The year 2014 is here, and if you thought the past 12 months were really something for Redmond, then make room for more amazement in what promises to be another exciting year ahead.
Microsoft will, without doubt, launch many major products this year — new Surface tablets, newer operating systems, old fashioned software, new fashioned cloud powered services. And one can also expect some major organizational changes in the House of Windows.
Through all this though, the company also faces some important challenges. The year ahead promises much, and it asks equally as much. So here is a brief rundown of some of the more important areas Redmond needs to focus on, and focus on soon:
The CEO Search
Don’t know about you guys but I like my CEO announcements quick and swift. The longer these are drawn out, the chances of making a wrong decision go up. Now admittedly, things are in good hand at Redmond with the special new committee that was set up last year to look for a new leader.
Plus we also have to consider that whoever gets chosen will only be the third CEO in Microsoft’s long and illustrious history, so that has to count for something.
Which also makes it a bit understandable why the process is taking a while.
But this change at the very top of the company will perhaps be the most significant for the technology giant. And hopefully the best choice is made in selecting someone that oversees not only the new devices and services direction at Redmond, but also brings his (or her) ideas into the mix.
Ideally this final decision is made early in the year so the new person in can get to work straight away.
A Merger Of Equals
There are some that believe there is no such thing as a merger of equals. But in the case of Windows RT and Windows Phone, both platforms are currently riding on promises and ambitions. Sure, the smartphone platform has charted better success these past twelve months, but Redmond has made big plans for its tablet operating system too.
The biggest challenge in bringing them to fruition, however, is merging both these (distinct, yet not so different) platforms together. Work has already begun on this front, and Microsoft recently admitted that seeing this done has actually become a priority.
A unification like this, for Microsoft, means that it will have one less dedicated OS to concentrate on, but for end users (and developers) it would result in a single app store — buying two separate versions of Angry Birds for smartphones and tablets is not everyone’s idea of a fun time, now, is it?
Again, no expected timeframe for this, but seeing it done before the year is out would be the most pleasant of surprises. It will, after all, come down to development time needed to accomplish this task.
An Office In Metropolis
This year could potentially be big for Office. And I mean really big! There are enough hints and hearsay that the company is working on touch optimized versions of it Office suite of productivity applications. Versions, in this case meaning, the popular software may launch natively on other mobile platforms like Android and iOS.
Big question here is when?
Microsoft’s Qi Lu already confirmed a few months back in September that while these applications are being developer for devices like the iPad, they will only launch on other platforms when it is financially sensible for Microsoft. In other words, this is almost a confirmation that the Windows versions of these touch optimized applications will be the first to see daylight.
Saying Goodbye To An Old Friend
Not everyone in Redmond considers Windows XP to be a friend, not when the faithful operating system has overstayed its welcome by a few good years. Still, Microsoft’s support for Windows XP is finally coming to an end on April 8, 2014 — some three months from now.
Reports, however, suggest that many large enterprises, banks and other such institutions across the globe are still running the old OS. Even though most are aware that staying with Windows XP after the cutoff date is flirting with danger. And security disasters of this kind are the last thing we need.
Admittedly, Microsoft has been doing a dandy job of pushing its customers towards newer versions of its operating system, and we can expect a more aggressive approach as the deadline nears.
Now whether these are joined by some discounts and promotional price cuts for Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 remains to be seen. But common sense dictates something like this should be put forward officially in this final stretch, more so when you consider that businesses and organizations often cite budget constraints as one of the main reasons for delaying their upgrades.
The Windows Phone Puzzle
Microsoft’s mobile operating platform grew from strength to strength in 2013, but let’s face it — growth like this is relative after all. Even though it cracked the double digit market share figures in some markets, and grew significantly in other, things are far from perfect.
Much needs to be done when it comes to adding features to Windows Phone, and Microsoft is keenly aware of this fact. The company delivered a couple of updates last year, but a major one slipped by a fair few months. Windows Phone 8.1 (previously codenamed as Windows Phone Blue) is due out by the middle of this year. And for those of you keeping notes, it will be the first major overhaul of the mobile OS since its launch in late 2012.
Equally important are some much needed (and long overdue) improvements for business users. Microsoft promised an enterprise feature pack to be released by July 2013, and again, information on it has been rather scarce to come by.
One can hope that once the Nokia acquisition is complete, Microsoft’s new workforce in Finland works its magic to turn the Windows Phone platform into something more than a contender.
In closing, while there are a few more pressing matters to take care of, most of these require a little more investment of time — slow uptake of Windows 8 and 8.1, Surface and other Windows powered tablets, Bing, Metro apps, so on and so forth.
But the five fantastic things listed above are the ones that Redmond will have to go the extra mile to put on the right track. Many would opine that all five could (and should) have been done in 2013.
There is not a moment to waste then, is it?