Lets talk about Microsoft – My Interview with Tony Bradley from the Bradley Strategy Group

I met Tony Bradley a few years ago at some technology shindig we attended in Las Vegas a few years ago and we have stayed in touch. Tony is a very highly regarded tech analyst and writer with a very strong security background and I always ping him when I want to get a second opinion on major Microsoft news.

Anyway, I bugged him for his take on Microsoft and here’s the transcript:

Onuora: Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time, could we start off with your background?

Tony: I am a principal analyst with Bradley Strategy Group. I analyze and write about emerging trends in technology—with a particular focus on security, Microsoft, mobile devices, and social networks. As a tech writer, I keep in touch with new technologies, services, and devices, and try to keep readers informed in plain English terms that non-techies can relate to.

As an analyst, I work with companies to help them make smarter decisions about their own investments in technology. As a marketing consultant, I work with companies to craft effective marketing content and deliver it to the right audience.

I spent years in the trenches as an IT and network admin, and security consultant, working with companies ranging from a dot.com startup to a Fortune 100 enterprise. I have been a CISSP for nearly 12 years, and I’ve been recognized by Microsoft as an MVP for 8 consecutive years.

Onuora: I assume you’ve had a chance to see and play with the Windows 8.1 Preview, what were your first impressions?

Tony: Let me start by saying I didn’t hate Windows 8 in the first place. So, I may be coming at Windows 8.1 from a different perspective. My first impressions of Windows 8.1 is that it reminded me of the SP1 days of previous Windows versions. Basically, it has the maturity and polish lacking in Windows 8 out of the gate.

Onuora: What’s your gut feel about the consumer reaction to Windows 8 and will Windows 8.1 change that?

Tony: Windows 8.1 is significantly better than Windows 8 in many ways, but I think it’s still going to be an uphill battle for Microsoft to win the hearts of consumers. Microsoft is losing the marketing and media war over Windows 8, so there’s a negative perception by many based on nothing more than third-hand anecdotes at the proverbial water cooler. Windows 8.1 does address most, if not all, of the major complaints people had about Windows 8, so I think Windows 8.1 will have an impact for those who take the time to give it a chance.

Onuora: How do you think Windows 8.1 will impact the enterprise?

Tony: Very little. Windows 8.1 does have a number of features designed to make it easier and better to manage—especially for Windows 8.1 tablets and laptops. It also has great security features, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise includes the Windows To Go feature, which is awesome for BYOD scenarios, or for easily taking a Windows 8.1 desktop with you in your pocket anywhere you go.

Ultimately, though, enterprises are lethargically slow to adopt a new OS. Most of the enterprise demographic is just now finally switching to Windows 7, and Windows 7 is awesome. Windows 7 is the new Windows XP, and it’s the OS we’re going to be begging companies to abandon 10 years from now. By the time companies are ready to move beyond Windows 7, we’ll be talking about Windows 9 or Windows 10.

Onuora: XP support ends relatively early next year, where do you think businesses go next – 7 or 8.1?

Tony: Many will go for Windows 7. It’s proven. It’s stable. It’s much more familiar for users coming off of Windows XP. Personally, though, as an IT admin I’d go to Windows 8.1. My philosophy is that if you’re making the jump, and it’s a jump you only make every three to five years, you should jump as far as you can so you’re not obsolete a year after you complete the upgrade.

Onuora: What does Microsoft need to do to make 8.1 successful?

Tony: Talk about it. Don’t let competitors and naysayers drive the narrative about the OS. Microsoft needs to keep customers focused on the features and benefits in its marketing—not the bells and whistles, but real-world, “how will this make a difference to me?” features that are unique to Windows 8.1. It’s every bit as awesome as Windows 7 under the hood, and it has even more to offer if Microsoft can break the “Windows 8 failed” stigma and get people to look at it.

Onuora: What’s your overall impression of the quality and quantity of apps available for Windows 8?

Tony: I think that app volume and quality are a no-win situation for any new platform. Most developers aren’t going to create apps in a vacuum before the platform even launches, so by default the app options will be scarce out of the gate.

Personally, I don’t have any major complaints—especially for Windows 8.1 (as opposed to Windows RT). The Windows Store doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of apps like iOS or Android, but the key players are there: Kindle, Netflix, Twitter, Foursquare, Angry Birds, etc. The nice thing about Windows 8.1 is that all of the Windows 7 software and sites still work just fine in Desktop Mode, so in many cases an app may not be necessary. It’s one of the things that sets a Windows 8.1 tablet apart from a pure mobile device.

Microsoft needs to continue to walk the walk, though. It has created some Windows 8 apps like OneNote, Lync, and Skype. It needs to make Windows 8 Modern / Metro versions of the entire Microsoft Office suite, as well as all of its other software.

Onuora: What more can Microsoft do to engage developers?

Tony: There’s a self-fulfilling catch-22 that it takes market share to get the attention of developers, and it takes developers making great apps to drive market share. It’s a hard road, but it can be done—look at Android.

Windows is Windows. It will achieve significant market share as a desktop OS just by attrition, and by virtue of being Windows. Microsoft should do what it can to drive customers to switch to Windows 8.1, and developers will follow. The Windows market is so big that a “failed” Windows app could conceivably have more downloads than a successful app on other platforms.

Microsoft can lead by example and show how great apps can take advantage of the unique capabilities of the Windows 8 touch UI.

