Microsoft desperately needs a darn good strategy

Most people who can be considered real geeks are often not Microsoft fans. They are either open source fans and usually have their own personal preference for a version of Linux, or they prefer Apple's products (and thus use Mac OS X). Of late the amount of Apple fanboys (or girls) seems to be increasing. Apple is known for always having had an incredibly loyal following but they now have been converting the masses with their iPod, iMac, Macbook, iPhone and iPad success spree. That has lead them to make serious inroads against their 'big' rival, Microsoft.

Microsoft has been 'under attack' for a while now. Not only by Apple but by some other companies (notably Google) as well. The question is, 'how is Microsoft going to defend (or expand) itself'? Mobile computing devices are seen as the new PC, yet Microsoft has a rather weak presence there. People all around us are sporting iPhones, iPads and Android devices and are getting accustomed to new software (Apps) and interfaces. On most of these mobile products, Microsoft does not exist at all.

recent article on how the CIO of Starbucks roughly said that Microsoft really needs to 'pull a rabit out of its hat' with the next version of Windows, really got me thinking about Microsoft's overall strategy.

In the enterprise software market it might still be all about dotNet (.Net), MS-SQL databases and perhaps SharePoint. In our private lives it is more about: iPhones, iPad, Android, WhatsApp, Ping (chat), Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify or Last.fm, iPhoto or Picasa, Dropbox, iTunes and Netflix, etc.

Microsoft's strongest products are still its Windows operating system and its Office suite. In other areas, they have strong products too but there are alternatives. Windows is still the most common OS but it does not really exist outside PCs and Mac OS X is making strong headways (especially for home users). Windows 7 is a fine version of Windows but it is still Windows. Is it that different from Windows 95/98 in terms of usability and user experience?

Are Apps the way forward?

The recently announced Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (and even sooner the current 10.6 Snow Leopard version) will have an App store just like the one on the iPhone and iPad where you can buy and download Apps (or get free ones) for your computer. The new Macbook Air is trying to bridge the gap between the iPad and a laptop which essentially means that Apple is trying to incorporate the successes of iOS into Mac OS (bringing the two closer together). When Google launches the Chromium Operating System it will surely have some integration with Android and the Android App store.

Microsoft does not have an App store (of any meaning) and it does not seem to have a clear strategy for integrating one in Windows either. Microsoft Live Mail (formerly Hotmail) does not work as well on an iPhone or Android device - so many people switch to Gmail.

Microsoft Office

The basic Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) is what I still consider Microsoft's greatest products. There are alternatives but they also have their drawbacks and everyone is - generally speaking - still using Office so from the compatibility perspective it is easier to use Office (in the corporate world). Outlook is the number one corporate e-mailprogram (and calendar) in combination with MS Exchange. The question remains whether Microsoft can uphold that strength and whether the succes of Office is totally dependent on the success of Windows (i.e. can they decouple)?

Where is the strategy?

I am at loss what Microsoft's strategy is. As a consumer I am starting to see little use for Microsoft products. I prefer to use Word and Excel for Word processing and financial or tabular data most of the times. At the same time, I am almost as comfortable using Apple's iWork software and Google Docs. I do not need Windows (as a Mac user) at home. If I did own a PC, I might switch to Ubuntu Linux.

Professionally, I am forced to use Microsoft products. I do not see that changing in the near-near future. My point is however: Microsoft's dominant position in the corporate world is changing. Microsoft's products are starting to seem like products in decline. What we use at home is slowly making it's way into our professional life as well. From Google Chrome to privately purchased (but brought to work) iPads.

What is Microsoft's strategy? Where is their sense of the future? Windows Phone 7 might prove to be a small succes but it is not going to kick-ass like the iPhone and Android do.

Let's end this post with another simple question: Why on earth has Microsoft not developed a version of Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint at the least) that works on iOS (iPad and iPhone versions), Android and RIM Blackberry OS? From what kind of strategy perspective did they decide to miss that opportunity and risk the most powerful dominance they have (the Office productivity one). Simply put: there is no market leading, kick-ass program that can view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files and runs on all major mobile platforms. (I do not like Documents to Go that much).

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