Microsoft Pushes Traditional PC, Personal Clouds at WPC

Microsoft executives advocated the company's consumer products at the Worldwide Partner Conference, highlighting Windows 7, traditional PCs, personal clouds, and Windows Phone 7.

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Microsoft executives used a second day of keynotes at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference July 13 to highlight the supposed dominance of the traditional PC, as well as upcoming consumer products.

Microsoft's overarching strategy seems to center on promoting its flagship products, such as Windows 7 or the upcoming Windows Phone 7, as equally useful within both a business and consumer context.

"The things we use at home are the things we're being asked for at work," Brad Brooks, corporate vice president of Windows consumer marketing and product management, told the audience. "It's about how things fit with both my home life and my work life that defines a great product and product experiences."

"Some say a PC is not the future, that it's reached the limit," Brooks said, in what could be regarded as something of a backhand swipe against Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who has said on a number of occasions that mobile devices have begun to eclipse the traditional PC. "I think those people need to have their headbone checked out. We are just seeing an amazing breadth of innovation and form factors from our manufacturing partners. Windows 7 takes PC to a whole new level: the cloud: the personal cloud."

To illustrate the concept of a personal cloud, he demonstrated how a song downloaded onto his PC would sync onto his smartphone, or how a photo taken with a Windows Phone 7 device could be synced to the cloud-based Microsoft Skydrive, and from there sent to friends and family. Leveraging the cloud, media such as video or music can be delivered to multiple screens within a household.

While Windows 7 has proven a bestseller in the months following its October 2009 release, and many of its flagship programs remain staples of both the enterprise and SMBs, Microsoft's consumer initiatives have a decidedly mixed track record.

Last week, for example, the company was forced to discontinue its Kin social-networking phones due to anemic sales; although the devices were aimed at a fairly narrow demographic of teenagers and social-networking-happy young adults, their much-publicized demise led to much questioning about Microsoft's ability to execute its broader plan for Windows Phone 7, which is due for release on select devices later in 2010.

The Kin's death took place against a broader shakeup of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, including the departure of its two top executives. The group's Xbox franchise has begun to turn a profit after several years of running in the red, but other products-such as the Zune HD-have not attained marketplace success.

That puts Microsoft at something of a disadvantage in the consumer IT space, notably in comparison to Apple, whose iPods dominate the portable-media-device market.

Microsoft's countermove seems to be focusing on cloud services, and their portability across multiple pieces of hardware, as opposed to specific devices. The other part of its consumer push continues to be smartphones; during a keynote at the conference, Andy Lees, senior vice president of Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, insisted that, "Windows Phone 7 is very focused on delighting the end user."

"The problem is that smartphones are just app launchers; they're a grid of icons," Lees continued. "We figured there's got to be a better way than going app by app by app, so two years ago we fundamentally reset our strategy."

Microsoft needs that strategy to succeed.