Onuora: Any thoughts about Windows 9 yet?

Tony: I am less clear on Windows 9 than I once thought I was. In a nutshell, I think Microsoft will continue to wean off of desktop mode, and that the vision is to eventually make the Modern / Metro UI the only UI. Windows 8 was a hybrid approach that essentially glues a new mobile-centric Windows OS on top of the traditional desktop Windows OS, but that’s mostly for backwards compatibility to help customers and developers ease through the transition phase.

Onuora: Let’s talk Surface – why do you think the Surface line of tablets wasn’t successful?

Tony: Price. And marketing. And price.

Microsoft came late to the tablet party, and that put it at a disadvantage. The iPad has established itself as the tablet to beat. The problem is that Microsoft confused things by offering both the Surface RT and the Surface Pro without clearly communicating (marketing) the differences, and it priced them too high to attract attention.

The ads that Microsoft started with—flash mobs dancing and clicking Touch covers on Surface tablets—were OK for letting people know that a Surface tablet existed, but gave no compelling reason to want one. The new commercials pitting the Surface against an iPad and clearly demonstrating the unique capabilities the Surface has that the iPad can’t match are brilliant, and should have been the marketing campaign when the Surface launched.

Regardless of marketing, though, Microsoft also needed to price the Surface tablets more aggressively. I understand the dilemma of setting a low price and painting the device into a corner. Microsoft should have set the price, and then offered a temporary launch savings of a few hundred or something to drive interest.

Right now, I think the Surface RT tablet at $350 is a good price, but Microsoft should include the Touch cover by default with that price. As for the Surface Pro, I think it should be a tad lower than where it is. Even with the $100 drop in price, by the time you add a Touch or Type cover the Surface Pro costs about the same as an entry-level MacBook Air. When Apple has a reputation for being expensive, it’s not good to be priced the same and expect to win.

The entry-level Surface Pro should be $700, and it should include the Touch cover for free at that price. At $700 for a Surface Pro that doubles as a hybrid ultrabook, Microsoft would have a very attractive device.

Onuora: What does Microsoft need to do to make the next Gen Surface line of tablets successful?

Tony: We should find out for sure on Monday when Microsoft is expected to officially unveil the new tablets at an event in New York, but I believe they’re doing exactly what they should based on the leaks and speculation.

Basically, the Surface Pro needs better battery life to live in the tablet world. Microsoft is supposedly switching to a new Intel “Haswell” processor which will dramatically improve power efficiency, and there are rumors that it will offer a Type keyboard cover that includes an additional battery to extend the life of the unplugged Surface Pro even farther.

On the desktop side, the most glaring issue has been the lack of a docking station. The beauty of a Surface Pro is that it is a PC and a tablet, but when I’m at my desk using it as a PC I don’t want to have to connect five different devices, and have cables running all over the place. People need to be able to just slap the Surface Pro into a docking station when sitting at their desk, and pop it out and hit the road when they’re ready to be mobile.

Onuora: Surface vs Ipad – who wins and why?

Tony: That’s not apples to apples (no pun intended). If we’re talking Surface RT vs. iPad, the iPad wins. No contest. The iPad is beautifully engineered hardware, running an iOS that is amazingly both intuitive and capable at the same time. It just works, and you can hand it to a 3-year old or a 93-year old, and either can just starting using it with virtually no direction.

However, we aren’t entirely “post-PC” yet, so the Surface Pro is a different device for a different market. The Surface Pro isn’t—or at least shouldn’t be—competing with the iPad. The Surface Pro is an alternative to traditional desktops and laptops.

Someone who only wants a tablet will likely get an iPad. But, someone who wants a PC should seriously—VERY seriously—consider a Surface Pro, because it gives them all of the power and capabilities of a traditional PC with the added flexibility of being a mobile tablet.

Onuora: What did you think of Microsoft’s latest reorg?

Tony: I like it. I think it was the right thing to do, and it will help Microsoft operate more efficiently and compete more aggressively in the changing tech landscape. One of the problems Microsoft has had for years is that it’s business units seem to operate as separate silos—individual fiefdoms with only a loose connection and loyalty to each other.

Big egos and conflicting priorities get in the way of making smart moves that benefit the company as a whole. Consolidating business units enables Microsoft to allocate its talent and resources more effectively.

Onuora: Looking forward, what line of business do you see Microsoft being the most successful with?

Tony: I think Cloud and Enterprise under Satya Nadella has the most promise of success. The Microsoft backend—its servers, cloud, and datacenter products and services—are the backbone of IT infrastructures around the world. The reliance on Microsoft backend servers is one of the driving factors that make the Windows OS, Microsoft Office suite, and Microsoft smartphones and tablets more appealing for businesses.

I’d love to see Devices and Studios come out on top, but Microsoft is not the dominant gorilla in those markets (with the possible exception of the Xbox game console).

Onuora: If you had to name one thing, what would be the most important thing Microsoft needs to do in the next 12 months?

Tony: Communicate effectively. Microsoft is often notoriously bad at marketing. It is definitely getting better, but it will be more important than ever—with the seismic shift in tech in how and where people use technology, coupled with the massive reorganization of Microsoft, the acquisition of Nokia, and the impending departure of Steve Ballmer—for Microsoft to create and drive its own narrative. If it lets competitors or the media tell the story, Microsoft loses.

Onuora: Thanks for the time.

Tony: Thank you.

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