Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provided his vision to thousands of corporate partners at the Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. The vision is compelling but the execution on the vision is largely still to come.
Wednesday’s WPC keynotes took a more technology-centric focus, and in contrast to Monday’s session, were not entirely about the cloud! Featured were:
- Some improvements to the Windows Phone: shape-typing (aka 2 years later Google gesture typing), along with Cortana (aka 2 years late Siri, but admittedly, much better).
- Desktop OS: multi-window tiled apps running side by side and even a tiled start menu…yes…they not only brought back the start menu for people who prefer the long way of starting apps, but are actually investing in it.
- Some very interesting new features with Skype around instant voice translation which are not only technologically impressive, but truly game-changing for people all over the world.
But of course, all eyes were on the final speaker of the day’s session, CEO Satya Nadella, in his first big address to the world-wide partner network. Having not long ago completed his first 100 days, Nadella is still speaking from the visionary perspective, tying together the many threads of the other speakers, both today and in Monday’s keynote, in a holistic vision for the future of Microsoft.
At the heart of that vision is, of course, the cloud-first, mobile-first mantra, which pushes away from the traditional Windows OS-centric mentality that governed for so long. It is an interestingly quick shift away from even just a year ago when Steve Ballmer proclaimed the “Devices and Services” focus, but the release of the Surface 3 Pro, acquisition of Nokia, and even an announcement today that we could see a Toshiba 7 inch tablet as the first one in that class to run Windows indicate that devices aren’t out of the strategy, they’re just not the key focus.
In fact, Nadella’s vision for a productive, seamless, cross-device user experience relies on those devices (but doesn’t exclude the iPads and Android devices of the world). Using the cloud (ok, you knew it was going to come up today, even if it wasn’t the focus!) as a delivery mechanism for apps that span across all devices and environments Microsoft can be part of “human activity across all of their daily life, across all of their devices”.
All those big idea pieces like Big Data Analytics and Internet of Everything will continue to open up more ways to enable not just productivity, but innovation and social change. Based on the messaging in many of the interlude videos throughout the keynote, it is not a stretch to say that Microsoft even considers these advances as leading to the betterment of humanity in general, which is a noble vision to say the least.
But therein lies the rub—visions sound great because they can be forward looking, unbound by many technical limitations and complications that exist in markets that don’t fit the perfect Microsoft utopian model. Constant connectivity is a requirement for many of the benefits these technologies will provide, but that is still not a reality everywhere in the world. There is also no mention of how business and consumer customers will ultimately license and pay for these types of ubiquitous apps, as many of Microsoft’s licensing models still add both complication and cost to additional access, especially when it is a non-Windows device. But that’s the great thing about a vision—you don’t have to answer those questions…yet.
So overall, I give the vision Nadella presented (essentially the same as his internal email to all Microsoft partners last week), a “Sounds pretty cool”. I don’t necessarily believe that the extension from enterprise into personal will work out quite as intended (it sure didn’t for RIM/Blackberry…) but I would truly like to see the vision come to fruition on that enterprise level. If I can be productive on my work PC, Android phone on the train home, and iPad mini/Desktop PC when I’m at home, with a fluent, consistent, and intuitive UI, and at a cost that isn’t going to be prohibitive, I’m buying what Microsoft and Nadella are selling.