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Tuesday, 20 December 2016 15:27

Microsoft says screw PC

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Microsoft took the unusual step of taking the PC out of PC in a very funny but un-PC Saturday Night Live skit.

Two Microsoft employees (Kate McKinnon and Fred Armisen) fielded questions from the audience (Casey Affleck, Kenan Thompson, Aidy Bryant, Alex Moffat) about a new type of Microsoft robot – the gaybot Helix 900 and Helix 950. It was not PC (politically correct) but it was fun.

The sketch is not something that would have been contemplated by former management – Steve Ballmer would not have been amused. It certainly reflects the new Microsoft under Satya Nadella where it is more open, cool and hip than companies named after a piece of fruit. Frank Shaw, its head of communication, retweeted the video, which can be seen embedded below.

The skit pokes fun at Microsoft’s misadventures in the chatbot world. Earlier this year, the company had to shut down its millennial-minded chatbot “Tay” within 24 hours of release because she picked up some racist tendencies. Earlier this month, Microsoft launched a second, more secure chatbot named “Zo.”

Like it or not, Microsoft has changed and has hit some significant home runs under Nadella. It reminds me of the old biblical saying “Children cannot be blamed for the sins of the father.” The Microsoft of today bears no relationship to the Microsoft of old that some love to hate.

It has had a renaissance with its support of open source – Microsoft R, FreeBSD, Bash, Ubuntu for Windows 10 and Azure, Xamarin, and .NET core for Linux. Its motto is open and full collaboration, not confrontation. Mark Russinovich, chief technology officer of Microsoft Azure, said, "If we don't support Linux, we'll be Windows only and that's not practical – one in four virtual machine instances on Azure are Linux and that number is increasing.”

And then there is the Surface hardware – the indisputably smart Surface Studio, Dial, Book and Pro that are taking sales from Apple while establishing an open ecosystem that Acer, ASUS, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, and any OEM can play in, free to innovate and outdo Microsoft’s reference offerings. While Steve Jobs once famously criticised Microsoft for having “no taste” everything it does now oozes innovation, taste and simplicity.

Then there is its regaining of dominance in the games console market with its 4K, HDR, Xbox One S and its games streaming platform Xbox Live grew to over 50 million people. According to NPD, Xbox One S has been the sales leader in the US, UK and Australia since June after Sony’s PS4 Pro left gamers wondering why it did not fully support 4K, let alone HDR.

Then there is the mobile-first, cloud-first world that has seen Microsoft Azure challenge AWS with Morgan Stanley reporting that while AWS was “easy to implement”, CIOs say that Azure adoption will outpace AWS by 2019. In short, new cloud adoption favours Azure with 100% YoY growth compared to AWS at 53%. The reason, according to Synergy Research Group, was that AWS is losing mind share and Azure differentiates itself from AWS by being in more regions and having an edge in the hybrid and PaaS spaces.

In the software field, Microsoft's Dynamics and 365 CRM and Power BI are selling well, its Office 365 is enjoying 300+% growth YoY overtaking Google apps in 2015, and Bing’s market share is growing at Google's expense especially in Asia. Its biggest market is the US with 32.5% in September and 14.2% in Australia. But that is just the start as “Bing-team” challenges the market. Steve Sirich, GM for Bing Ads said, “Advertisers tell me that Bing is a lot more relevant than they thought, that we have more supply than they were aware of, and that the ROIs in many cases are better than Google’s. And the realisation that it is so strategic to Microsoft in the long-term.”

It has done ground-making work on Continuum, and now the imminent Windows 10 support of future Qualcomm ARM processors, and HoloLens. It is also well ahead in IoT, machine learning, AI and tying all this together.

It is not keeping its innovations to itself – APIs and SDKs abound and it has opened of its R&D teams to its competitors. It reflects a new confidence in its ability to drive innovation for the good of all.

Finally, it has broad support for human endeavours via its huge corporate social responsibility effort and of course the Gates Foundation. Its 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Report is a textbook for what to do.

TechRepublic says it is now a “Microsoft we can actually believe”.

Facebook’s chief information officer Tim Campos says in a video, “Do you really want to know the reason we picked Office 365? It’s because Microsoft got cool again. We’re really happy to see Microsoft got its mojo back. We’re not just buying Office 365 for what it can do today, it’s for what Microsoft will bring tomorrow. We have great expectations.”

It is not just Nadella, but much of the credit must go to him for making it safe to innovate in Redmond again.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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