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Microsoft FAM 2010, Part 1: Microsoft's Consumer Initiatives

If you don't follow Microsoft closely, you may be surprised to discover that its annual one-day meeting with financial analysts, called the Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting, or FAM, has traditionally been a day of interesting revelations. This year's event happened yesterday, and while you could pour over all the speech transcripts and videos yourself, here are some of the things I found of most interest from the event:

First, Microsoft dispensed with the "roll out the executives" format from previous years. (Largely, I think, because some of them just got canned.) So instead of carting out the titular chief of each business unit, Microsoft made exactly five executives available to the analysts: CEO Steve Ballmer, CFO Peter Klein, investor relations GM Bill Koeford, chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie, and COO Kevin Turner. The big guns, in other words.

But the first major topic was Microsoft's consumer business.

Before getting into Steve Ballmer's remarks, allow me to explain, from a revenues perspective, what that business means to the company. Looking at the past year, consumer-related revenues amounted to roughly 35 percent of the company's revenues, compared to a bit over 65 percent for business-oriented revenues. So business revenues still outpace that from consumers by 2:1 at the software giant.

Ballmer says that Microsoft's consumer investments are "Xbox and television broadly" (an interesting way to put that), Windows Phone, Bing, Windows. In that order. "You asked, what's our biggest consumer product?" Ballmer asked rhetorically. "Answer: Of those 400-odd million PCs that'll get sold in the next year, over two-thirds of them will get sold to the consumer. So, our biggest consumer product, no question, actually is the consumer Windows PC." (Note: I mentioned above that business revenues were double that of consumer revenues, overall. This is true. PC bundles represent 27 percent of Microsoft's overall revenues.)

Two thirds of Office unit sales end up with consumers, he said. (Mostly because of education sales, by the way, and unit sales do not equate to revenues.)

Xbox. Ballmer finally addressed an issue I've raised regularly: "When will Xbox make money?" He admitted that the Xbox business dug itself a bigger hole than expected ($5+ billion in R&D? $1.2 billion in warranty repairs? Both? He didn't say). But Microsoft "certainly emerged wonderfully from that hole." There are now over 42 million Xbox 360s sold, over 25 million of which subscribe to Xbox Live. (Question: Who the heck buys a 360 to play games offline??)

The Kinect add-on is "a wow thing," according to Ballmer, "a chance to broaden out the positioning and appeal of Xbox."

Bing. 13 months after Bing's launch, the service has 12.7 percent usage share in the US, or about a 40 percent gain, up from 8 percent. Bing is the only Microsoft product--and I mean the only Microsoft product--that's been updated regularly, what Ballmer calls "a frequent cadence." "We have in the Bing group kind of two cadences of R&D execution," he said, "one that delivers things very frequently, and then, in the meantime, we've got more major innovations that have to happen on a longer cycle." This is a strategy the company needs to employ across the board.

Office. The Office 2010 launch was a big deal for Microsoft, and while some initial reports suggested that retail sales were soft, Office kicked butt in the most recent financial results.

Windows. It's been an amazing year for Windows, no doubt about it. Skyrocketing sales of Windows 7 compared to its predecessor, the only metric that matters. 94 percent customer satisfaction, which is "stunning." And plans to repeat this success with Windows 8, Ballmer said. Over 400 million PCs will be sold in 2011, according to IDC. The message: This is a serious growth market.

More important, perhaps, Microsoft is also growing share in some key markets. Looking at just laptop sales in the US, Windows now controls 93 percent of the market, up from 90 percent two years ago. "We've actually picked up a little share," Ballmer said, despite the fact that "other guys" (read: Apple) are also doing very well. (Apple lost share during this period, and went from 9.8 percent of the market to 7.2 percent.)

Netbooks are about 15 percent of the market, he notes, bringing us to...

Slate PCs. Microsoft has had Windows on slate PCs and Tablet PCs for "actually a long time," Ballmer finally admitted. With regards to the iPad, "Apple has done an interesting job of putting together a synthesis and putting a product out, and in which they've sold certainly more than I'd like them to sell, let me just be clear about that," he said. "We think about that. We think about that in competitive sense. And for us, then, the job is to say, Okay, we have a lot of IP, we have a lot of good software in this area, we've done a lot of work on ink and touch and everything else -- we have got to make things happen.

The key to the slate PC market, he said again, was to do there what they did with netbooks. And they're in the process of doing so right now, according to Ballmer. "There will be people who do things with other operating systems. But we've got the application base, we've got the user familiarity. We've got everything on our side if we do things really right."

He made some good points about jerks taking all this time to set up an iPad to look and work like a laptop before a meeting starts. (I've seen these clowns too. Oh, the humanity.) Still, choice is good, and some people want different form factors. So. when will these slate PCs appear?

"As soon as they're ready. They'll be shipping as soon as they are ready. And it is job one urgency around here. Nobody is sleeping at the switch. And so we are working with those partners, not just to deliver something, but to deliver products that people really want to go buy."

So I'm thinking Christmas for gen one and then mid-2011 for models that will actually be competitive.

Personal cloud. In a bit of tongue-tied market speak, Brad Brooks joined Ballmer on stage and discussed the so-called "personal cloud," which is how Microsoft is using Windows Live to "to connect all the things that are important to you and make them available and ready for you to use wherever you're at, whenever you need it." More specifically, "it's going to do a lot more than just connect your Windows 7 PCs together. It's going to connect you to your entertainment choices and bring new content into your personal cloud. It's going to connect you to the people that matter to you most. And of course it is going to connect to different devices that you want it to connect to, like devices in the homes or ones you might carry in your pocket. And we are going to take this already super popular Windows 7 PC experience and make it even more compelling for consumers and deliver it on a scale that Microsoft can deliver it on. So starting this fall, the things I'm about to show you, this personal cloud delivered through a Windows Live update that will be coming, will be available to every existing Windows 7 PC user and every Windows Phone 7 user."

Done in demo form, this was pretty involved. I guess I'd just point out that the whole integration strategy between Windows, Windows Live, Windows Phone, Bing, the Xbox 360, and whatever else is absolutely getting better but still has plenty of holes. This was an issue with the Windows Live wave 3 stuff last year (no calendar sync with devices, etc.) and it will be an issue this year (Windows Phone can aggregate contacts from anywhere but doesn't support contact groups of any kind, just a raw dump of every single person you know; etc.). If these guys can ever get from concept to reality, it will be a miracle. But so far, it's still more promise than anything.

Windows Phone 7. Devices from Samsung, HTC, and LG were specifically mentioned. Come to market still "this fall." Ballmer said Microsoft had two goals for Windows Phone 7: Get the software right and do the end-user experience right. "We say, 'I'm a PC.'" he noted. "I say, 'I'm a phone too.'" (People have mistaken this for a new marketing slogan. It's not.)

More soon....

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