Its not every day that we get to watch a company that helped make personal computing a reality reinvent itself. Yet that is exactly what we are watching as Microsoft inches closer to one of its biggest operating system launches to date. Not only is this launch critical to Microsoft’s future, but so is the journey it will embark upon to reinvent itself.
Creating Software for the New Era
The computing devices that have helped make Microsoft what it is today are not the mainstream computing devices of the future. Of course, things like notebooks and desktops play a role in the computing ecosystem but in my opinion, devices like tablets, smartphones, and perhaps even some new devices represent what will consume the bulk of our personal computing time.
This means that Microsoft needs to reinvent itself for this new era of computing. There was a time when the computing devices driving the industry were primarily running Microsoft software. However, in today’s world that is no longer the case.
The more I study the trends in the industry, the more I’m convinced that Microsoft’s future depends on it becoming a hardware-agnostic software company. Throughout most of Microsoft’s history, its major innovations and value have been strictly limited to companies who license Microsoft’s software platform, Windows. This worked in a Windows-dominated world, but with the role of smartphones, tablets, and even shifting tides in notebooks and desktops, it’s no longer a Windows-dominated world. I don’t believe we’ll see a Windows-dominated world again like we did as the computing industry was maturing.
If this turns out to be true, then the market will support a multitude of software platforms. That means for a company like Microsoft, the key strategy should be to innovate through software for all hardware platforms.
The first obvious move could be bringing Office to platforms like iOS, Android, and perhaps RIM (if it can make a comeback). Reports about Office for iPad have surfaced, and I hope they are true. Microsoft is committed to Office and it would be wise for the company to re-envision Office for every software platform. When Microsoft began taking the Mac and OS X seriously, it brought Office to the Mac in a relevant way – it didn’t just port the Windows version. Microsoft should do the same 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’s next. 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 ease-of-use problems related to digital media creation and management. I know Microsoft has relied on partners in this area like Adobe, ArcSoft, Pinnacle and others, but given how key this experience is to consumers, I would have thought it would be important enough for Microsoft to control it the way Apple does.
Even if the area of creativity is not of huge interest to Microsoft, I would like to see the company create new software and apps that are unique and fresh for the Windows ecosystem and beyond. Windows and Office have been pillars for Microsoft but I’m convinced the company needs more legs to stand on going forward. I appreciate Microsoft’s efforts to rethink user interfaces for the next era of computing, but I still want to see more. I wonder if simply reimagining a user interface will be enough.
What’s at Stake?
A lot, in my opinion. The computing environment we find ourselves in today is like no other environment when it comes to past Windows launches – primarily because today there’s a valid alternative to Windows, should customers not be happy with Windows 8.
Microsoft is taking a bold step forward by adding some radical new user interface elements to Windows 8. Some customers may reason that if they need to learn a new user interface anyway, why not consider switching to a Mac?
This may or may not be the case with Windows, given that Microsoft has been clear that the Windows 7-like user interface we’re comfortable with is still a click away in Windows 8. In my opinion, however, Windows 8’s new Metro interface is the future, and the old Windows interface is the past. As much as people may disagree, I would like to see Microsoft focus on the future.
The reinvention of Microsoft will be no easy task. Microsoft was there for the beginning of computing and I truly hope it’s around for computing’s future.
But to get there will require similar vision for bringing the next generation of personal computing to businesses and consumers. The company faces stiff competition from Apple, which has already shown it can deliver personal computing products desired by mainstream customers. Microsoft can do this as well, but it will live and die by the vision it has for the future and the role the company plays in that future.
Bajarin is the director of consumer technology analysis and research at Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market intelligence firm in Silicon Valley.