Microsoft's Selective Partner Resale Strategy For Surface: Short-term Benefits, Longer-term Challenges

Microsoft (MSFT) recently announced plans to sell Surface tablets to enterprise customers, including educational institutions, through a two-tier partner program called Microsoft Devices Program (MDP). The program authorizes distributors to sell Surface to a newly designated group of device-authorized large account resellers (LARs). Per the announcement, in the US, Surface will be resold through three authorized distributors (Ingram Micro Inc., SYNNEX Corporation, and Tech Data Corporation) and 10 high volume LARs. MDP is likely to be expanded to select partners in 28 other countries by the end of September 2013. As part of the initial go-to-market model, Microsoft is not including its solution providers in the program.  

Based on recent media reports, Microsoft’s US partners -- solution providers in particular -- have expressed dissatisfaction with Microsoft’s selective approach towards partnering for Surface. Solution providers feel Microsoft is ignoring the opportunity to deliver “wrap-around services” around Surface, which they could have delivered.

I believe that in the near term, Microsoft is correct in limiting access; but, in the longer term, it will need to open up to other partners, including solution providers that can help Microsoft deliver Surface-based solutions as a means to ensure differentiation in the tablet market and drive margins. Microsoft needs to follow some key guidelines as part of Surface’s go-to-market strategy if it wants to stand above the crowd:

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With Windows RT Struggling, Microsoft Should Bring Office To iPad

One noteworthy detail emerged from Microsoft’s quarterly earnings call yesterday: A $900 million write-down for “inventory adjustments” related to the underperformance of Windows RT. This result didn’t come as a surprise because:

  • Microsoft’s Windows RT strategy has long been puzzling. Launching the Surface RT device before the Windows 8-based Surface Pro offering never made sense – an insufficient number of Modern UI apps made the Surface RT hard to position and sell from the beginning. Samsung recognized the shortcomings of RT early on, exiting the market a mere three months after RT’s release.
  • Microsoft still hasn’t convinced developers that Windows RT should be a top priority. Our survey of 2,038 global software developers revealed that developer support for Windows RT trails Windows 7, Windows 8, Apple iOS, Google Android, and even Apple OS X. For example, while 21% of global developers support or plan to support Windows RT, 64% say the same for “Windows 7 and earlier versions.”
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A New Microsoft Emerges. Leader Again or Still Fast-Follower?

Today's re-org at Microsoft comes amidst mixed success as they straddle the gap between capricious individual consumers and the cash-strapped, risk-averse needs of enterprise IT buyers who find themselves years behind the demands of their own capricious workers, who are also consumers when they go home. Windows 8 shows us that Microsoft has more learning to do about where to place those bets, but we also think their work on server, cloud and hybrid cloud is excellent, and that their longer-term strategy is viable. We see this organizational re-alignment as very positive.
 
The Server and Tools Business becomes Cloud and Enterprise Engineering Group
Satya Nadella and Scott Guthrie both have done a great job of driving Agile development and continuous delivery into every team in STB and that is resulting in faster moving and more compelling products and services. They deserve a lot of credit for this and so putting even more under them seems a good thing. The key is whether it is the right things.
 
For perspective: one of Microsoft's greatest strengths is that they give smart people development tools that are extremely easy to use and deceptively powerful. So much so that generations of developers will commit themselves and careers to mastery of Visual Studio, for example. Microsoft democratizes software development by lowering the barriers to entry like no other company. The shift to cloud gives them the chance to do it again, and the improvements in Visual Studio 2013 shown at BUILD in San Francisco are superb and stretch smoothly from the datacenter to the cloud.
 
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Our Voice-Controlled Computing Future: How Workers Use Voice Commands Today

Voice-controlled intelligent assistants offer a tantalizingly productive vision of end user computing. Using voice commands, users can extend the computing experience to not just mobile scenarios, but to hyper-mobile, on-the-go situations (such as while driving). With wearables like Google Glass, voice command promises even deeper integration into hyper-mobile experiences, as this video demonstrates. And voice controlled intelligent assistants can also enable next-generation collaboration tools like MindMeld.

In spite of this promise, there remains a lurking sense that voice control is more of a gimmick than a productivity enhancer. (As of the time I posted this blog, a Google search for Siri+gimmick yielded… “about 2,430,000 results”). To see where voice control really stands, we surveyed information workers in North American and Europe about their use of voice commands.

Information workers’ use of voice control today:

In reality, many information workers with smartphones are already using voice commands – at least occasionally. Our survey revealed that:

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