The perennial software giant of Redmond Washington has found itself in the position of the underdog as it struggles to gain a foothold in the mobile device OS space. It started late in this space, and Microsoft has a lot of ground to recover. Given how expansive its plan looks, the house that Bill Gates built just might pull it off. Microsoft’s grand strategy requires key elements, some of which are already in place. It already has the Xbox, Windows Phone, and Windows deployed. Its connective tissue, SkyDrive and Bing, are still effectively incubating. If there is one thing Microsoft has plenty of, it is patience. How else could it have wrested the GUI crown from Apple in the late 80s or completely buried Netscape Navigator in the mid 90s? This giant company is all about laying foundations, continuously working its network advantage, and continuously cranking out better and better versions until achieves a dominating breakthrough in yet another application category.
Microsoft’s grand strategy is simple: regardless of whether you are playing a game on your Xbox console, talking on the phone, tapping on your tablet, working on your desktop, or lounging on your laptop at a cafe, you will be able to do the same things through the same platform. The specific delivery device might vary but the core experience is the same. Seamless and Unified. Of course, one key element to all this is the ability to synch the data of all devices ala Dropbox. Data synchronization, as evidenced by Google’s rumored move with Google Drive, also builds user loyalty and retention.
Microsoft critics might argue that even this “grand vision” is not original since this is roughly the same overall strategy being pursued by the giant’s rivals Google and Apple. Where they differ is in implementation. On this point, Microsoft is holding the ace in the hole because it still retains a dominating share of the computing OS systems in the world. That is why Windows 8 is such a momentous step. This new OS will let Windows run on a wide range of devices differing only in size of the screen-the core functionalities are the same. Windows also has cloud-based components that are being incubated to grab bigger market share like Bing, Skydrive, and Windows Live. Using these services, whenever someone uses Windows 8 to login to Microsoft’s enclosed ecosystem, the user gets access to all their search history, preferences, apps, and content. Too bad for its competitors-their systems are more fragmented and strategies less coherent.
Apple is pushing for a post-PC paradigm that focuses less on the PC and more on mobile devices and erects a wall between content consumption (iPads and iPhones) with content creation (Macs). Microsoft has no such distinction. Google, on the other hand, focuses on the Web as the future’s unifying platform, devices don’t matter since they only exist to interact with applications on the Web. The drawback to this is it is completely dependent on the Internet-go offline and your computing platform also disappears.
At this stage of the game, both Google and Apple are landing heavy body blows on Microsoft. Indeed, Apple has the lion’s share of mobile devices and media. Google dominates the search space and cloud applications. Both ate Microsoft’s lunch in the smart phone space. Most troubling, PC sales have slowed down.
Don’t count Microsoft out just yet. It has the key cards needed to turn in a winning hand. While its competitors have excelled in certain parts of the media, content, and platform domination game, they are seriously lacking in others. This makes them more reluctant to change while Microsoft, being the underdog, is all about moving fast to disrupt the status quo. It, along among its rivals, sees the impending transformation of the PC model from its current state to something radically different. Given the premise behind Windows 8, it appears Microsoft is comfortable with this trajectory and possibly wants to push the pace even harder. Windows 8 is geared towards a world where most computing is distributed over a wide range of devices not just the PC. The focus is on a common platform that works well both online and offline. This is the world where Microsoft has an edge and this is the place from which it can roar back and take its competitors by storm.