Microsoft Rising

For the past decade or more, Microsoft has been the punching bag of the technology industry, delivering strong sales and financial results but only rarely achieving any form of emotional connection with customers or reviewers. This year has been a revolution for the software giant, however, and with recent announcements and leaks centered on next-generation versions of Windows, Windows Phone, Xbox, and Office, Microsoft is suddenly the darling of the tech world.

What the what?

You can see the change everywhere. Apple- and Google-centric tech blogs have suddenly come around, with Gizmodo bizarrely declaring Microsoft to be the “most exciting company in tech, hands down.” And Microsoft’s somnolent fans, usually silent on the company’s apparently fading fortunes, have arisen en masse in the wake of last week’s Microsoft Surface tablet announcement to denounce anyone with the temerity to criticize the near-vaporware device.

To say that Microsoft has rebounded this year doesn’t even begin to describe the amazing turnaround we’re now experiencing, since it's hitting at both the real and the perceived, the latter of which has been a historical problem for Microsoft. Aided perhaps by a lackluster Apple WWDC—where the company again announced barely evolved versions of virtually all of its core products—Microsoft is suddenly riding a wave of excitement and enthusiasm.

It’s breathtaking to watch.

About 10 days ago, an incredible leaked presentation—now known to be very real indeed—gave us a thorough look at Microsoft’s next-generation Xbox. But even before that, the company “won” the annual competition of E3 press conferences against Sony and Nintendo, delivering a solid vision for its current console, now in its seventh year, as an all-in-one entertainment solution for the living room and previewing coming services such as Xbox Music and Xbox SmartGlass, the latter of which ties Xbox experiences to mobile devices of all kinds.

Next up, Microsoft triggered an amazing bit of PR stuntery by getting the entire tech world to speculate for days about a special new mysterious product that ended up being the Microsoft Surface tablet, a decent enough device in its own right but one that has triggered an Apple-like frenzy among Microsoft’s fans despite the fact that we really know very little about it.

Just days after that, Microsoft revealed what it calls the Windows Phone 8 Platform Preview at its Windows Phone Summit, which was originally going to be a developer event. Based on Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 has put Microsoft’s smartphone platform back in the news and despite some grumbling from the few current Windows Phone users about a mixed Windows Phone 7.8 release, reactions have been decidedly positive.

Of course, there’s more happening this year. Microsoft will at some point deliver a beta version of its eagerly awaited Office 2013, which should include a wide swath of products and services. And the Windows Server 2012 release was silently finished (for the most part) months ago, so the company is basically just waiting on Windows 8, which will release to manufacturing between July 12 and July 21 to correspond exactly with the Windows 7 schedule from three years prior. No matter how you look at it, this is huge year for Microsoft, one in which all of its major platforms are moving from the past to the future—not evolutionarily but in fairly dramatic ways that will affect hundreds of millions of users fairly quickly.

The most exciting company in tech, hands down? I think the case can be made, yes.

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