Category Archives: Microsoft

With Windows 8, Microsoft Hasn’t Forgotten Its Strength

Microsoft’s Windows OS generates interest like no other product, the only other technology product that commands the same attention is Apple’s iPhone–the reach of these products is staggering. Windows & iPhone are used by anyone and everyone; the two products are ubiquitous in daily lives. The people who cover technology have known what’s coming in Windows 8 for a while but that hasn’t reduced the excitement around the launch. For Microsoft, Windows 8 does indeed mark a turn. Metaphorically, the ship is turning in a direction that defines the company’s future. iPhone and iPad’s success have forced Microsoft to respond, and the company’s past has helped them make the move faster than most expected. As Peter Bright wrote in his piece, to understand Windows 8, we have to look at the company’s past. Steve Ballmer has time and again emphasized the importance of Windows to Microsoft. It’s the one product that’s synonymous with the company’s name.

Google and Apple have forced Microsoft into adapting to the new dynamics of life. Consumerization of IT is not just a enterprise phrase, it explains how the technology resources between ones work and personal life are merging, and this is defining the evolution of computing. Smart and capable phones like the  iPhone and mobile devices like the iPad powered by Internet are changing how people use technology. Microsoft realized this a long time ago but simply failed to get things together on their operating system. Microsoft’s partners–their partners–failed miserably to bridge the gap between personal and work devices. The status quo was disrupted by Apple and as people started buying their devices, Microsoft’s partners had more to lose than Microsoft. The loudest tech press ignores Microsoft’s presence in the enterprise. As Christopher Budd in his guest column on Geek Wire says, Microsoft isn’t going to disappear even if Windows 8 & Windows Phone 8 fail.

Bill Gates’s decision to license Microsoft to hardware manufacturers was the single best decision for Microsoft and even with the Surface, nothing has changed. A huge deal has been made out of Surface and Microsoft’s decision to get into designing computer hardware but the timing couldn’t have been better. To remain relevant in the consumer market that is now dictating technology decisions made in the enterprise, as a company, Microsoft had to take radical steps. You either adapt and change or you fail and perish–it’s the one rule that separates corporations that survived the test of time and that withered faster than the leaves of Fall. Surface was needed to drum up noise, show OEM partners what can be done and to rally the charge against the iPad. For Microsoft to continue its dominance, they need their OEM partners to succeed. And despite the Surface, Microsoft hasn’t forgotten its ecosystem strength.

The New York City launch was about conveying four messages:

  • Windows 8 is here
  • It works great on tablets, and here’s our Surface showing you how
  • We’ve got our own stores for you to see the products
  • Our OEM partners have great products for you too

At New York City, Microsoft’s pop-up store was selling the Surface. And the company had setup several stations showing what their partners have to offer. It was clear that Microsoft knows their success depends on the success of their OEM partners. Devices from all major OEMs were in the middle of Times Square for pedestrians to touch, hold and experience Windows 8.

As much as the loudest tech press in America might want to shout through their blogs, humans have different preferences. It’s why Apple came out with a White iPhone, it’s why Apple was compelled to do an iPad mini. For every person who likes the iPad, there will be someone who doesn’t. For every person who likes iOS, there will be someone who doesn’t–Android’s growth is proof of that. The PC ecosystem has for years thrived on choice, Windows has been the same across all OEMs but we have seen manufacturers rise and fall. Apple has made a huge deal out of a statistic that x% of Fortune 50 are considering deploying iPads but that statistic doesn’t say PCs are being replaced.

Video: Microsoft’s Newest Surface Commercial

On the heels of its special Surface launch event yesterday, Microsoft published yet another Surface commercial to its YouTube channel. While the ad doesn’t really show the device in use, it instead briefly shows off the primary aspects of the Surface: The Touch Cover (and all of the colors its available in), kickstand, and briefly, Windows 8. In that regard, it’s pretty similar to the ad that was released on Wednesday, but with a more futuristic setting (and no people.)

I say that it’s a pretty awesome ad. I’d also love to see a modified version of the initial Surface promo video make it on the air as well.

If you haven’t already pre-ordered your device, the Surface is available now at your nearest Microsoft Store (or holiday pop-up store), or online, if you’re willing to wait a couple of weeks.

Microsoft: 670 Million Windows 7 Licenses Sold

At Microsoft’s Windows 8 launch event in NYC earlier today, Windows President Steven Sinofsky dropped the news tidbit that 670 million Windows 7 licenses have been sold as of now, also praising the operating system’s business adoption rate — which he touted to be the “best ever” — and its status as the “most widely used and widely praised OS ever”.

