It’s Microsoft but not as we know it

Microsoft could well be a very different beast to what we have known for the past 25 years and Office for iPad is another sign of the software giant broadening its appeal to the enterprise.

Evidence continues to mount that in 12 months’ time Microsoft will be a very different beast to the company we have known for the past 25 years – one that is not just about Windows  but more about services and devices across multiple platforms.

In addition to the Office for iPad release, Microsoft has recently made a number of other changes that acknowledges their competitor’s platforms. There’s been the renaming of Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure, a move that emphasises Azure’s support for Linux as well as Windows. Then there is the release of a new Outlook Web Access client for Android and the release of Office Online to the Chrome Web Store.

All of these changes are aligned with existing support for multiple platforms in key products such as Lync which has had fully functional clients for IOS and Android for the last few years.   

The reality is that with the explosion of mobile devices the company has little choice but to address the entire market and not just the Windows part of it. The dominance Windows has enjoyed for the past quarter of a century is waning. PC sales have been going backwards for the past two years as mobile device sales have boomed.  Last year one billion smartphones and 200 million tablets were purchased in the world compared to only 379 million PCs.

The old saying keep your friends close and your enemies closer is especially relevant for Microsoft as it strives to remain relevant in 2014 and beyond.

A win-win scenario

The big question is: will it work? The early signs are positive.

Following the recent Office for iPad launch, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations with CIOs that suggest the move may be a win-win for old rivals Microsoft and Apple.

That Office for iPad downloads topped 12m in the first week says a lot about our reliance on the software and our desire to access it in new ways. While you are unlikely to ever write a big report on an iPad, the ability to access and adjust Office documents is an important leap forward that has big appeal.

For Apple, Office capability makes the iPad a much more interesting business tool for enterprise – it means that iPads can be used for more than just email and web browsing and that documents can be edited or viewed without losing the formatting.  

And for Microsoft, one CIO observed that, for his organisation at least, the iPad option put Office 365 in a very strong position relative to Google.

While Microsoft is clearly spreading its focus beyond just Windows and embracing the new world order, we shouldn’t be in any doubt that Windows is not forgotten. Microsoft will do everything it can to make Windows relevant and attractive, as the suite of features in the new Windows 8.1 demonstrates.

The difference for Microsoft and Windows in today’s market is that the old rules of winner-takes-all no longer apply. Personal preference for different platforms is a defining characteristic of how we work today. All of the major vendors understand this. While they would rather we used their products exclusively, they understand flexibility is the key to survival.

So, where does this leave enterprise customers? Well, it leaves them spoilt for choice. We have far better options today than ten years ago – both in terms of performance and reliability. Today’s enterprise has the option of mixing and matching the technology that suits it best, knowing the major vendors will likely support it.  Their customers have given them no other option.

It’s going to take time for Microsoft to change, but in 12 months I am confident we will look back and see a significant shift. Microsoft is already doing things very differently to what was typical a year ago, and the competition in the market means neither Microsoft nor its competitors can afford to let up.

Brian Walshe is general manager - Microsoft Solutions Infrastructure at Dimension Data