Microsoft has done a 180. They’ve gone from being perceived as a bludgeoning, corporate, stiff-necked bunch of Scrooglers (thank you, Monsieur Ballmer) to suddenly open, admirable company. Not only is it bridging gaps – putting out a slew of great apps into both Apple and Google’s ecosystems, thrilling users with potentially “free” Windows upgrades – it’s suddenly cool.
1) Apps in the Store
Have you noticed how many applications Microsoft is pumping into the iOS and Android app stores? Not only are these good applications in their own right, and excellent ambassadors for the Microsoft name: they could also be a smart way of collecting data on people using these platforms. That lock screen depicted, for example: that’s a Microsoft app. Microsoft doesn’t need to be making lockscreen apps – but the fact that they are shows a desire to be the place that people go to for quality productivity stuff regardless of whether it’s on desktop or mobile.
2) Get in the news
The public transformation really began with HoloLens and Mojang. One was an acquisition that was very poorly recieved by most of the community; people believed Microsoft would wreck Mojang – just like what happened with Ensemble and Bungie. While it’s too early to see if that’s the case, Microsoft’s brilliance came through when it showed off the HoloLens trailer – with a guy playing Minecraft. That was the true highlight of the demo. It gave hope that not only would Minecraft survive, but it would become even more immersive in the future. Those meant the eyeballs of over a 100 million registered users as well as uncountable Minecraft pirates paid attention. And talked. And talked.
HoloLens also affected how many people viewed Microsoft: it went from being seen as that company that made your OS – almost an essential evil – to being something cool, experimental and very much in that part of the public eye that looks on with eager awe at electric cars and virtual reality.
Of course, Microsoft is still in the news. Now they’re apparently turning email into IMs. They’ve had a Solitaire tournament to celebrate 25 years of Solitaire. They’ve promised “an Xbox One experience” on Windows 10, leading gamers to rejoice and some to wonder why Microsoft would harm its own lineup like that. They’re in the news, alright.
3) Make that smartphone smarter
One of Microsoft’s coolest announcements at the Build conference was Continuum – a demo where they got a smartphone interface to scale up and adapt to large screens and keyboard and mice. For effect, that’s like having a PC in your pocket – plug it into the right peripherals (wirelessly, if you prefer) and you have a full PC experience on your hands, like a superpowered Raspberry Pi. Some speculate that this might let to a new hardware segment where laptops are nothing more that peripherals that can run off a phone that can be hot-swapped in.
If Microsoft can cook up a system where developers can build universal apps that run across both traditional desktops and the Continuum-powered phones, we end up with a true unified OS. That could work wonders.
4) Office, Office everywhere
Time was when Office was something you could only use effectively on a Microsoft platform (or on a Mac). Now it’s everywhere, accessible anytime from almost any device, and it’s growing. More and more Office services are free. Box, the cloud storage service, is now part and parcel of Office. They’re reportedly testing OfficeNow, a productivity app that helps you manage your work schedule and is available across platforms. They’re rolling out Sway, the automatic presentation creation app, for business and educational users. They’re migrating Outlook into Office 365.
Microsoft’s basically realized that platform dominance is no longer guaranteed: now they’re pivoting to make sure that they are the de facto provider of Office stuff regardless of what device you use. To that end, they’re making Office 365 as powerful – and as available – as possible.
5) Acquisitions, because business
Microsoft tried to buy Salesforce ($ 55 billion) It’s rumored that they’re going to try and buy Blackberry. They recently bought Revolution Analytics, N-trig, Sunrise, LiveLoop and Datazen. They’ve acquired six companies from January 2015 to now: they only acquired 9 in 2014 and 7 in 2013. Are they on a Google-esque spree? It’s too early to tell, but that may very well be the case.
4) Give them freebies, bill them later
Of course, we can’t really talk Microsoft without discussing its new pricing strategies. Free Windows? Three years ago that would have been blasphemy. But no, Microsoft wants everyone to upgrade free. It’s evident that Microsoft has gone from selling primarily platforms to selling services, using the pay-as-you-use models so espoused by Amazon and Adobe. Office 365, Azure, Dynamics CRM – as Fortune noted not too long ago, that strategy’s led to a 30% increase in the number of Office 365 customers alone. And it neatly lets people espouse the platforms of their choice without someone having to play bad guy and lock them in.