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Business Continuity

Windows 10: Microsoft's last hoorah or curtain-raiser to a second act?

Even if the launch is relatively low key when compared to the champagne days of Windows 95, NT or other  smash hits, the arrival of Windows 10 is still a red-letter day for Microsoft and the news of its advent dominates aggregator sites like Techmeme today.

I wonder whether that will be the case for Windows 11 or whatever the next version of the OS will be called. With 10, Microsoft makes its first passionate embrace of continuously delivered software and blockbuster operating system releases might well become a thing of the past. Of course it will continue to add features but new releases will, I fancy, increasingly resemble the quarterly updates of the cloud companies.

Microsoft has also bowed to a changing world by offering free upgrades for many users in a sop to developers and others. This might be no bad thing in the long term. Microsoft is a company crunching through the gears and for many years now it has been overly dependent on Windows and Office to prop up its other properties. As the operating system becomes a less lucrative contributor to its bottom line that will free up attention and management focus for myriad other opportunities.

It’s a ticklish business, of course as Windows/Office together contribute almost half of Microsoft revenue and more than half of its profitability. But Microsoft might have to forego some of that cash harvest to stay relevant in an age where Google’s Android OS sits on more devices than Windows.   

And if anybody seems willing to make that sacrifice then it’s Satya Nadella. Since taking charge of Microsoft Nadella has at times seemed to be the very reverse of the two previous chief executives, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates. Ballmer and Gates were irascible and hard-driving businessmen while Nadella appears cerebral.

Where Ballmer and Gates held any threat to their cash cows in aggressive contempt and often displayed a brash attitude to other platforms, Nadella is more the inclusive type. Among his first moves was sanctioning a version of Office for iOS and he later wrote off the enormous purchase of Nokia devices in a move that also reduced the role of Windows Phone in Microsoft’s strategy. He has also said that Microsoft “loves” Linux and entered into partnerships with rivals that cut across its interests like Box. Just last week Microsoft even released a testing version of a communications app called Send exclusively on iOS (Windows and Android versions are due to follow).

Nadella envisions the renaissance of Microsoft as a creative software engineering company that can lead new markets. That’s quite a swing away from precedent. For a long time the company has appeared focused on protecting what it has.

If this is the last big party for Windows it has had a great run and it still has a long future too on PCs and servers, and perhaps other formats too. After all, at the best parties you also have to know when to say goodbye to be fresh for tomorrow and what lies ahead.

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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