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From Windows 8.1 to Surface 2 and beyond: What Microsoft's ecosystem needs to thrive

Mark Hachman | Oct. 23, 2013
We look at the areas where each Microsoft product line needs to improve.

All that said, even without any significant "ecosystem booster" features in its latest update, Microsoft has done a good—but not great—job of making Windows Phone a team player among other products and services. The company integrated Office and SkyDrive into the phone OS long ago, and Skype-to-Skype VoIP could end up disrupting international calling. Microsoft still needs to improve integration of the Xbox, if it can.

But hey, at least executives at Microsoft's future hardware division, Nokia, seem to understand how the Windows Phone platform needs to evolve.

"We are releasing new devices frequently and for every new device, if there is an app that somebody cares about, that's not there, that's a missed opportunity of a sale," Nokia vice-president Bryan Biniak told the International Business Times in July. "You can't sell a phone without the apps, you just can't," he said. And apps are what Windows Phone needs most of all.

Office, perhaps Microsoft's strongest current asset, is evolving from a tactical tool into a strategic tool within the company's ecosystem. Obviously, bundling Office with the Surface tablets and partner devices shows that Microsoft is leveraging Office as a major selling point. But that is just Office's most obvious function. More subtly, Microsoft is broadening Office's reach to the Web. The move adds feature bloat to an already bloated product, but it also reinforces Microsoft's greater goals.

Tying Bing search and "live data" to Office documents is a brilliant idea that hasn't quite taken hold yet. But it will. More and more, Office is about sharing data and collaborating via multiple tools, including Lync, Yammer, SkyDrive, and Skype. Of course, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are solid programs, but they're also table stakes in today's workplaces. I'm not convinced that businesses and consumers are using Office to its full capabilities, but the power is there.

And of course, we can't forget Microsoft's new business model: the subscription-based Office 365, which offers the Office suite plus SkyDrive storage plus Skype calls. Everyone hates paying for subscriptions—what do I need that for, again?—but Office 365 trains consumers and businesses to treat Office as a periodic fixed expense, like rent.

Over time, Microsoft plans to update its Office 365 offerings to subscribers, with new features and continual improvements. It could also provide a roadmap to future service enhancements, to maintain anticipation. But it doesn't need to rethink its basic strategy. Microsoft is already doing a terrific job of building Office into its ecosystem.

Cloud and enterprise
Microsoft's consumer cloud begins and ends with SkyDrive. In the enterprise space, however, Microsoft has created its own ecosystem. SQL Server, Exchange Server, and Dynamics' ERP and CRM businesses all tie into Windows Server. Windows Azure powers Microsoft's cloud business, competing with Amazon and other companies for their data. Microsoft's goal is to offer the same business capabilities, whether they be in the cloud or on a server on the business's premises.


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