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Microsoft's alt-OS strategy strikes loyalists as class warfare

Gregg Keizer | Dec. 9, 2014
But the emphasis on rival OSes, making Windows seem second fiddle, will be temporary, say analysts.

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Long-time Windows users may feel like second-class citizens as Microsoft continues to push its products and services onto alternate platforms, but the problem will clear up next year, analysts predicted today.

"It's a question of whether Microsoft is sending a deliberate signal or just shipping things when they're ready," said Jan Dawson of Jackdaw Research about Microsoft's new-found favoritism for Android and iOS. "The problem is that if you send a message to one group, you end up sending messages to others. And sometimes that can backfire."

By "backfire," Dawson was referring to the undercurrent among Microsoft and Windows loyalists who have expressed concern -- in emails to Computerworld, comments on stories there, on other outlets' news stories, and even on Microsoft's own blogs -- that they're getting the short end of the stick from many of the moves made during 2014.

While the most notable example remains Office for iPad -- which was released in March, likely a year-plus before something comparable arrives for Windows -- the list ranges from the pseudo-layout Sway and Outlook 2015 on OS X to Cortana and the acquisition of Acompli. The more Microsoft launches products and services first on non-Windows OSes, buys companies that specialize in Android or iOS, or simply makes once-Windows-only features available on competing platforms, the more uneasy it makes Windows fans.

"I am personally totally fine with Microsoft developing apps for iOS or Android," wrote someone identified as danielgr in a comment appended to a Microsoft blog announcing new versions of Office on the iPhone last month. "And yet I am EXTREMELY disappointed to see those capabilities going well beyond anything Microsoft offers on its own platform. That wouldn't be bad for a week, a month or two, but then you tell me that I'll have to wait over half a year to get something I could get right now if I bought an iPhone."

The angst has been building since Satya Nadella stepped into Steve Ballmer's CEO shoes. His first day on the job, Nadella refashioned Microsoft's strategy as "cloud first, mobile first" and quickly pushed to put as much of Microsoft as possible on non-Windows OSes. That only sped up this summer when Nadella struck another motto: Productivity and platform.

There has been no sign of a let-up.

Last week, Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, parroting Nadella, said, "Our uniqueness is really about our ability to reinvent productivity ... and we're going to do that across mobile, and so that any device can become your device regardless of the operating system (emphasis added)." Later, Turner seemed to put Windows in the "afterthought" category. "We're also still going to run great on the Windows platform and continue to bring it along there, too." he said.


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