I have had a few days to recover from the last 10 days of launches, releases, announcements and presentations from Microsoft and after catching up from the sleep deprivation, I have had an epiphany. Everything you knew about Microsoft has not changed but everything you knew about Microsoft has been turned upside-down.
First let’s look at the launches from the last 10 days. We start in NYC on October 26 before Hurricane Sandy ravaged the city and the entire east coast of the US. On this date, the Windows 8 and Microsoft first computer device for Windows RT, the Surface was released. A little background about Windows RT which is a version of Windows for the ARM processor. It looks like Windows 8 but it slightly different. Windows RT does not have support for x86 applications so those apps you install will not work or be supported. What do you get with Windows RT is an OS that works on cheaper more efficient hardware so battery life is much better without losing performance. The Surface device is Microsoft’s first mobile computing entry and is a good device for people that want the portability of a tablet while keeping the productivity of a laptop. It has most of the Office applications we use (sans Outlook) so you can do your work after using the apps like Netflix, Kindle and Angry Bird Space. NYC was a buzz with the launch and Time Square was packed with people. Great to see this type of excitement about a Microsoft product.
Next we hop a flight to the other coast and experience the next Microsoft launch. On October 29, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 8 with Joe Belfiore leading the keynote. Windows Phone 8 is the next version of the smartphone OS and a great sequel to Windows Phone 7. What are the benefits and drawbacks of Windows Phone 8? The new phones for the mobile OS will have better HD screens, more powerful processors and will give users more features in their phones (another blog post about Windows Phone 8 features coming soon). The downside is that if you have a Windows Phone 7 device, you will not be able to upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has built Windows Phone 8 to match the kernel of Windows 8. The new mobile OS should make a huge splash in the market with its matching UX shared with Windows 8.
What better way to follow up with the Windows 8, Surface and Windows Phone 8 launches then a deep dive and celebration from Microsoft? That is just what happened last week starting on October 28 when Microsoft hosted thousands of developers on their main campus in Redmond, WA for BUILD. This was the second year Microsoft held this event and the first on campus. There were some logistical issues along the way with buses, crowded sessions that got moved minutes before they were to start so that more people could attend (I termed Agile Scheduling for this process) and finally, the typical Seattle rain made its debut. As part of the planning, one of the biggest tents ever constructed, was put up to house the keynotes and Beer Fest celebration for attendees. The tent seemed to have it own atmosphere and a few of joked that maybe it could be used on Mars when colonization started. In the end, I think everyone had a great time and it was enjoyable to be in the buzz and experience the space where Microsoft employees get to work and play every day.
The keynotes for BUILD were also a sign of things to come. Steve Ballmer kicked things off and did most of the demos during the first day of the BUILD keynotes solo. It was a daring and exciting move for the Microsoft CEO to not only sit up on stage with so many Windows 8 and RT devices but he actually used his personal Microsoft account to demo the features and capabilities of the next flagship OS from Microsoft. I was surprised at the passion and enthusiasm Ballmer had while demoing and it really got the crowd going. He even joked around a little and made fun of himself which you always like to see from the CEO of such a large company. In addition to a great keynote, Microsoft also announced that each attendee to BUILD would receive 100Gb of SkyDrive space, a 32Gb Surface and a Nokia Lumia 920 developer phone (unlocked and build for most carrier SIM cards).
The second day of BUILD started with keynotes from the services side of the Windows 8… the other huge bet Microsoft has made in the last 4 years: Windows Azure. The highlight of the keynote was the announcement that Windows Azure Mobile Services would be opened up for use in Windows Phone 8. That along with other new features and updates to Azure for web developers and IT Pros made this keynote stand out. Nothing as exciting as the first day but still a great message.
Throughout BUILD there were many great sessions but the best part I experienced was meeting with friends and Microsoft employees to discuss what they have been doing, where they see the future headed with Microsoft and also, just making sure we all had laughs and a few drinks in the evenings over great conversations.
Do I have high hopes for the future of Windows and the developer path at Microsoft? I do, but with some reservations. I know this business is not won on technology alone. Microsoft has to do a better job marketing Windows and Windows Phone for the consumers to recognize it as the best product. They must also refresh the Surface line quickly to keep up with the competition. Will they stay the course? Time will tell but I think after spending one of the greatest weeks at Microsoft, things definitely feel different.