Here’s a list of other notable Windows 7 sales milestones:

March 4, 2010 – Over 90 million copies sold.

April 23, 2010 — Over 100 million copies sold, six months after general availability.

June 23, 2010 — Over 150 million copies sold, making it the fastest selling operating system in history with approximately (and ironically) 7 copies being sold every second.

July 22, 2010 — Over 175 million copies sold.

October 21, 2010 — Over 240 million copies sold.

January 27, 2011 — Over 300 million copies sold.

July 12, 2011 — Over 400 million copies sold.

January 19, 2012 — Over 525 million copies sold.

June 6, 2012 — Over 600 million copies sold.

It’s definitely well-deserved boasting; the improvements and polish added to Windows 7 led to an overwhelmingly positive launch and reception, one that greatly contrasted that of Windows Vista. Now, the big question is how the public will take to Windows 8, and whether it will be an equally big hit despite its major and risky changes.

Microsoft Surface RT Pricing Revealed, Starts At $499

Through a pre-order page on the Microsoft Store website that appears to have been prematurely made public, the company has revealed the pricing of the much-anticipated Surface RT tablet. The verdict? It’s aptly priced to directly compete against the iPad, though some may be a bit startled at the cost of the infamous Touch Cover which also functions as a keyboard.

The 32GB base model without a Touch Cover is priced at $499, a 32GB Surface RT with a Touch Cover is $599, and a 64GB model with a Touch Cover is $699.

As you can see, it’s suitably priced to compete against the iPad; the 32GB model with a Touch Cover costs exactly the same as a 32GB WiFi-only iPad without any accessories, and the 64GB model with a Touch Cover costs the same as its WiFi-only iPad counterpart that is also well-endowed in the storage department.

Until now, Microsoft has remained largely silent on Surface pricing ever since the company held its mysterious press event back in June where they announced the tablets. As a result, there has been plenty of discussion and speculation as to how the device will be priced, and how that will affect its fate.

At the time of writing this post, the pre-order page for the Surface RT is still offline, but it’s safe to assume that it will be up soon.

Microsoft Details The New Xbox Music: A Spotify, Rdio & iTunes Competitor

We have known for quite a while that Zune was on its way out for a new brand. Over the past few months as new updates to Xbox have and Windows 8 RTMed, details about Microsoft’s entertainment catalog were sketchy. While we knew entertainment was going under the Xbox brand, there were rumors about a major update to the music service. Cnet’s Greg Sandoval broke the story about Microsoft’s initial plans and a month later, Tom Warren at The Verge speculated that Microsoft was ready to launch the service at the E3. That didn’t happen.

However, it looks like Microsoft is timing the launch of the service with their public launch of Windows 8/RT, Surface tablet and Windows Phone 8. In an announcement yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox Music. The new service has kept everything that was good about Zune Music (Smart DJ, gorgeous artist backgrounds), and now is more coherent.

The features to be offered under the new service are:

  • Cloud-synced playlists
  • Limited free streaming on Windows Phone 8, Windows 8/RT and Xbox (unlimited for first 6 months)
  • Music  Subscription service (Zune Pass is now Xbox Music Pass)
  • A Music marketplace
  • Cross platform (Android and iOS) soon
  • Add your music catalog using the scanning service
  • Social integration at some point

All these features sound amazing on paper, and over time Microsoft should be able become a major music service with the one-Windows and cross-platform support. Microsoft produced a short video to explain Microsoft’s grand plans with the service:

For what it’s worth, I have started using Spotify because downloading and editing meta tags is a pain–it’s just cumbersome to manage. However, I don’t pay for Spotify Premium, I primarily listen to radio on my phone. Xbox Music subscription might make a lot of sense to me since I am Windows Phone, Windows and Xbox user.

Xbox Music – a Great Service with Some Asterisks

I hate to focus on the missing aspects at the time of the launch of a great new service, but as a fan of Xbox Music (i.e., it its original name, Zune Music), I can’t help shake my head at the things that it does not do. I really like how Xbox Music looks and cannot wait to try it, but here’s hoping Microsoft works on quickly fixing these things.

