whether this is too little too late, a bold and solid strategy, or another perceived misstep in Microsoft’s identity crisis and transformation in the post-PC world.  There’s been hinting that Stephen Elop could be a prime candidate to succeed Ballmer, but I’m not so sure about that one yet.

In any event, I think with a foray into consumer tablet devices, an existing and healthy entertainment devices and services unit, the Nokia mobile devices acquisition, and pending a HEALTHY, PRODUCTIVE REORGANIZATION, Microsoft should hopefully be poised to rekindle some innovation and progress through the transformation into a “devices and services” company.  There’s a whole host of “ifs” there, such as well timed and planned execution, retaining support of the developer and systems community, and thoughtfully considering as much of the mobile and business customer experience as possible in moving forward with Windows Mobile, Windows 8.x, and other services and software offerings like Office365, Azure, etc.

Final Thoughts

I’m a fan of the underdog, and an even bigger fan of comebacks (I grew up a Minnesota Vikings fan, I had no choice).  Working at Microsoft (if even as an orange badge) in its heyday gave rise to the career I have now, and I still have many blue-badged friends who are STILL there.  At the core I think a lot of us whose careers were built on Microsoft would still like to see them succeed, or at least successfully coexist in the new digital economy and cloudy, open-source world we’re discovering now.  It’ll either be a success story for the ages or a painful, slow,

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