The Company I’m Watching in 2014

There’s one company I’ve got my eye on in this new year. I don’t necessarily expect them to succeed or fail, but do think that this will be a pivotal year in their history.

Microsoft

2014 is shaping up to be a make or break year for Redmond’s finest. The tent poles of the company being attacked on all fronts, like the Roman Empire. From the low end, from the high end, in casual spheres, and business, Microsoft is on high alert. But have they sunk too low to be picked back up? To answer that we have to look at what Microsoft has to offer.

CEO

It all starts at the top. Microsoft will look to replace it’s “charismatic” leader in 2014. They will need to find their CEO, and the direction. From there only can they decide where to focus their efforts. This may end up being the biggest decision in their company’s history, not having one of their founders be at the helm of Microsoft.

Windows Phone

Windows Phone is seemingly showing some life recently. I know, not hard to rise 156% from next to nothing, but it’s something. Windows Phone is probably the most interesting product at Microsoft. So interesting there are talks about using it’s platform in other products. Windows Phone is a clean break from what Microsoft has traditionally done. A consumer focused, limited computing experience for getting in and out. They’ve had a lot of trouble getting traction with developers, but it still is worth commending. Hopefully they can take lessons learned from here and apply them elsewhere.

Tablets

The Surface was undoubtedly a flop. Maybe the Surface 2 is relief, but I don’t think it’s likely. The Surface 2 is the new desktop in a mobile world, not a tablet. Microsoft’s ethos of computers enhancing your work, not about enhancing your life shines through in the Surface. Take your tablet everywhere you go, and when you get to work you can dock it with a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. So far consumers have voted with their wallets and attention to say this is not how they want to behave in a mobile computing world, but time will tell.

Desktop

What’s a desktop? Oh, you mean the iMac thingy that Apple sells, and every other company loses money on. Well at least some people still have fun building them.

Xbox

It’s scary to think that Xbox might have lost the console war out the box (pun intended), but they seem to have done well recovering. Xbox is an interesting place, because it along with Bing is where a lot of R&D happens within Microsoft.

Office

Uh oh, everyone’s building an Office competitor and just giving it away. The long entrenched Google Docs still works. It might be frustrating sometimes, but it offers a world class collaboration tool. Now an Apple ID, gives you access to Pages, Keynote, and Numbers in the cloud (though I think any savvy consumer would be weary of trusting Apple with a web service). An iOS device you get it for free on the iPhone and iPad. It comes free in OS X if you purchase any Mac. To use their language, it’s going to be a tough value proposition for consumers to say to Microsoft, “give me good money for the Office suite”, when good (not Open Office, ok?) alternatives exist. Even if competitors don’t match up feature for feature with Office, they get you 80% of the way there for 0% of the cost.

Windows

Turns out, 1 paragraph later it’s still really hard to compete with free. Apple is just giving away it’s operating systems like they’re Oprah ). It’s a boon to developers who get to make things with the latest technologies, Apple who gets to keep the platform moving forward, and consumers who always have the latest and greatest. Google updates Chrome OS behind the scenes, protecting users against vulnerabilities, and giving them access to new technologies. I’d imagine would do anything they can to get Android to follow that model.

As for Microsoft, it’s hard to keep the ship afloat when you don’t know where you’re rowing. Are we making a desktop OS, are we making a tablet OS, a phone OS?

Conclusion

Look for a lot to happen in Redmond in a very short time. If they don’t do a lot, they’re doomed as they’ll remain stagnant. If they cut too much, they’re probably destroying the foundation of what makes them Microsoft, and may lose a lot of support. Saving Microsoft (I’ll go as far as to say they need saving) will need to be a surgical operation in a land where competitors operate so nimbly.. Speculating on what will happen seems like a fools errand, so I’ll take a pass on that. Pass the popcorn, let’s sit back and watch.


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