If you have dismissed Microsoft as a cloud platform player up to now, you might want to rethink that notion. With the latest release of Windows Azure here at Build, Microsoft’s premier developer shindig, this cloud service has become a serious contender for the top spot in cloud platforms. And all the old excuses that may have kept you away are quickly being eliminated.
In typical Microsoft fashion, the Redmond, Washington giant is attacking the cloud platform market with a competitive furor that can only be described as faster follower. In 2008, Microsoft quickly saw the disruptive change that Amazon Web Services (AWS) represented and accelerated its own lab project centered around delivering Windows as a cloud platform. Version 1.0 of Azure was decidedly different and immature and thus struggled to establish its place in the market. But with each iteration, Microsoft has expanded Azure’s applicability, appeal, and maturity. And the pace of change for Windows Azure has accelerated dramatically under the new leadership of Satya Nadella. He came over from the consumer Internet services side of Microsoft, where new features and capabilities are normally released every two weeks — not every two years, as had been the norm in the server and tools business prior to his arrival.
Windows 8 is a make or break product launch for Microsoft. Windows will endure a slow start as traditional PC users delay upgrades, while those eager for Windows tablets jump in. After a slow start in 2013, Windows 8 will take hold in 2014, keeping Microsoft relevant and the master of the PC market, but simply a contender in tablets, and a distant third in smartphones.
Microsoft has long dominated PC units, with something more than 95% sales. The incremental gains of Apple’s Mac products over the last five years haven’t really changed that reality. But the tremendous growth of smartphones, and then tablets, has. If you combine all the unit sales of personal devices, Microsoft’s share of units has shrunk drastically to about 30% in 2012.
It’s hard to absorb the reality of the shift without a picture, so in the report “Windows: The Next Five Years,” we estimated and forecast the unit sales of PCs, smartphones, and tablets from 2008 to 2016 to create a visual. As you can see below in the chart of unit sales, Microsoft has and will continue to grow unit sales of Windows and Windows Phone. But the mobile market grew very fast in the last five years, while Microsoft had tiny share in smartphones and no share in tablets.
If you look at the results by share of all personal devices, below, you can see how big a shift happened over the last five years as smartphone units exploded and the iPad took hold.
Microsoft Windows will power just one-third of personal computing devices sold during 2012. Say what? Over the past five years, the transition to mobile devices has transformed Microsoft’s position from desktop dominance to one of several players vying for share in a new competitive landscape.
And so Microsoft is making some very bold moves to transform Windows: creating a singular touch-native UX for a seamless experience across PCs and mobile devices, building an app store distribution model, and engaging its vast user base to develop core personal cloud services.
You’ll learn about the trends and behaviors shaping a painful, but ultimately successful, five-year migration for the Windows franchise. We will size and forecast the future of Windows’ presence in a device landscape where market share is measured across all computing devices, not just PCs. And we will outline the new personal computing success metrics for OS providers and ecosystems, which look beyond device market share to customer engagement across multiple formats, online services, and content delivery.
Today, Microsoft announced pricing and availability for the Windows RT version of the Microsoft Surface ($499 for 32GB, not including the “Touch Cover,” available for preorder today, shipping 10/26). This product is intended to be a pure consumer play; Microsoft also plans to launch a Windows 8 version of the Surface, aimed at enterprises, for which it has not yet announced pricing. Yesterday, I spent the day with the Surface team led by Steven Sinofsky and Panos Panay, and I learned many things: Sinofsky is from Florida, for example, and when he stands on a Surface that’s attached to skateboard wheels, it doesn’t break. I learned about the importance of optically bonded displays, saw nifty 3D printers making plastic models, and heard about the many trips to China required to perfect the Surface manufacturing process. I was told many examples of the Surface team’s attention to detail, down to the sound design of the kickstand closure.
I did not hear, however, the answers to the most pertinent questions asked by our clients, many of whom are product strategists in Microsoft’s partner ecosystem (OEMs, ISVs, and potential app developers like media companies, banks, and retailers). Will Surface expand distribution beyond Microsoft’s stores and website? If Microsoft believes it’s making the “best hardware for Windows,” as Sinofsky told us, how does it expect its OEM partners to respond? No comment on both fronts.
Well if you're going to make a dramatic about face from total dismissal of cloud computing, this is a relatively credible way to do it. Following up on its announcement of a serious cloud future at Oracle Open World 2011, the company delivered new cloud services with some credibility at this last week's show. It's a strategy with laser focus on selling to Oracle's own installed base and all guns aimed at Salesforce.com. While the promise from last year was a homegrown cloud strategy, most of this year's execution has been bought. The strategy is essentially to deliver enterprise-class applications and middleware any way you want it - on-premise, hosted and managed or true cloud. A quick look at where they are and how they got here:
Forrester attended Microsoft’s Asia Pacific Analyst Summit in Singapore last week for a comprehensive and very timely strategy update with less than a month to go before the launch of Windows 8. Organized under a general theme of Microsoft’s New Era, the update highlighted Microsoft’s strategy for remaining dominant in the post-PC era, where mobility, consumerization, social, and cloud have driven massive IT industry innovation and disruption. Three key observations from our analysts in attendance:
Azure is emerging as a key strength as organizations increasingly leverage hybrid cloud approaches. As both a leading provider of public and private cloud services (directly and via hosting partners) and a strategic platform provider within enterprise data centers, Microsoft is very well positioned to embed hybrid cloud capabilities within its platform. This will benefit organizations of all sizes seeking to lower the cost of computing and increase business agility. While we were encouraged by how software license-agnostic Azure’s business leaders appear to be, we believe Microsoft can do a better job of leading with Azure in the enterprise market instead of leading so consistently with its traditional licensed software products.
Windows 8 devices will help boost Microsoft’s standing in the mobility market. Microsoft showcased a number of prelaunch Windows 8 devices from its OEM partners, and it’s clear that consumers will have a much better lineup of mobile devices to choose from in the future. Microsoft also presented several Windows Phone 8 smartphones from Nokia and Samsung and has wisely implemented a strategy to identify the top mobile apps in each Asia Pacific country and support app developers in creating versions for the Microsoft platform.