2012: A Microsoft Renaissance?

As an avid reader of tech news, I have been relatively surprised by the recently press given to Microsoft. The press has been sounding a little different than the usual security blunder or news of a product launch that was doomed before it hit the shelves. The press has, in fact, been lauding Microsoft for some of their recent displays concerning upcoming products and their future operating system, Windows 8. The praises were coming in across the board concerning things coming out of the Microsoft world. The positive praise and the anticipation of Windows 8 got me thinking: could 2012 be the year of Microsoft’s renaissance? I think it is quite possible for a number of reasons, but first a little look at how things are.

My general advocacy has been more idealistic and in favor of Google’s Android. Android is the right recipe for options, and this it has produced. First off, Android is an open platform. Although Google controls Android, it only does so at a high level. Hardware manufacturers and enthusiasts alike can get it and adapt it to their liking. Many hardware manufacturers have already made Android based phones making phones available with innumerable options and multiple price points. For this reason, Android has become the big-boy in the mobile arena which brings up another point: software developers want to get their apps on as many of these devices as they can. The top two operating systems, iOS and Android, all claim hundreds of thousands of apps for download.

On the other end of the spectrum is Apple with iOS. While Android is an open platform, iOS is a closed platform, whose hardware and software are tightly controlled by one vendor, namely Apple. Apple can be credited with bringing the smartphone to the masses rather than it being something toted by business people. Apple, however, has had some major setbacks. First and most obvious, Apple no longer has Steve Jobs. Undeniably, Jobs was in control at Apple and ran it with an iron fist. Likewise, he garnered popular appeal which help drive the sales Apple products. Without the iconic Jobs, Apple’s future does not seem to have the same optimism it once had. And now with 4 generations of iPhones, consumers are beginning to discover that “smartphone” is not synonymous with “iPhone”. In the same manner that AOL dominated the early years of the consumer Internet market, Apple dominated the early years of the smartphone market. When users discovered that the Internet was more than AOL’s walled gardened, they started to dump AOL in favor of other Internet Service Providers. While it is yet to be seen whether or not Apple’s walled-garden approach iOS will suffer a similar fate, it is primed to do so. The iPhone market share is already slipping in the European markets in favor of Android.

Microsoft’s approach has always been aimed somewhere between the idealistic, open platform like Android the closed, walled-garden approach of Apple and iOS. Windows is a proprietary operating system, but Microsoft does not prescribe hardware and software. Likewise, Microsoft has never controlled what applications can and cannot be installed on its operating systems. (Some of this might change with Windows Phone Marketplace though). This approach proved successful for Microsoft in the 80’s and 90’s when desktop computing was ubiquitous with Windows. Diehard Apple fans will continue to purchase Apple products for years to come as they did even when Microsoft occupied 98% of the market. It is the not-so-diehard fans that may consider buying something else if that something is worth buying, and Microsoft may have something to offer. But if Microsoft is going to emerge as a contender, its biggest competition will probably be Google’s Android, not Apple. Google’s model inhabits the ground Microsoft usually likes to hold. Likewise if the Microsoft wants to woo developers to a third platform, it has work to do. Microsoft does have two things in its favor – the droves of Windows developers and Microsoft’s top-notch development tools. If nothing else, these may help secure a foothold for Microsoft.

While my advocacy is for Android, I am not dogmatic. I am actually cautiously optimistic about Microsoft, and there are a few things that are aligning that might make Microsoft’s emergence possible. First, there seems to be am inevitable convergence of Windows desktop platform and their mobile platform. I doubt this will happen in the next iteration of the Windows operating system, Windows 8, but they are coming closer. Windows 8 will sport the Metro styling and will support ARM processors: two things that have traditionally been the territory of mobile platforms. Likewise, there was a recent shake-up at Microsoft’s leadership to focus on what seems like a shift to bring the mobile OS and desktop OS into the same camp. Second, and as mentioned, there is all the positive press surrounding Microsoft at the Consumer Electronics Show this year. Featured were some slick tablets, nice phones, and stylish “ultrabooks” running Microsoft’s software and the critics seemed to love these devices. This positive momentum may help reduce the stigma against Microsoft as being yesterday’s news and convince open-minded buyers to consider buying from Microsoft. Third, slippage in Apple’s market share in some markets and overall growth in the volume of mobile devices could open a hole wide enough for Microsoft to gain more than its small percentage it has now. If Microsoft can fill that hole, then they may be more than a third party candidate with a long-shot bid.

The future is not set in stone, but as of right now, Microsoft has some momentum to reinvigorate the company as a leader in the computing industry. I’m no Windows fanboy, and I have a bit of hesitation on anything out of the Microsoft world. I was skeptical of Xbox, but it actually became a major player in the console industry despite the fact it came from Microsoft. In conjunction, the Halo franchise has been an immersive, ground-breaking game with each subsequent release. Microsoft can do more than operating systems and office suites. Maybe this time Microsoft will emerge in the mobile computing industry as well and reinvent the public opinion of a floundering IT company of yesteryears.

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