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How serious is Microsoft about its new strategy?

7 Jun 2016

This is my editorial for the Summer 2016 issue of HardCopy magazine:

Microsoft Apps on Android

The Microsoft Apps on Android.

In March 1995, some five years after Tim Berners-Lee created the first World Wide Web server, Microsoft announced a new “design environment for online applications” codenamed ‘Blackbird’ which would allow developers to create content for the forthcoming Microsoft Network. MSN was promised to be “more sophisticated” than anything the nascent World Wide Web could offer, and accessible directly from the desktop of Windows 95, which was launched that August. However, in the intervening months, Bill Gates had a change of heart, taking Microsoft through what BusinessWeek described as “a massive about-face.” By the time Windows 95 launched, ‘Blackbird’ had become Internet Studio, MSN was just another website, and Windows NT was showing off its new Internet Information Server (IIS).

Gates is no longer involved, but Microsoft watchers cannot fail to observe that the company is in the midst of another about-face of even greater proportions in its acceptance and indeed embrace of cross-platform and open source. As Grey Matter’s Connected Cloud initiative demonstrates, Microsoft is now delivering applications that run not only on Windows but also on iOS, Mac OS and Android, and is encouraging developers to do the same through its integration of Xamarin into Visual Studio. It’s even announced a version of SQL Server that will run on Linux.

As a long-term strategy, this makes a lot of sense. Windows still rules the desktop, but the desktop is becoming less important and it is Android and iOS that hold sway on tablets and phones. Windows Server and associated applications such as Exchange are important earners, but can be delivered more effectively as subscription-based services through Microsoft Cloud. Microsoft Office is a significant source of revenue, but will remain dominant thanks to the sheer weight of Office documents out there, regardless of platform.

In order to get a taste of this new world, I recently acquired a Samsung Galaxy Tab A on which I installed the Android version of Microsoft Office, available free of charge from Google Play. So far I’ve been very impressed by the tablet itself, but not so much by the Office apps. The most full-featured is OneNote, although I did need to move my Notebooks from DropBox to OneDrive before it would recognise them. More disappointing is Word, which seems barely to offer the features already available through existing apps such as MobiSystems OfficeSuite Pro. You do get more if you subscribe to Office 365, but even then you don’t get basic features like Outline or Draft views – features I’d happily pay for if the option was available to me.

I appreciate it’s early days, but it does seem to me that Microsoft has some way to go before it fully embraces its new strategy.

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