First, a quick primer on what the newly announced service: Xbox Music is an all-you-can-eat music consumption service along with a music store all tied to a cloud-based sync service to enable your music and playlists to roam across devices. For now, these devices are Windows 8 PCs (including Windows RT devices), Windows Phone 8 phones and Xbox 360. The Xbox Music Pass, which enables free streaming of the entire catalog would cost $9.99 per month for phones and Xbox, and it would be free (ad-supported) for Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT devices. Additionally for using it on the Xbox you also need an Xbox LIVE Gold account, which comes with “tens of thousands” of music videos in addition to the streaming music. See my colleague Manan Kakkar’s take on Xbox Music here.

As you can see, everything is great about the service if you live within the Microsoft ecosystem, and if you are planning to buy one of the new devices (PCs, tablets, phones) launching this Fall. iOS and Android support is “coming soon”. So is the social piece, where you can share what you are listening to (and presumably, more) with your friends. Both of the these missing pieces are big for similar reasons: adoption and viral marketing.

First of all, let me clarify that there is no single service that provides what Xbox Music provides. While Pandora provides music discovery and streaming, it does not allow on-demand play nor does it have a music store. Rdio and Spotify provide on-demand streaming and a little bit of music discovery (via social and “radio”) but they don’t have their own stores. iTunes has perhaps the world’s largest store but it does not have a subscription plan. Xbox Music has all of the combined features, so you can actually ditch multiple services and use just Xbox Music.

However, one of the reason Rdio and Spotify are so popular is the social aspect. Friends share what they are listening to, making it easier to discover new music and also share the same with others. The other major factor of their success is that they are available on pretty much all major platforms in some shape or form, which in turn helps the social features even more – I don’t need to have all my friends on Windows 8, for example, in order to share my playlists with them.

iOS and Android being the fastest growing platforms today, are almost a requirement for any service which has ambitions of getting millions of users. Not having social is not as bad, but it helps in more than one way, so it is also quite a big missing piece. There is hope that this “new Microsoft” with its rapid pace of updating their products and services, is able to get these holes filled sooner than later.

Another glaring ommision is the concept of an Xbox Music Family Pass. In order to use the service optimally, you would want to use your own Microsoft account so that it can cater the selections to your taste. However, unlike the Xbox LIVE Gold accounts, there is no Family Pass for Xbox Music Service. This is a bummer because in a household, there is very likely going to be 2, 3 or 4 individuals who may want to use the service and having to pay $40 per month is not really a trivial decision. I was really hopeful that the lack of a Family Pass for Zune Music Pass would be remediated by an Xbox Music Family Pass. Looks like it was not to be. At least, not yet.

Setting those things aside, I think bundling Xbox Music for free on Windows PCs is a huge benefit, especially for Windows RT. For those not enthused by Windows 8/RT, who end up asking “why buy a Windows RT tablet instead of iPad or Android”, this becomes yet another feature in favor of Windows RT. With Xbox Music included for (ad-supported) free and Office Home and Student RT which comes bundled on Windows RT tablets, you have the world’s most popular productivity suite and on paper, the world’s only music service of its kind, included with a Windows RT tablet. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Android tablets should be part of this discussion at all given that the two successful devices so far have been 7″ (Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire), which don’t really compete with iPad or Windows RT.

So, in hindsight, the iOS/Android presence may actually be deliberately delayed, so that the case for buying a Windows RT tablet this holiday season is clearer. I like that pitch quite a lot because even if the Windows RT tablets are priced the same as an iPad, they will end up offering way more than an iPad can offer, and that, without adding the complexity of having a “full-blown PC”.

Xbox Music is a good move by Microsoft to showcase their execution of “devices and services” strategy, which previously would have been referred to as three screens and a cloud. Beautiful-looking services being delivered on well-made hardware, with roaming features so you can enjoy them the same way regardless of where you enjoy them? Now, that may actually be magical.

Devices, Services and the Modern Microsoft

In a letter addressed to Microsoft’s shareholders, customers, partners and employees, CEO Steve Ballmer laid out the direction in which Microsoft was about to embark upon, calling it a fundamental shift for the company. The gist of the change is that instead of being a software company, Microsoft was focused on becoming a devices and services company. This is a big shift in strategy and could very well be the defining moment for Microsoft as well as Ballmer.

Services

A lot of pundits have focused too much on the devices part of the strategy, and that is justified, given that traditionally Microsoft has not built hardware except the Xbox and some keyboards, mice and web cameras. The Surface tablet was introduced as “the first in a series of devices” that Microsoft intends to make. That statement, along with the phrase “devices of various form factors” in the letter would imply that Microsoft may in fact make other devices like phones, or smaller tablets in e-reader form factor.

