According to many industry insiders the past year wasn’t a banner year for Microsoft’s sprawling set of businesses. Having squandered its place as operating-system leader, these people believe that Microsoft’s glory days are behind it.
Certainly, all the news coming out of Microsoft hasn’t been great. After taking a $900 million hit because of unsold Surface RT devices and accessories, the future for its Windows RT operating system is murky at best. Windows Phone finds itself in a similar situation as Surface. Having brought something unique to the market, its features are quickly being borrowed for use on other company’s mobile operating systems.
This is all true, and to deny it would be disingenuous at best. However, what industry insiders seem willing to ignore are the things Microsoft is getting right. Sure, the company isn’t succeeding in every business that it’s entered, but to deny that Microsoft doesn’t have the raw materials to reassert itself is ridiculous. Here are a few of the thing it’s getting right.
Faster Release Cycles for Windows
Windows 8 didn’t rush out of the starting gate with stellar sales numbers, but it did usher in something that Windows enthusiasts have clamored for years: yearly updates. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has proven that it can ship timely updates to its operating system faster than every four years. Users won’t find that these upgrades introduce huge differences in their everyday usage, but if Windows 8.1 is an accurate indication these yearly updates will focus on adding small features and plugging gaps. That’s progress.
More Microsoft in More Places
Windows RT and Windows Phone aren’t setting any sales records. That hasn’t stopped the company from making pretty big moves in the mobile space. In the last year Microsoft has been very aggressive about getting its software and services in front of as many mobile users as possible. Skype, Office Xbox Music, Bing and SkyDrive are all available on the web for free to tablet users, and in native versions on iPhone and Android smartphones.
Standardizing Around Metro
Say what you will about the Metro design language Microsoft debuted with Windows Phone, but it’s clear that the company wasn’t kidding when it said it would redesign many of its products around it. In the span of two years, Metro has proliferated into a brand identity for the company.
Connecting An Ecosystem
Just as Metro debuted with Windows Phone, interoperability – that is having your products all work seamlessly together – is slowly beginning to catch on at Microsoft. The company’s next-generation Xbox One console uses messaging services powered by Skype. Its new Xbox LIVE Compute services for video game developers is built on the back of Windows Azure. It seamlessly connects with devices running Windows 8 through the Devices Charm. Only Google and Apple rival Microsoft in this respect. Amazon’s products are numerous but sort-of scattered. Samsung’s range of products are also a bit hit-or-miss. Microsoft has had an ecosystem for years, but it is finally beginning to leverage its assets across products.
Listening to Feedback
Finally, Microsoft is listening to the feedback from customers. When Windows 8 launched users complained loudly about how the company shouldn’t have taken away the Start button. They also felt that Xbox Music didn’t allow to easily get to their content. Worse yet, they found Windows 8’s interface to be a nuisance. Microsoft addresses these issues in Windows 8.1.
It’s not just the operating systems group that’s listening to customers more. Early digital rights management schemes for the Xbox One forced users to connect their Xbox One to Microsoft’s servers at least once every 24-hours. Following public outcry that’s now gone.
The company is listening to users and trying to align the feedback it is getting with the goals for its products. At least, that’s what appears to be going on.
None of this means that Microsoft is out of the woods. The company has to continually push the envelope on these fronts to remain relevant to consumers and business alike. However, they are doing the right things, and they’ve got the right raw materials for a resurgence in consumer technology. That’s half the battle.
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