By Gian Royal



It surprises me that to this day, most people think that Bill Gates is the CEO of Microsoft. In reality, he resigned from that position in the year 2000, taking his billions of dollars to start the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The successor that Mr. Gates appointed was Steve Ballmer.

It’s easy to make fun of Ballmer’s tenure as CEO of Microsoft. Windows Vista was notoriously glitchy. His response to the iPhone was laughable. “Five hundred dollars? Fully subsidized? With a plan?” He then went on to talk about how it wasn’t good for email, and thus not good for business. Between the rise of smartphones to which Microsoft was late to the party, and his other glorious fails including the atrocity known as Windows 8, Ballmer is easy to make fun of 7 years later. But, he was also laughable at the time: in 2007, Microsoft’s flagship handheld was the Zune, the brown block that was supposed to be the “iPod killer.”

In late 2013, he finally did the right thing, announcing that the search had begun for a successor to Steve Ballmer. In February of 2014, the successor was named. Sataya Nadella, at the time head of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, quickly steered the company in a new direction under the mantra “mobile first, cloud first.”

In the last year, the most important thing that has been done by Microsoft under the guidance of Satya was announce their plans for Windows 10, the next version of their venerable Windows operating system to be released this summer. Widely described as “what Windows 8 should have been”, Windows 10 is a free upgrade for existing users of Windows. While Windows 8 forced a tablet UI onto laptops and desktops, Windows 10’s user interface adapts depending on the device it’s on. It also revives the venerable start menu, and allows the same app to run on the same operating system on everything from mobile phones to desktops. Microsoft is calling Windows 10 “the last version of Windows,” because Microsoft is treating Windows 10 not as a product, but as a service. By making it a rolling release, elements of the operating system will be updated regularly, allowing the company to continuously tweak and refine the operating system.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQXE4_CB3ts&w=320&h=240]
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rimYbT8gPk8&w=320&h=240]
These short highlight videos from Microsoft’s Windows 10 and Build 2015 keynotes explain what Microsoft has been up to lately.
This new business model for Windows is representative of an overall change in Microsoft’s strategy. While in the past, Microsoft has depended primarily on selling software, updating it every few years, and convincing people that they need the new version, they’re now moving towards a business model. In this business model, profit comes primarily from selling devices, like Windows Phones (which are now produced by Microsoft through it’s acquisition of Nokia) and Xbox gaming consoles, and service subscriptions, such as Office 365. This new business model is reminiscent of Apple’s, but that’s not a bad thing- Apple, as of January 2015, has over $178 billion in profit.

In the past, people have been reluctant to switch from iPhones and phones running Google’s Android platform (most notably Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones) to Windows Phone primarily because of a lack of app support. In response, Microsoft, during their Build conference last month, unveiled the ability to easily port apps from Android and iOS to Windows 10. In one example, Adobe ported their Photoshop Elements and Premiere elements apps to the Windows Store. In another example, Candy Crush Saga was ported to Windows phone with “very few modifications” to it’s original iOS code, written in Objective-C.

Windows 10 isn’t just meant to be run across smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. In January, Microsoft announced HoloLens, a virtual reality headset running a version of Windows 10. This version of Windows 10, called Windows Holographic, allows software to run on top of the real world, and be interacted with using movements of the hands. In demonstrations, one person showed another person, over a Skype call, how to install a new pipe for their sink, by overlaying arrows and instructions on top of their field of view.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aThCr0PsyuA&w=560&h=315]
This video is a Microsoft commercial explaining what HoloLens can do.
Thinking about it, only a year and a half ago, putting a Microsoft logo on a product was akin to sticking a Post-It reading “kick me” on an elementary schooler: Windows 8 was confusing and their repeated attempts to get into mobile were laughable. Now, Microsoft is positioned to return to it’s throne as a technology superpower. Respected news websites including Wired, Bloomberg, and Forbes agree: Microsoft is a new company.

Bravo, Satya.

1 COMMENT

  1. As always, Gian, your work is razor-sharp, researched thoroughly, and your sense of voice is powerful. Maybe Microsoft has earned its comeback? If any part of that hologram vision is truth, we’re all in for an amazing new view of the world!

  2. He zune is actually extremelly efficient, thank you very much. I have used it many times before, and can say that, while it doesnt amount to the iPod, it works well enough for it’s purpose.