It’s throw-Microsoft-a-bone Monday, not that I can promise much meat on it. Microsoft may have fallen behind in mobile, been talking about a three-screen strategy off of two screens, and clumsily competed as usual, but some early 2010 actions deserve at least a little praise. So here’s where I give it.
First, some context. There’s doing right — and there’s doing right. Some of the stuff here I’ll assert Microsoft did right I previously dinged the company for getting wrong. That’s because what’s right for Microsoft might be wrong in a greater competitive landscape, like taking right action A too slowly or not soon enough. With that introduction, here are 10 things Microsoft has done right in 2010 (so far), presented in no order of importance. Microsoft…
1. Started over with Windows 7 Phone Series. Microsoft was right to start with a fresh new mobile operating system (if it’s really as new as claimed). Windows Mobile — now called Windows Phone Classic — had run aground. I called Windows 7 Phone Series a “lost cause” because new supporting handsets aren’t expected until around the holidays. The time horizon is simply too long. But matters would have been much worse had v7 been a makeover v6.x and delivered (as rumored) next year. Microsoft made the tough decision of building new.
2. Put user experience before backward compatibility with Windows 7 Phone Series. I do hope this is a sign of more changes to come. For decades, Microsoft has prioritized back compatibility, often hobbling new products — and so the developer and customer experiences. With Windows Phone 7 Series, existing 6.x devices will not be upgradable. From a Windows 6.x device sales perspective, the no-upgrade policy is nothing short of disastrous. That’s a short-term sacrifice Microsoft makes now for possible long-term gain — assuring a better user experience for Windows Phone 7 Series devices. Like many of the things in this Top 10 list, something done wrong also is something done right.
3. Took down the Waledac botnet. In late February, Microsoft wrangling gained a court order to shutdown nearly 230 Internet domains alleged to have been used by cybercriminals. Microsoft scored a major triumph against a major botnet.
4. Released Outlook Social Connector beta. Outlook is rapidly looking outdated, even with the spruced up user interface coming with Office 2010. Outlook Social Connector beta for Office 2007 mimics functionality built into v2010. The People Pane is a nice start, but Microsoft has got to expand its social circle beyond LinkedIn and in-company or outside-organization relationships exposed through Outlook (and other supporting Microsoft corporate software).
5. Filed a complaint — and encouraged others to do so — against Google in the European Union. Google is rapidly becoming a dangerous monopoly, more so than Microsoft in the 1990s. While the EU’s investigation is at best preliminary, the complaints are potentially more dangerous than some Microsoft Watchers suggest. A single complaint, made by Sun in 1998, led to the Europe’s Competition Commission 2004 ruling that Microsoft violated local antitrust laws. A second ruling followed, leading Microsoft last week to offer a browser ballot box in Europe. Microsoft’s own experience is lesson enough how potentially beneficial a competitive complaint can be.
6. Killed Essential Business Server. EBS was a great idea in 2008 — to offer midrange, midpriced server software for midsize businesses. But the weak economy and loss of the project’s originator (from Microsoft to to the Federal Communications Commission) changed everything. Perhaps if Steven VanRoekel had stayed at Microsoft, EBS’ fate would have been different.
7. Extended .NET, Silverlight and XNA development across three screens, including Windows Phone 7 Series. Microsoft already had development pieces in place for two screens — PC and game console. By supporting Windows Phone, Microsoft creates opportunity for developers to create games or other applications one time for consumption on multiple devices.
8. Demonstrated Skinput. During last week’s TechFest, Microsoft researchers showed off skin — on the forearm — as a natural user interface. Microsoft Research paper “Skinput: Appropriating the Body as an Input Surface” offers a wonderful overview of the concept. My teenage daughter writes reminders on her arm nearly everyday. In California, seemingly everyone under the age of 35 has several tattoos. Why not use the skin even more functionally? The technology takes advantage of the varying acoustic properties of skin and bones. Skinput is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that gives hope about future Microsoft innovation.
9. Launched Mediaroom 2.0. Microsoft’s living room strategy is a work in progress — and has been since the debut of Windows Media Center nearly a decade ago. Slow progress is still progress — and Mediaroom 2.0 offers much for telcos looking to deliver a television programming experience better than cable (as an AT&T U-verse customer I can attest to the better-than-cable experience). Then there is the coming Mediaroom support for Xbox. As aforementioned in No. 7, Microsoft already is preparing developers for delivering games across three screens.
10. Set Office 2010 business launch for May. The timing is just about right for the first big wave of enterprises to deploy Windows 7. Traditionally, larger businesses deploy new versions of Office and Windows at the same time whenever possible. Microsoft simultaneously released Office 2007 and Windows Vista. But slow — or no — enterprise Vista migrations meant that simultaneous Office and Windows release didn’t equate to simultaneous deployments. By offsetting Office 2010 and Windows 7 business launches by about 8 months, Microsoft gave business customers time enough to test and qualify Windows 7. Meanwhile, a very public Office 2010 preview allowed for additional testing, too. Many more businesses will now have the more logistically viable option of deploying both products simultaneously or around the same time.