However, I want to focus on the services part of the strategy. Microsoft is essentially saying that all the software it is making, is now going to be delivered as a service. We already see many of the server products being delivered as a service via Office 365, Azure, etc. This is a tremendous achievement because it is almost completely opposite of how Microsoft used to make money – boxed software or licensed software delivered as a product. Now, they have been able to pitch various types of models for the delivery as a service, like pure service-based delivery as Office 365, pure on-premise delivery as in Exchange Server (or any of the other servers) and the hybrid model where some part of the infrastructure stays on-premise and some gets delivered as a service.

It is not just the “business” side of things that have become the focus of services. On the consumer side Microsoft completely revamped their much-underutilized SkyDrive cloud storage service. Not only did they make it easier to use, but they made native apps available on all mobile platforms. See the devices angle that others have not focused much on? You can enjoy the benefits of their service across Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone. Similarly, they launched a brand new, extremely good-looking mail service Outlook.com, which takes the negativity associated with Hotmail brand away from Microsoft. The web app works nicely on all modern browsers, including mobile browsers on iPad and Android tablets. They also made Outlook.com work with Exchange Active Sync (EAS) so all modern smartphones can connect to it with 2-way push on email, contacts and calendars. Another huge service that is coming soon is the Xbox Music and Xbox Video, combined with their cross-platform app Xbox SmartGlass.

The other services piece for Microsoft is Windows Azure, both as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). This area of focus is not brand new, but the pace at which the teams at Microsoft are innovating and competing (on price) shows that they are really serious about these services as well. They are investing a lot of time and money in improving the feature-set and filling the holes that the modern developers (read: not only Windows developers) have reported as crucial for them to adopt Windows as a development platform. Adding support to open source software and frameworks to Azure is a good example of how Microsoft is saying they are a service provider which does not have any favorites when it comes to tools and technologies. The market sure seems to like it because Azure has gained not just a lot of new customers (as Microsoft claims), but they have started reversing the negativity associated with Microsoft when it comes to the open source community.

Massive Change

As you can see, there is a lot of change Microsoft has stepped into, and these things are not going to start showing results immediately. When you are moving an oil tanker like Microsoft, turning it is not quick, nor easy. However, the speed at which Microsoft has pulled off this change, is amazing. They have realized that Windows is not going to have the same clout as it used to have in the 90s. They cannot force themselves onto customers, partners or consumers. Everyone has choices now, and more importantly, as tablet and smartphone sales have proven, people prefer smaller, simpler, mobile devices over larger, more powerful, but more complex devices like laptops. Microsoft knew they had to quickly retool themselves, or face irrelevance.

“PC” Market Or “Computing Devices” Market?

The PC market is now morphing into a more general category of “computing devices” market. Some prefer laptops, some prefer desktops, many prefer tablets, and some are even ok with just their smartphones. In this new world, Windows (which I consider to be 8, RT and Phone combined) would probably end up at no more than 30-40% while iOS and Android take similar shares. With focus on services that work across devices of all form factors, and more importantly, across all OSes, Microsoft is positioned well to take advantage of the new wave of computing.

Devices

Finally, as for the devices part of the strategy, it is important to note that while Microsoft may make their own devices in addition to the Surface tablets, they are definitely not going to become a hardware company. Making hardware at scale is very hard, especially in today’s world of supply chains spanning many companies and geographies, and hardware design needing specialized materials to get the most efficient devices made. I firmly believe Microsoft said devices in the letter to denote the importance of being present on all devices, some of which will showcase their own OS, while some may be running other OSes.

It is a bold strategy. One may argue this is probably the only thing Microsoft could have done to keep their enterprise customers happy while moving forward into the new computing era along with the consumers who have started embracing competing platforms in large numbers. By defining themselves as a company that provides services across all types of devices, Microsoft is ensuring they are built to avoid the irrelevance they would be relegated to if they stayed stuck to the old process of providing incremental updates to all their products.

Looking forward to seeing what happens this holiday season, and more importantly, how Microsoft reinvents itself as it starts providing updates to its entire line of services in the next year.

Training Videos Leak, Provide Glimpse At Microsoft’s Strategy To Educate Consumers On Windows 8

 

Given the slew of relatively major changes in Windows 8, it’s important that Microsoft makes every effort possible to help educate consumers about the OS. That being said, the company will be training sales associates at Microsoft Stores — and at the temporary holiday popup stores — to educate consumers about Windows 8.

