Microsoft's year saw increased movement toward the cloud, battles with Google, previews of Windows 8 and a struggle to establish Windows Phone.
retrospect, 2011 could be viewed as the year when Microsoft tried to pivot:
away from its desktop-centric focus and toward mobility, from packaged software
toward the cloud, from a company in danger of losing its relevance toward ...
maybe some semblance of its old, market-dominating self.
started the year off with a bang, announcing at January's Consumer Electronics
Show that the next version of Windows would support system-on-a-chip (SoC)
architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from partners such as Qualcomm,
Nvidia and Texas Instruments. The implications were immense: Windows had long
dominated the x86 platform used by traditional PCs, but SoC support opened up
the possibility of the popular operating system on mobile devices such as
the hood there's a ton of differences that need to be worked through,"
Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division, told the
media and analysts assembled for a Jan. 5 press conference. "Windows has
proven remarkably flexible at this under-the-hood sort of stuff."
the next year, Microsoft would dribble out more details about that next version
of Windows, which it started calling "Windows 8" (not necessarily the
final name). The company even started an official blog, "Building Windows 8,"
Sinofsky's engineers and other Windows workers rather loquaciously explained
the various features in development. By that point, it became clear that
Microsoft's intention with Windows 8 wasn't just to port the traditional
Windows desktop environment onto the tablet form factor.
Microsoft decided to re-engineer Windows 8's entire user interface. Unlike
previous versions of the operating system, which centered only on the desktop
interface, Windows 8's start screen centers on a set of colorful, touchable
tiles linked to applications-the better to port it onto tablets and other
touch-centric form factors. The beta is due in February 2012, with the final
version reportedly later in the year.
Windows 8 will face some significant hurdles. For starters, Windows 7 isn't
exactly an antiquated operating system; released three years ago, it has sold
hundreds of millions of copies and managed to erode the support base for Windows
XP, Microsoft's reliable but aged operating system. Microsoft will have to make
the case to consumers and enterprises that Windows 8 will be worth the upgrade.
Second, Microsoft will have to challenge Apple's iPad and other well-entrenched
competitors for a portion of the tablet market, which could prove a difficult
as the company geared up Windows 8, Microsoft did its best to promote Windows
Phone, the smartphone platform it hoped would compete toe-to-toe against Apple's
iPhone and the growing family of Google Android devices.
its launch in late 2010, Windows Phone has attracted some strong reviews from
the tech press, but Microsoft's overall share of the smartphone market has
continued to decline over the past few quarters. That could be partly
attributable to a dip in usage for Windows Mobile, Microsoft's previous
generation of phone software. But it also speaks volumes about the level of
competition in the smartphone arena, where both the iPhone and higher-end
devices like Motorola's Droid franchise have made life difficult for any new
platform looking to establish itself.
a July 11 keynote speech at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, CEO Steve
Ballmer described Windows Phone's market presence as "very small."
Nonetheless, he went on to insist that other metrics boded well for the
platform. "Nine out of 10 people who bought Windows Phone would absolutely
recommend it to a friend," he said, reiterating a talking point voiced by
many a Microsoft executive over the past few months. "People in the phone
business believe in us."
a bid to invigorate Windows Phone, Microsoft took a pair of massive steps in
2011. In February, it signed a partnership deal with Nokia, with the Finnish
phone maker agreeing to make Windows Phone the primary platform for its
smartphones. A few months later, it whipped the curtain back on its
wide-ranging "Mango" update, designed to bake hundreds of new
features into Windows Phone's interface.
to some analysts, the combination of a more feature-rich platform and a bevy of
new devices from Nokia and other manufacturers could help Microsoft gain some
traction in the marketplace. In a June research note, IDC predicted that
Windows Phone will take some 20 percent of the smartphone market by 2015,
surpassing both Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS.
IDC's estimates hinge on Nokia transitioning smoothly to Windows Phone,
something that other analysts perceive as easier said than done. "We would
continue to avoid the stock as Symbian smartphone sales are falling off faster
than expected and we are skeptical that new Windows Phone (WP) models will be
able to replace lost profits," Stephen Patel, an analyst with Gleacher
& Company, wrote in a May 31 research note. "Our checks suggest mixed
carrier support for Nokia's transition to WP."
December, Nokia had unveiled the Lumia 710 and 800, its first two devices
running Windows Phone; the former is scheduled to hit store shelves in the
United States at the beginning of January, its $49 price point meant to compete
against the sizable contingent of midrange Google Android devices offered by