At reviewers workshops last week under NDA, and at BUILDWindows today in Anaheim, Microsoft has both identified its enemies (as if they weren't obvious) and has given their troops marching orders to retake beachheads in cloud, mobile architectures and the developer community. It's an organization-wide, seemingly coordinated effort to recapturing the public's attention and retaking mindshare.
The first way publicly chosen to do battle was to give away 5,000 Samsung tablets at BUILDWindows yesterday. Samsung is the company that Apple has most successfully sued to prevent tablet sales, and the gesture is an obvious shot across Apple's bow. The paint on the grenade is called Metro, and is a modular user interface that's Windows-ish, but not the Windows that we grew up with, nor is it Android, WebOS, or MeeGo—the “other” tablet GUIs in the market.
The Windows 8 Server editions become fully hypervised, will work on most of the server hardware processors that they do now, and the target is VMware's throat. There are enormous changes to storage along the same veins put forth in the latest vSphere 5 release. At seemingly each point, the server editions were poised against a current feature of VMware's and one-upped. If Windows Server 8 doesn't look familiar, it's because Microsoft actually prefers you use Server Core instead of the familiar Windows GUI—although it's still there for those who are comforted by it.
The principal architect of Windows Server is also the inventor of the PowerShell commandlets now very popular with Windows administrators. He pulled no punches in revealing that the features in Windows 8 are a statement about Windows Server's ability to eventually eclipse the cloud and cloud storage features found in VMware's recently announced vSphere 5. The staff at the workshop was clearly angry and poised towards the leadership theft they seem to feel regarding VMware's enormous VMWorld turn out of 26,000+ users.
I could feel the pulse rate. All of the workshop people openly said that this is all pre-beta, developer release time. Microsoft is covering a lot of the roulette table with features that may, or may not make it into the released version—whenever it appears. Broken is the former release schedule started with Windows 2003 Server, where every four years is a major release, and every two years is an “R2”. That's dead and gone, and was hubris to begin with, in my humble opinion.
The history of Windows is well documented, and looking at that history, it's apparent why Microsoft needs to change. Microsoft wanted onto the desktop, then the ops center. As each tech market rose, Microsoft would lay claim, waiting sometimes for numerous laughable versions to cycle until they got it right. Then they'd sew the products together.
In new marketplaces, Microsoft had more trouble. Apple took the smartphone concept and upended it. They did the same with the personal audio/video device, the online marketplace, and the tablet market. The way that they did it was through dogged simplification, consistency, and attention to detail.
By contrast, Microsoft had divisions and staff constantly competing with each other, all with eyes on the prize, as though things could be won, instead of fought for. Entrepreneurship was allowed to distract one team with another's progress. There were enough different divisions at Microsoft that keeping track was a mission in frustration. Even their PR companies didn't have an actual clue towards the who-what answers.
Enter Facebook, to which Microsoft had no answer. Google's search engine was huge and Microsoft tried to answer with Bing and Windows Live products. The smartphone industry took off, and left Microsoft in the dust, funded only by patent threats against handset makers that purveyed Android.
The Windows Vista debacle further disheartened developers and the public in general. Much ground was lost, despite the fact that Microsoft's biggest problem, inherent systems architectural security, had been solved after much disintegration and denial.
Despite many missteps, Apple had made its business partners happy, something that Microsoft coveted but was unable to evolve. Apple brought content providers to the table, which increased the mass that developers could market to. The devices and formats ran the same content, and the same apps (on iOS, anyway). Developing Apple MacOS apps could be profitable, too—but Apple abandoned the server marketplace early.
You can fuel an organization's destiny with many types of motivations. In the past seven days of journeying to Microsoft's announcements, I can tell you that they're motivated by market realities, and not a small amount of professional jealousy.