Brad Sams over at Neowin got his hands on a slew of videos showing off the training guidelines for said associates, who will then be offering training to consumers. The three videos are rather simple walkthroughs of the primary new/changed things in the OS.

The first video showcases the Start Screen, and things like tile management, charms, using the system-wide search in the charms bar, and app commands, among other things:

The second video focuses on the Share charm, showcasing how you can use it to share content in different apps and scenarios throughout the OS:

Finally, the third video begins by telling the associate that there are new things in Windows 8, and that consumers are counting on them to demonstrate and teach said new functionality. This video focuses on touch, and how to interact with various aspects of the OS — such as tiles, the charms bar, accessing app commands, and cycling through apps — using gestures:

I think that the videos do an excellent job of briefly — and succinctly — showcasing Windows 8’s new features and paradigms. It’s also admirable that Microsoft is making the effort to help educate potentially change-resistant consumers about the OS to help ease the switch over from previous versions of Windows.

Microsoft Czech Product Manager: Office for iOS and Android Set for March 2013

While speaking to Czech site IHNED, Microsoft product manager Petr Bobek has apparently confirmed that native Office apps on iOS and Android will be released, starting in March of 2013.

The Verge has translated a press release from Microsoft’s Czech Republic team that basically states that in addition to Windows, Office 2013 will also be available on Windows Phone, Windows RT, OS X, Android, iOS, and, interestingly enough, Symbian. The press release also points out that Office 2013 will be made available to businesses in December, with a consumer launch set for the end of February. Finally, it also mentions that a new version of the Office Web Apps is on the way.

A US Microsoft spokesperson refused to verify this completely, vaguely stating that the company is yet to announce retail availability for the new Office. They also pointed out that the company previously stated that Office Mobile will work across Windows Phone, Android, and iOS.

iOS and Android present a huge opportunity to the Office team to further grow their business. I’ve witnessed many in my Twitter timeline question why these apps haven’t already been released on the two major mobile platforms.

There have been countless rumors in the past of Microsoft developing Office apps for iPhone, so it’s nice to see that it may finally be coming to fruition relatively soon.

Does Microsoft’s Game Content Usage Rules Prevent Filmmakers From Profiting Off Of Game Content?

Yesterday, EGM Now wrote a story pointing out a section in Microsoft’s Game Content Usage Rules, stating that people may not directly profit from videos that contain content from Microsoft games.

Here’s the part of the Game Content Usage Rules in question:

You may post your Item to a page or website that has advertising, but only if you do not earn any money from that advertising. For example, if you post your video on Youtube or Vimeo and there happens to be an advertisement next to it, then as long as you don’t get paid for that advertisement, the fact that there is an advertisement on the page doesn’t break these Rules. But enrolling in the Youtube partner program (or other similar programs), where you are entering into an agreement to get paid, is not allowed. On a similar note, if you create and distribute a free app, then you can’t earn any money from advertising in that app.

On top of being a source of entertainment for millions of people everywhere, games can often become major sources of revenue for popular filmmakers on sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, who frequently use in-game content/footage in their videos. Of course, select big-time producers — such as Rooster Teeth, for example — are unaffected by this; they have licensing deals with Microsoft to use the in-game content. However, it does seem like people who don’t have such deals with the company are in the wrong here… right?

Frank O’ Connor — franchise development director at the Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries — posted a comment (he goes by “Stinkles”) on the NeoGAF forums saying that this isn’t exactly the case, despite the rather intimidating legal jargon:

As I mentioned in the Halo community thread, these rules actually haven’t really changed, and even the updated and clarified text has been up there for months. I assume somebody just noticed this and posted this morning because it sort of blew up. This has always been the Legal status for the IP (and MOST IPs in fact), and as you also already know, nobody is being sued, or in jail, etc etc etc.

The language isn’t designed to stop kids streaming their games, or covering their costs, it’s designed to stop big companies from using somebody else’s IP to run a business.

We’ll put together some language that will help community people navigate this easily, and give people workarounds.

It’s also interesting how EGM Now reported that this was just recently added to the Game Content Usage Rules; according to O’ Connor, they have been there for months:

These guidelines have been out there for months. How many of you are posting from jail? We’ll get some clarifying messaging out there, but the legalese won’t change, because it’s legalese. We’ll craft a path through the semantic minefield, however.

We’re awaiting comment from Microsoft on this.

Image Source: Alfred Hermida (Flickr)