Why I wouldn’t bet against Microsoft

If you follow me on Twitter you can probably tell that for the past 48 hours my brain is swirling around Microsoft’s Build conference and keynote.

In a lot of ways my brain is swirling in the same way that it did in 2002 when I saw Steve Jobs debut the 17” iMac. This was the moment I knew I was going to switch from using a PC and Windows — as I had for the majority of my computing for 8 years prior — to using a Macintosh which I have for every single day for the last 13 years.

And now my head is swirling with questions yet again. Is Microsoft poised to make a huge jump forward? Will they change from being a company that was afraid of innovating because Windows and Office was such a cash cow to one that innovates to save those cash cows? Will they change from a company that simply announces things to a company that launches things? I wouldn’t bet against them now that I’ve seen what they are up to.

In 2002 Apple was on their way towards figuring themselves out. They were starving for many, many years prior and if they didn’t innovate their way towards success we wouldn’t be talking about them at all today; let alone describing them as the most valuable company on the planet.

So why can’t Microsoft do the same? They certainly have the resources. If their attitude towards innovation does a 180 — where they go from innovating behind closed doors and simply allowing great ideas to die on the vine — to a company that finishes and polishes those ideas for the mass market… I’d say Apple, Google, Samsung, and even Microsoft’s own OEMs had better be concerned.

Notice this nugget from a piece in the New York Times by Nick Wingfield:

Founded in 1991 by Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft’s chief technology officer at the time, as an early warning system for disruptive new technologies, Microsoft Research occupies a building that has a spacious, multistory atrium, filled with a swirl of employees in T-shirts, jeans and other timeless fashions of tech.

It is the biggest operation of its kind in the technology industry, with more than 1,000 scientists and engineers working in labs as far away as China and Israel. The company’s research-and-development spending last year was $11.4 billion.

Microsoft has had one of the largest R&D departments of any company for 25 years. I can remember conversations with many employees at Microsoft R&D over the years, one of them being none other than Ze Frank who was Microsoft R&D’s first Designer in Residence, about some of the fascinating things that MSFT R&D was toying with. Those conversations reminded me of Xerox, Kodak, and Bell Labs — the greatest R&D departments of the 20th Century.

So, why in the world did they end up with Windows Phone only having 1-5% marketshare? Why did we end up with the Zune? Why did they ever ship Microsoft Vista? I described Vista in 2007 this way:

I‘ve only got limited experience with Vista but from that limited experience I have drawn the opinion that if I were forced to use the operating system full time I‘d likely jump off of a bridge.

But yesterday Microsoft’s demonstration of their cloud computing services, Windows 10, HoloLens, and their jump towards a far more inclusive software development platform — has got me downright excited. I want Microsoft to do great things. I want Windows Phone to be as amazing as it is but with thousands more applications. I want HoloLens to exist. I want to see whether Microsoft’s unified Windows Platform will be a better idea than Apple’s bifurcated one.

It is going to be an exciting 5 years.

Now, which PC am I going to buy?

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