Windows And Other Surprises


It’s a reliable rule of thumb that every other Microsoft operations system is good. Windows 98 was good, Windows Me was bad, XP was good, Vista was bad, Windows 7 was good, 8 was bad.

The same may be true for CEOs. Founder Bill Gates fathered Microsoft’s meteoric rise and Steve Ballmer presided over an unimaginative giant. But if the 2014 Microsoft Build is any indication of the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft will be making some uncharacteristic and even bold moves during his tenure.

Ballmer would not give away Windows, but that’s exactly what the new Microsoft is doing. Going forward it will waive the licensing fee for tablets that are 9 inches or less. Until now tablet and phone manufacturers had to pay $50 to install Windows on a tablet. Charging for Windows is what Microsoft was founded on.

Microsoft isn’t losing money on the deal because it’s currently not making any money on phone and tablet sales to lose. Free Windows is a great move.

Right now Windows Phone has a great OS that no one uses. This will soon change. In fact Microsoft bought Nokia’s Devices & Services business for $3.25 billion in order to ensure a place in the phone market.

What will replace that revenue stream? How about Microsoft Office for the iPad? Integrated with OneDrive (previously known as SkyDrive), Office for iPad is out even before an Office for Windows Modern UI. This makes sense. Apple has sold over 100 million iPads and they’re regularly used in the enterprise.

Microsoft can finally get a piece of that pie with its flagship product. There is a free download which only allows you to view documents to whet customers’ interest. As soon as you want to edit, you’re reminded that you need to activate the product for a one year’s subscription for $99.99. So far Microsoft has boasted that the apps have been downloaded 12 million times. It hasn’t said how many of those have turned into subscriptions.

That same cross platform philosophy extends to how developers will create apps for Windows 8.1. You will soon pin Modern (formerly Metro) style Windows Store apps to the desktop. Those two ecosystems are more closely integrated. And not just for the consumer. The developer will also be able to create code that can be reused between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. That will certainly get developers to look at Windows again.

One of the biggest changes is ironically one of the smallest. The most famous start button in history is returning to Windows. It’s an admission by the software giant that shoehorning two operating systems onto a device can only work for one or the other. By removing the start button and forcing users to start Windows in the Modern UI, Microsoft was putting too much emphasis on the tablet side when most of its customers use computers.

Under Ballmer, Microsoft balked. When Windows desktop customers wanted the start button back, it returned the button with the 8.1 refresh but it didn’t return the start menu. Now they’ll get the menu as well. The next iteration of Windows 8.1 will look more like Windows 7. Users who have grown to like the start menu – like me – will still have a choice to use it.

It’s impossible to pinpoint which CEO green-lighted decisions to return the start menu and give away Windows, but it was likely Nadella. These changes don’t take years of development, like the Microsoft Surface, which took 3 years. The iPad app was certainly approved under Ballmer, yet the iPad has been out for 4 years and only now is Microsoft releasing the app.

Microsoft and Nadella are coming off a successful Microsoft Build conference. Microsoft seems to have had all the pieces in place to compete in an age where Windows is free and Office is an app. What it needed was a fresh face and imaginative leadership. (Remember Bill Gates also returned to Microsoft this year.)

And if this first Build with Satya Nadella as CEO is any indication, that’s what Microsoft seems to be getting. Heck it even released the source code of MS-DOS.

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