Does Microsoft have to prove it’s not another IBM? I read this article from the Verge, which suggested that Microsoft would have to prove that it’s not another IBM. The article suggests that ‘Microsoft is increasingly focusing its efforts on businesses rather than consumers’, evidenced by the Windows demos being relegated to Day Two.
In the article, the author states that ‘Microsoft can’t afford to become the next IBM and lose any relevance it still holds with consumers, but if it’s not careful, that might be inevitable.’ I would strongly disagree with this assertion. Let’s take a look at where Microsoft are going.
Work is what we do, not where we are. That’s why the Alexa and Cortana integration is so important.
From the Build keynote, I got the real sense that Microsoft are paying attention to consumers with the Alexa and Cortana integration. I see the split quite neatly; Alexa for Amazon type of requests where I want to order something, or use an Amazon service such as Audible. I see the Cortana aspect of Alexa as ramping up the productivity, both personal and professional, for consumers. Microsoft remember their consumers and this view will help Microsoft in efforts to retain mainstream mass market success beyond Windows and Office. The reality is that our life boundaries between work and play are pretty blurred nowadays, and Microsoft understand that. Work is what we do and part of who we are; work is not a place to go, do work, and come back again. Our lives are way too confusing for that simplicity and those days are gone.
Microsoft has the opportunity to show the world this week what it really stands for, and, for me, Microsoft seems to ‘get’ people and the mess that is our lives. Additionally, there will always be the diversity aspect that Microsoft brings to the table. In the Day One keynote, for example, it was inspiring to see work teams collaborating productively with a deaf team member, and ensuring that she was part of the team.
Another aspect of Microsoft Build is that diversity does not mean sticking pretty young women up on the stage in some sort of reverse move; sexism in the guise of diversity where organizations pretend to be diverse by showing ‘babes’ as presenters. The Microsoft Build stage was shared with real women leaders who have a passion for technology, as well as an inclusive message by showing how technology helped a techie who is deaf. Microsoft’s demo showed that her deafness was part of who she is, but it did not stop her from doing what she loves. As a female in technology, this means a lot to me. Having complained on booth babes in the past, I feel that diverse groups have a home at Microsoft and Microsoft are showing the way by example. That’s real leadership, and that’s why I don’t think Microsoft need to prove that they aren’t IBM in disguise at all; they are embedding this perspective in their DNA.
With Satya Nadella at the helm, there is a real care and concern, almost a love for people and the planet, which imbued Satya’s keynote.
During the keynote, Nadella talked about Microsoft’s impact on people and planet through opportunity and responsibility, and they were right at the front and start and centre of the keynote. For that, as someone on a Buddhist journey as well as a female in tech, that was a key takeaway for me. I felt that Satya’s keynote talked directly to me.
Microsoft are serious about open source, and making it a first-class citizen. Microsoft is single largest contributor to open source on GitHub. According to GitHub, Microsoft has the largest open source community in the entire world with Visual Studio Code. If this is a surprise, you weren’t paying attention and it shows a real commitment to the creativity of developers. IBM has a story for open-source too and they have shown themselves to be leaders in this area. Microsoft seem to be splattering open source everywhere and I get the impression that they are way more vocal about it than IBM are. In fact, I don’t think you can actually avoid it in many Microsoft products anymore. Take R, for example; it’s in everything from SQL Server through to Power BI, and you can even use R in Excel, which is, after all, the world’s favourite Business Intelligence tools and one of the most unsung inventions of the 20th century.
I don’t believe that the promises of AI are ‘vague’ at all, as suggested by the article. There are clearly many opportunities for intelligent drones, as evidenced by Microsoft’s forward-looking partnership with DJI. It’s important to note that IBM also have a partnership with Aerialtronics. In this sense, both organizations are going in the same direction. I’m not sure what’s vague about it from the Microsoft perspective; they’ve signed up with a manufacturing giant, and I think that’s good news. I also think competition is a good thing, but I also think that Microsoft are placing the opportunity in the hands of developers and that’s allowing freedom and creativity, being mindful of Satya’s commentary about ethical AI and its responsibilities.
MIcrosoft should not fear IBM at all. I see Microsoft as having a consumer and business audience. Consumers will still be a focus for Microsoft between Windows, Mixed Reality, Xbox, Office and other services, along with new innovations such as the Alexa/Cortana piece mentioned earlier. Microsoft have clearly gone after enterprise as a focus, especially in the Cloud sector. Those bets have been paying off as the Azure business is growing, and going from strength to strength and the strategy is continuing to prove itself to shareholders, and that’s crucial as an independent barometer.