Microsoft as relevant now as ever before

Microsoft as relevant now as ever before

This week saw Microsoft’s centrepiece event ‘The Future Decoded’ at London’s ExCel and it seems that Microsoft is now as relevant as ever, if not more so, to the way we deliver IT.

It doesn’t seem so long ago that Microsoft was the organisation that everyone loved to hate:  both for its dominant position and it’s sometimes hard to swallow licensing policies. But as the way we work changes, Microsoft is shifting its focus and is becoming (and it’s not a word I use lightly) cool again and with some very impressive technology.

Before I touch on the tech, I want to recount what Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said around strategy since it clarifies a lot of what we’re currently seeing from Microsoft. You may already have heard Nadella refer to Microsoft’s strategy as ‘mobility first, cloud first’ but some of the detail was new to me. When Nadella talks of mobility he is not talking of the mobility of a device but “the mobility of our interaction with all the devices in our life”. This is “orchestrated” (and indeed enabled) by the cloud and is why Microsoft sees “the mobility and cloud revolutions” happening simultaneously.

Nadella went on to describe three ambitions: to reinvent productivity and business processes to enable people to get the most out of their limited time; to build the intelligent cloud platform (and the company’s researchers are doing some interesting work to securely isolate containers of code and data from the fabric of the cloud/data centre); and to create more personal computing – with mobility of experience, uniformity for developers and ease of management for IT. 

A combination of data, intelligence and machine learning is being used to transform the way things are done. A small example of the ‘cool’ I referred to earlier is Windows Hello which is using facial recognition for faster and more secure login, and they say it will even differentiate between twins! Another example is Delve analytics, which can show you how you’re using your time and who you are (and aren’t) engaging with so you can use your time more productively.

There was the announcement of a UK data centre for commercial (read Azure) cloud services at the beginning of 2016. And only today I heard that Microsoft has acquired security company Secure Islands with the intention of building this technology into the Azure Rights Management Service to secure data, no matter where it is stored.

To my surprise the thing that most captured my imagination came from one of the devices team talking about the Windows phone. Something they are calling Continuum (on Windows 10 Mobile devices such as the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL) enables you to connect, via a dock, to a monitor and keyboard and use Outlook as if on a PC. And if that’s not impressive enough you can still use the phone while all this is going on. It’s still early days, but with many users’ working environment limited to Office and web apps it opens up the real possibility of them working from phone alone. Indeed, one CIO was cited as saying that it could replace the PC for 30% of their users.

The Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book are no longer news, but I was interested to hear how Microsoft’s foray into PCs is being justified. The company is keen not to upset its longstanding hardware partners so I don’t doubt that there’s an element of spin in this. But things were getting silly when you saw people carting laptop, tablet/iPad and phone around together. Consequently, Microsoft’s stated position that it is trying to create new hardware categories that enable people to work in different ways, sounds like the voice of sanity. 

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Surface Hub and HoloLens. While I can’t yet see either becoming ubiquitous, I’ll feely admit that I didn’t think the iPad would take off. But, both certainly tick the ‘cool’ box!

The Surface Hub looks like a giant TV. The Surface Hub IS a giant tablet PC. But with video in and out, Ethernet, Wi-Fi and much more that, plus multi-touch functionality, it enables people to work on the same project side by side.

HoloLens is ‘the first untethered, head mounted computer’ that brings high definition holograms into your world. Unlike virtual reality headsets, which occlude your view, you continue to see your world through the lens. The effect IS impressive and there appears to be a use case for designers and, at a lower price, I could foresee widespread use in entertainment, especially at historic attractions.

Not only does Microsoft seem to be talking centre stage for the mobile and cloud based world we’re moving towards, it is also unleashing some interesting, exciting and, even, cool technology.