I attended the Microsoft Build Conference a couple weeks ago in San Francisco. I was very impressed with the keynote presentations, the depth of knowledge of the presenters at the technical sessions, and the manner in which the conference was run in general. A few themes kept emerging throughout the conference.
1. The Computing World is Changing
The first of these was that the computing world is changing. This is pretty obvious, but the clip at which things are changing is staggering. Check out these stats from Gartner:
Microsoft finds themselves in a world where PC sales are declining, while portable device sales (phones and tablets, most notably) are on the rise. If Gartner’s predictions hold true, it shows that consumers are going to be interacting less and less with traditional Windows PCs.
Another set of numbers from Gartner that plays into the reactionary mood at Microsoft is that Windows is no longer the dominant OS for computing devices:
To quote Ms. Milanesi, from Gartner,
“The trend towards smartphones and tablets will have much wider implications than hardware displacement,” said Ms. Milanesi. “Software and chipset architecture are also impacted by this shift as consumers embrace apps and personal cloud.”
2. Microsoft is Playing Catch Up
It was clear to all attendees that Microsoft is well aware of these trends and is doing its all to catch up with the wave that has, in some cases, passed them by. Steve Ballmer described the new “One Microsoft” initiative, where he said that function will take precedent over organization. To quote from Ballmer’s “One Microsoft: Company realigns to enable innovation at greater speed, efficiency” memo:
“We are rallying behind a single strategy as one company — not a collection of divisional strategies. Although we will deliver multiple devices and services to execute and monetize the strategy, the single core strategy will drive us to set shared goals for everything we do. We will see our product line holistically, not as a set of islands.”
One interesting thing of note is that they seem to be trying to buy market share. I spoke with developers from Hulu, Jeppessen, and NBA online and they were all there on Microsoft’s dime. In fact, they all discussed that Microsoft has been funding their development efforts, to one extent or another, to bring their apps to the Windows 8/Windows RT platform.
3. Microsoft Has A Lot Riding on Azure
The second keynote was spent going into detail about the Azure platform and the benefits of implementing solutions in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS using Azure. Discussion was made about how Azure is used by Microsoft for XBox gaming, SkyDrive, Skype, Outlook.com, and Office 365. They stated that Azure storage and compute size doubles every 6 months and that there has been a 3x growth in the use of Hyper V virtualization. Demos were given of the Azure Portal interface and I have to say that it is very slick. I have since set up a website, a Windows Server VM, and an Ubuntu VM through the Azure Portal and can attest that it is very well done. It is apparent that Azure is a big part of Microsoft’s future strategy and that as developers, we are long overdue to be embracing the cloud.
Microsoft seems to be turning the ship and is doing what it can to lure us as developers into its mobile ecosystem. Given the large embedded user base, the number of line-of-business apps that run on Windows, and given the company’s obvious commitment to change with the industry, I think they will be a safe bet for a long time to come.