Microsoft’s week focused on its Worldwide Partner Conference, in Los Angeles, as well as offering some new insight into the company’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system.
As with past WPCs, the multiday event opened July 11 with a wide-ranging keynote speech from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who gave a comprehensive view of the company’s strategy moving forward. He also hinted at current and future projects, such as Kinect and Windows 8, while remaining short on actual details.
“We’re moving forward to the cloud, public and private,” he told the audience assembled in the Staples Center. “We’re all in and we want partners who are all in with us.”
As in previous speeches, Ballmer emphasized what he termed successes, including Bing’s growth in overall market share and number of user queries served. Microsoft has been leveraging its minority stake in Facebook to make Bing more “social,” integrating data from the social network (such as suggesting which Web sites your friends liked) into the search engine’s results. He also called out the 100 million Office 2010 licenses shipped since last year, and Xbox Kinect’s sales run.
He defended Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion, suggesting the communications company’s assets will act as a force multiplier for existing Microsoft products, such as Lync. “One of the great motivations in acquiring Skype is to allow the enterprise all the control it wants,” he said. “Skype [is] a strategy that will allow the consumerization of IT to proceed with full…vigor.”
Yet Ballmer seemed somewhat reluctant to delve too deeply into some of Microsoft’s trouble areas. He glossed over Windows Phone’s sales and market share. “We know we’ve got a lot to do,” he said. “We’re all in when it comes to mobile devices.”
He referred to Microsoft’s deal with Nokia, which will see Windows Phone ported onto the latter’s devices. “Nokia could have bet on themselves, bet on Android or bet on Windows Phone,” he said, suggesting that the Finnish manufacturer went with Microsoft after “they saw our roadmaps and saw what we did.”
Over the course of WPC, Microsoft unveiled upcoming Windows Phones from the likes of Acer, Fujitsu, ZTE, and Samsung-all of which embrace a thin-and-light design style, and all of which will presumably run the wide-ranging “Mango” update due in the fall. If that wasn’t enough, the company is also leveraging the rest of its technology stack to build out the capabilities of Windows Phone: the version of Internet Explorer 9 running on Microsoft’s smartphones, for example, has the same software underpinnings as the browser that runs on PCs.
It remains to be seen, though, whether such moves can help Microsoft regain momentum in smartphones. For the three-month period between the end of February and the end of May, research firm comScore estimated that Microsoft’s U.S. share dipped from 7.7 percent to 5.8 percent. During the same period, adoption of Google’s Android platform rose from 33 percent to 38.1 percent, while Apple enjoyed a slight uptick, from 25.2 percent to 26.6 percent. Research In Motion continued its market slide, declining from 28.9 percent to 24.7 percent.
Another Glimpse of Windows 8
Microsoft also used the WPC to provide another glimpse of Windows 8, which many pundits and analysts believe will be released sometime in 2012. In place of the “traditional” Windows desktop and Start button, Windows 8 will offer a variety of color tiles designed to be equally tablet- and PC-friendly. In many ways, the system takes cues from Windows Phone, which also embraces a tile-centric architecture.
Even after Ballmer left the stage, the big announcements kept coming: During the July 12 keynotes, executives revealed the upcoming release of a System Center 2012 beta, which lets IT administrators manage machines and applications across a system of public and private clouds. An App Controller feature gives those pros an aggregated understanding of all their private clouds, along with services deployed on Windows Azure.
Those executives whipped the curtain back from the next version of Windows Server, codenamed Windows Server 8, which will apparently boost the ability to manage private cloud infrastructure. However, the company is keeping a somewhat tight lid on details until September’s Build conference, where Windows 8 will make a fresh appearance.
In conjunction with the conference, Microsoft is offering up SQL Server Code Name “Denali” Community Technology Preview 3 (CTP3) and SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1, both of which are available via the Microsoft SQL Server Team Blog.
On the strategy side of things, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner revealed some crucial details during his own July 13 keynote. Backward compatibility with Windows 7 will be embedded into Windows 8. The company will open some 75 branded stores over the next two to three years. And the company is more intent than ever on moving its customers away from antiquated platforms, such as Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6.
Windows 8 will be widely available on tablets, thanks to Microsoft’s commitment to SoC (system-on-a-chip) architecture, in particular ARM-based systems from companies such as Nvidia. Turner suggested that Windows’ presence on both ARM- and x86-based systems would “open up a whole array of opportunities in which to compete.” One area of near-term focus for Microsoft and its partners, apparently, will be pushing this vision of Windows as an operating system capable of running on a wide variety of devices, not just on desktops and laptops.
Turner also took care to push flagship products, such as Office 2010, which continue to contribute substantially to Microsoft’s bottom line despite the company’s embracing an “all-in” cloud strategy.
That cloud strategy has yet to contribute substantially to the company’s bottom line. Nonetheless, based on the products unveiled at WPC, Microsoft has lots of other revenue-drivers ready for release over the next 18 months or so.