Surface Tablet Debut, Windows Phone 8 Preview Marked Busy Microsoft Week

With the introduction of the Surface tablet, a preview of Windows Phone 8 and the possible acquisition of Yammer, Microsoft has had a busy week that shows the company is trying to shake off the image of a lethargic bureaucracy that some of its detractors give it.

Many Microsoft employees will likely do a lot of relaxing this weekend after a long and busy week of big changes at the company, from Surface to Windows Phone 8 and a possible acquisition in the enterprise social networking space.

The most fundamental change for Microsoft was the introduction of the Surface tablet computer, which will be one of the few Microsoft products integrating hardware and software both made by Microsoft. To challenge the Apple iPad, Microsoft also adopted its rival€™s gift for showmanship by keeping the purpose of the media event under wraps and even its location secret until just a few hours before it took place in Los Angeles June 18.

Without a trace of irony, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ignored the company€™s prevailing business model of making the software and letting others make the hardware: "Any interaction between human and machine can be made better when all aspects are considered together."

The unveiling of a Microsoft-made Surface tablet may have irked hardware partners, such as Dell, HP, Lenovo and others, but it also gave those OEMs an idea of what to shoot for in their own tablets, once the new Windows 8/RT OS is released to manufacturers later this year.

The Surface introduction was followed two days later by another Microsoft event, the Windows Phone Summit in San Francisco June 20, at which the company provided a Windows Phone Platform Preview for software developers for the coming Windows Phone 8 (WP8) operating system.

This was also a big leap forward for Microsoft over Windows Phone 7 (WP7) for a number of reasons. First, the platform will be designed for multi-core processors, compared to WP7€™s single-core platform. Secondly, WP8 gives developers a €œshared common core€ with Windows 8, making it easier for developers to create an app that would run on a Windows Phone 8 device and a Windows 8 device. Third, it will extend to WP8 devices the same security and management features that enterprises already deploy for their Windows desktops.

On the downside, Windows Phone 8 will be so different from WP7 that Microsoft said WP7 users will not be able to upgrade their smartphones to WP8 when it comes out.

The event also gave handset partner Nokia an opportunity to showcase innovations in WP8 handsets it will bring to market and to try to assuage worries about its corporate downsizing.

Microsoft also seems to have been busy on the acquisition front with the rumored purchase of enterprise social media player Yammer for $1.2 billion. Both Microsoft and Yammer declined to comment on the persistent speculation that had previously described the deal as all but an accomplished fact. But, if it€™s true, it would be another in a long list of acquisitions in just the last month by big tech players in the enterprise social networking space. snapped up Buddy Media for close to $700 million to complement its existing Chatter social media platform. Oracle added Collective Intellect to its portfolio of social media-related acquisitions. SAP acquired Ariba for $4.3 billion, although that€™s more of a collaboration company than enterprise social media. However, many of these platforms combine collaboration (a la Microsoft Lync/SharePoint) with enterprise social media (a la Facebook). VMware announced a new pricing strategy for its Socialcast enterprise social service, offering a full-featured suite of services free for up to 50 users.

If Microsoft acquires Yammer, that would leave companies like Jive Software, Moxie Software and BroadVision in a shrinking group of independent enterprise social media providers.