Microsoft: At a Threshold, or a precipice?

By Kip Kniskern | In Opinion | Posted January 14, 2014 4 comments

These are interesting times, indeed. As much as the landscape of computing and the internet have changed over the past ten years since the arrival of Google, the iPhone, and the iPad, all indications are that we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Yesterday, Google announced its intention to acquire Nest Labs, makers of the internet connected Nest Thermostat and Nest Protect, a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. While there have been plenty of jokes about Google wanting to intrude (even more) on your privacy, working their way into your living rooms and bedrooms, we think there’s a lot more to it than that. Google has taken a bold step to move into “the internet of things”, a connected web of information gathering devices that could make not only our homes and neighborhoods more efficient, but help us drive our cars, manage our travel and our lives.

At nearly the same time, word filtered out via a Paul Thurrott post about Microsoft’s plans for its next version of Windows, code named Threshold. For Thurrott, Threshold is about fixing what isn’t working with Windows 8/8.1:

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.

What started out, with Windows 8, as an interim step in how to get Windows onto tablets, using touch, was refined with Windows 8.1 (partly to accommodate those users still on a keyboard and mouse), and will be refined again with Windows 9, “maturing and fixing” the design language to make Windows more palatable to users and corporations unwilling to move forward.

In some ways, this isn’t so much “an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work”, but a progression, however slow, along a path. The problem is that the world is moving much faster than Microsoft is, and continues to do so. While Microsoft struggles to prove against all odds that this isn’t a “post-PC” world, other players in the space are innovating rapidly, already moving well beyond the PC.

This doesn’t have to mean that it’s all doom and gloom for Microsoft, however. They’ve certainly seen the need to change, starting with the ouster of Steven Sinofsky. The recent re-organization within Microsoft, and its attempts to blur lines and get the company working together as “One Microsoft” is supposed to help streamline operations, but Microsoft still lacks true vision, the kind that can see past saving Windows or Office and move the company into a next generation of computing. Steve Ballmer saw this, and knew he wasn’t the right person for the job.

It’s unclear, however, if Microsoft will find that person, or if the company will still be too encumbered by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer on the board to take the kind of bold steps the company needs to take, the kind that Google took yesterday.

Posted January 14th, 2014 at 9:45 am
  • DaMarico Fowler

    I really question how much of this is making bold steps and not parts of logical progression of technology. I also question how much speed is needed with some of new technologies like wearables and IoT. Google buys Nest and its a signal they want to be a part of IoT (Internet of Things) but that idea is only now in its nascent stage. And if Microsoft pursued IoT (which it has in limited ways) won’t everyone say they are just copying Google?
    As far as Windows 9 I agree it looks to be a progression of Windows 8 and 8.1. I look forward to Metro 2.0. While many argue that Microsoft should bring back something like Windows 7.5 and focus on the desktop, I think Microsoft would do better to rethink what Windows means as a consumer facing OS. The rise of tablets, phones, and even devices like ChromeBooks reflect a shift in mass computing. It is a shift away from what many diehards consider “true” computing and programs to devices and applications that are lighter, faster, and disposable. A Windows 7 like experience isn’t going to be the answer for this shift it’ll only appease those who need and cling to desktop functionality. Microsoft can’t afford to discard desktop users, but it also can no longer cling to the Windows that was.

  • John G

    the world is moving much faster then Microsoft: Well’ let’s put that into prospective: What is exactly new that Apple and Google have introduced that changed the world besides phones and tablets?
    I mean, one can only argue that Microsoft was late to a growing market but if you look at product like the Surface, the low-end Lumia, Microsoft is actually competing quite well in term of technology. Mindshare is a bigger problem than the actual problem that Microsoft is facing. I mean, I am using a Lumia 920, there is nothing that IPhone/Android that completely blow away Windows Phone. Beside apps and some key features, people need to realize that Microsoft is not far behind in terms of technology. Try to compare a Lumia 525 with a low-end android phones. Day and Night. the UI to me is still refreshing and more dynamic then a grid of Icon. In fact, the last release of IOS has adapted like of feature from both Windows Phone and Android.
    However, Mindshare is a whole different aspect of Microsoft’s real challenge and it may take a long time before Microsoft can change that. Once people have something in their minds, it is really hard to change that.

  • UberSalmon

    Who is writing this drivel? Windows is dead, this is the end of Microsoft, blah, b-blah, b-blah. “The problem is that the world is moving much faster than Microsoft is, and continues to do so.” Based on what…Google buying Nest? Huh?!?!?! Nope, not seeing a precipice, in any way, shape, or form. This ‘opinion’ piece is ridiculous.

  • John Wilson

    The statement “Microsoft still lacks true vision” is absurd. If anything the problem with Microsoft is that their vision has always exceeded their capacity to execute. Longhorn was an example of this Windows 8 is an example of this. Microsoft’s vision for windows 8 was that they could build a OS that would be equally capable to be run on any form factor. If that’s not a grand enough vision for you then look up what they have been trying to achieve with Bing and AI.
    Microsoft is one of the greatest companies of all time. Its an American company, and we should all hope that it continues to thrive, I for one will be disappointed if the new CEO is a wall street sap who is put in place to maximize share holder value.