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Looking back on 2015, Microsoft's biggest year ever

Blair Hanley Frank | Dec. 23, 2015
Windows 10, new devices and a new outlook on the market make for an exciting year

But Microsoft hasn't given up on building smartphones yet.

One new technology, Continuum, lets users connect their phone to a keyboard, mouse and monitor for use like a PC. It's awesome, but requires application support that isn’t really existent in Windows 10’s third-party ecosystem yet. Microsoft is betting that the Windows Universal App Platform will prove popular enough among developers to shore up its lack of apps, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft

The Microsoft HoloLens headset lets users see digital objects alongside things in the real world.

There's a lot more excitement building over another hardware project: HoloLens.

When it was unveiled in January, Microsoft showed off something that largely wasn’t even rumored: a headset crammed with technology that let users overlay digital objects on the physical world around them. It’s futuristic stuff, and while the HoloLens doesn’t quite offer wide-angle augmented reality, it’s still a massively cool piece of kit.

One of the most exciting things about it is that the developer tools handle much of the heavy lifting for accessing the device’s hardware capabilities. Voice recognition, spatial mapping and gesture recognition are easily handled by the HoloLens developer tools, so that app makers can focus on building their software. It bodes well for the future of the device, which will be made available for purchase to select developers early next year.

But new software and new devices were only one part of the strategy Microsoft pushed this year. The company also began working with its competitors in ways that it never would have before. Satya Nadella talked on stage with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce, and other high-level Microsoft executives have appeared at major events hosted by the likes of VMware, Apple and Box.

Microsoft hasn’t given up competing with those companies – far from it. But partnering with its competitors is a titanic shift for Microsoft, and shows a humbler side of a company that wasn't visible a few years ago.

The company also went on a major acquisition spree snapping up a mountain of other companies, including teams behind apps like Wunderlist and Sunrise Calendar.

And there was the one that got away. The rumored deal between Microsoft and Salesforce reportedly didn’t happen because Microsoft declined to pony up as much money as Salesforce was looking for.

Acquisitions are a pretty dry business, but these deals show a Microsoft that’s hungry to augment its capabilities with the help of outside companies that have proven solutions.

Looking ahead to 2016 is when we get to see if all of the big bets Microsoft set up this year pay off. Analysts expect that this coming year will see a bunch of enterprises upgrade to Windows 10. Microsoft is also gearing up to more aggressively push consumers to upgrade, which in turn may incentivize developers to build applications for the new OS.

 

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