Happy holidays and happy “tween week”—the week between the holidays and the New Year. Like many others, I like to take this time to review some of the major trends and events of the past year so, this week, we’ll look at what happened to Microsoft and to SharePoint in 2012.
2012: The Year Microsoft Found Its Cool
When we are all safely into 2013—or perhaps 2014—we might look back at 2012 as the year in which it finally became “cool” to be a Microsoft customer. Just today, I visited the Microsoft Store at Park Meadows Mall outside Denver, Colorado, and it was quite an experience. I’d been there before, but always alone. Today I was with my father and my brother’s girlfriend, Lauren, and about 100 others who packed the futuristic, beautifully-laid out, high-design store.
I had spent some time briefing my dad and Lauren—both of whom are in the market for a new, ultra-mobile, touch-centric device—about the pros and cons of the Microsoft Surface versus the iPad, and versus alternatives like the Asus tablet, the Samsung ATIV Smart PC and the ATIV Pro, as well as the upcoming Surface Pro. The availability of Office applications (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) made Microsoft’s ecosystem the clear choice over an iOS device.
After that, their choices boiled down to size (portability) and what could run on the device (full Windows 32 applications on the full Windows 8, versus apps on Windows RT). Both had other devices in their lives (a laptop or a desktop) that could fill the need for running Adobe Creative Suite or other Windows apps. Both felt that the portability of the Surface was of higher value than the greater screen real estate of the ATIV Pro. Both are now proud users of the Microsoft Surface.
Seeing Microsoft through their eyes was fascinating. Lauren was excited to get her hands on the Surface with a cyan-colored TouchPad. Dad was impressed by the retail experience of the Microsoft Store, and the customer service provided by our “guru,” Marcus, whose high energy was matched by his knowledge of the Store’s products and services.
It was also really great for me—whose life has depended on the Microsoft ecosystem for nearly two decades—to see the crowd—from kids to hipsters to professionals to retirees—taking real, honest-to-god “delight” (it’s true!) in the devices and experiences in the store. Interestingly, as of today, every device save two in the entire store is touch screen—what a revolution in the past years!
Even I discovered a new experience—using the Fresh Paint app on a Samsung 27-inch all-in-one with an actual paint brush as the stylus, mixing colors just like real paint—which made me say “wow!” much louder than I’d intended.
And out in the mall, I heard the word “Surface” mentioned several times, thanks partially to the abundance of advertising and the placement of the store. A gang of teens behind me saw the store ahead and started talking excitedly about the Surface.
Could it be that the innovations that Microsoft has released this year—from Surface to Windows Phone to Xbox and more—might mean that I no longer have to “apologize” for believing in the Microsoft ecosystem?
I actually caught myself, two days ago, referring to my iPad as my “legacy” device. I keep it around only because there are a few things I do with it, but my Surface and my Ultrabook are now “primary”… Might be nice to be on the cool side of the tracks for a change.
2012: The Year Microsoft Took Control
Behind many of the innovations that face consumers, are innovations equal in scale and impact on the enterprise and in the cloud. Microsoft has clearly moved towards a “cloud first” or “service first” model. The signposts are clear: Microsoft wants us moving into a more “subscription” like model, guaranteeing it more predictable income streams.
In return, services will be updated much more frequently—every 90 days in the case of Office 365—and we will see a tsunami of new functionality released in the form of services and apps, many of which will only be accessible via the cloud.
This is a shift of tectonic proportions for a company that has made money through very different models until now. It also means that the ways we extend the Microsoft ecosystem are changing.
We’re being de-coupled from the core code. We’re being told to develop “off box.” We’re being directed—very clearly—to create our customizations using service oriented approaches. This further allows the core platforms—Windows, Azure, SharePoint, etc.—to be scaled reliably and to be updated without concerns about backward compatibility and that have hampered Microsoft over the years.
In some ways, this threatens many who have made their living from the Microsoft ecosystem. Those who have invested in becoming “SharePoint developers” are now being told, in effect, that some of the skill sets they’ve learned have a limited lifespan.
But there are also new opportunities being opened up. For example, a solid application that supports valuable business logic for SharePoint can more easily than ever be extended into Office, to Windows 8, and to mobile devices.
One thing seems clear to me, though. That is Microsoft is finally creating boundaries to ensure it can do what it needs to do, from a technical and business perspective, to compete effectively against Google, Apple, Amazon and others, while doing least-possible damage to its broader ecosystem. Microsoft is also taking the gloves off in what I think are some important ways—for example, using the Surface to ignite hardware partners to step up to the plate with more innovation.
And, Microsoft is trying to open up some new ways for partners to be involved, and to benefit from the ecosystem, including the app model and new business models for Office 365 value-added resellers. Yes, there will be and has been some collateral damage, but on the whole Microsoft has made what I think were about the very best choices it could make to remain viable and relevant moving forward.
2012: The Year Microsoft Moved Too Fast
Microsoft has pointed the signpost far ahead, to the cloud. It prioritized its investments accordingly. It’s measuring its employees almost exclusively on the success of Office 365 and Azure. Did it move too far, too fast? I think so, for business customers at least. There are still very significant barriers to the cloud for many customers. Not the least of which is the utter void in out-of-box migration tools.
Some of the changes Microsoft made to SharePoint in order to achieve its goals are going to be rough on us. Shredded Storage, as I’ve documented in previous columns, presents real “question marks” for on premise deployments and can’t be turned off.
The app model has rough edges that will lead to technical as well as cultural resistance to using the app model for anything other than Office 365 apps. Both of those are examples of decisions that were made based on the “service first/could first” priorities for Microsoft. Both are probably the right decision for Microsoft, but will hurt for the community in the short term.
The good news is we can—and will—continue to use old development approaches for the time being.
Put all this together, and what I see is a year where Microsoft leapt ahead of us—probably way ahead of us—both on the consumer and business fronts. Microsoft is waving its hands, saying “come over here! It’s great here!” and most of what it’s saying is probably true.
But Microsoft had to make decisions along the way in order to get these products out the door. Some of those decisions will have unintended side effects. Many of them will prove prescient and innovative. And, my guess is that barring another global recession we’re going to see organizations and consumers moving towards Microsoft.
When talking about SharePoint 2013 in particular, there are very few enterprises for whom it is not a “no brainer” for many of their needs. It has a lot of untapped value to provide to most organizations.
And while it all shakes out, I can at least proudly walk past the Apple Store and step into the Microsoft Store without hiding my face. It’s been a good year!
To all my readers who have followed me in 2012 across six continents (didn’t make it to Africa this year!), dozens of events, two books, two “jobs,” more than 50 articles and an Olympics, THANK YOU for allowing me to be a part of your SharePoint journey! I’m thrilled that the world didn’t end last week, so next week I’ll bring my peers together again for our annual Predictions issue, and we’ll do it all again in 2013. Best wishes, and Happy New Year!!