State of the Microsoft Union: WPC 2014

The Worldwide Partner Conference or WPC is Microsoft’s annual conference for it various vendors, software, and hardware partners. WPC is interesting because it is provides a view into a little understood aspect of technology (or at least as described on the consumer side).

WPC is aimed at those who have built businesses, services, and hardware using Microsoft’s platforms. So unlike the developer focus of the Build conference, or the TechEd’s IT pro focus; WPC is where the salespeople gather. WPC is one of the more interesting conferences because it sort of serves as a, “State of Microsoft”. When Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner takes the stage, usually on Day One, you get a mix of revival preaching, rallying the troops, and motivational speech. But what you also get is the most frank public assessment of where Microsoft is. And that is what was on display yesterday.

The 14 Percent

Last year Turner got on stage and talked about the new world of mobility. This year he took the stage and talked about the new world but in starker terms of Redmond’s place in it. While he sited the 90% market share currently enjoyed on desktops and laptops, in the mobile space Microsoft makes up a mere 14% of devices. It was interesting to hear Turner discuss Microsoft’s mobile predicament in such sharp turns; in particular framing Microsoft’s dominance as a non-issue in discussing mobile.

Hard Choices

So in this new world Microsoft now finds itself having to fight for not just customers, but relevancy and that has forced some tough choices for the (Still) software giant. Turner describe these “hard, but necessary” choices and some surprised me. For one, the decision to make Windows and Windows Phone free was one of those decisions. (Windows is free for devices smaller than 9 inches). Another tough decision was creating first party hardware. From the speech it is clear Microsoft recognizes the need for radical change and is perhaps letting go of protecting the golden goose. It is also clear that Microsoft is looking at all options.

Services First

Turner’s talk reflected the recently released memo by CEO Satya Nadella; Services, Services, and the Cloud. Turner touted the growth of Office 365 and Azure and both played key roles in the Day one keynote. From Turner’s talk it’s clear that Microsoft will focus services as a key differentiator for Microsoft. And while these services will work best on Windows, Microsoft will not ignore platforms like Android and iOS. Productivity was big focus, so much so I think the coming year will see new products from Office outside of Word and PowerPoint.

The Challenger

Its hard to imagine Microsoft as an underdog or as a scrappy challenger, but in mobile that is exactly what it is. The fact that Microsoft is not sugarcoating there place in mobility or putting conditionals on it means this is how they see the world now. The focus on cross platform software/services and on differentiating its platform is like a slow step away from the Microsoft of old.

The state of Microsoft wasn’t all bad; there was growth in cloud services, Office, and even Windows Phone. They also still have that 90% of desktops out there. So the state is strong, but it is also realistic


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