Company / division: Office
Microsoft Begins Bundling Windows and Office for Businesses (Jul 10, 2017)
I’m at Microsoft’s Build developer conference this week, and got a little preview of some of what’s being announced in a private session for analysts yesterday. Today’s day 1 keynote is focused on Microsoft’s broad vision for this year’s event and its cloud and AI business. Many of the things I cover most closely will actually be in tomorrow’s keynote, which will cover more of the consumer-facing parts of the business. But there were still several notable announcements today that are worth talking about, even on a site like this that’s more consumer tech-focused. Firstly, it’s worth noting CEO Satya Nadella’s philosophical intro, which emphasized the ethical and other responsibilities tech companies have as well as the limits of tech in solving the world’s problems. That’s an admirable stance and a theme we’ve seen more from Nadella than any other tech leader in recent years.
Secondly, Microsoft’s big push this year is a shift from Nadella’s earlier mobile-first, cloud-first vision to a new vision around intelligent cloud combined with intelligent edge. What that means is that Microsoft sees the cloud as being less centralized and more distributed, including in edge devices, and its new Azure IoT Edge concept takes cloud computing functionality and puts it in potentially tiny devices at the edge of the network. That’s a somewhat unique vision for the cloud, especially from a company that’s also strong in the core cloud context. If Microsoft is right about this vision, and I suspect it is in the industrial world especially, then that raises interesting questions for other vendors and their ability to push that capability into edge devices, where operating system companies are strong but others tend not to be.
Thirdly, Microsoft is pushing what it calls its Graph, which is a sort of backend for its own services but also opens up to developers, and began as an agglomeration of data about users and is expanding to include those users’ activities in apps and across devices. The idea is that this Graph will power continuity between apps and other activities for users through both first-party and third party features. It’s a good concept and in some versions is reminiscent of what Apple does with Handoff and Continuity in its operating systems. But the big challenge for this vision at Microsoft is that it’s got a huge gap in its Graph around mobile, because people spend the vast majority of their mobile time outside Microsoft devices, operating systems, and apps. I can’t see it changing that, and that’s going to reduce the value of the Graph significantly, especially in the consumer world. I’ll have more commentary on some of the consumer-focused announcements in tomorrow’s keynote.
Lastly, one kind of consumer-focused announcement today, which has been subtle on stage but covered somewhat in the press regardless based on pre-briefings is Cortana Skills, which were announced way back in December but are now going more generally available to developers. What’s interesting here is that unlike Amazon’s Alexa Skills, at least some of these third party capabilities will be built in even if users haven’t explicitly installed or enabled the apps, including weather app Dark Sky and Domino’s Pizza. We’re still in the very early days here, but it will be interesting to see how skills on a PC-centric assistant like Cortana evolve differently from those on speaker- or phone-centric assistants like Alexa or Siri.
via Techmeme (and about a thousand articles on different announcements made today which you’ll find linked there)
Microsoft today held an education-focused event in New York City, at which it announced a stripped-down version of Windows, new end-user and teacher/administrator apps, and new hardware for the education market. This is by far the biggest and most comprehensive education push we’ve seen from any of the three big OS vendors, and is clearly intended to reassert Microsoft’s pre-eminent position in the education domain. What was evident from the first part of the event was how committed Microsoft is to making this work, and it began with an impassioned and personal talk from CEO Satya Nadella about his own family background and how education made a difference. Just as Microsoft’s AI mantra has been about democratizing the technology, so he now talks about democratizing educational opportunity. That’s a worthy goal, and Microsoft’s new announcements are a great way to try to bring that about, but Microsoft was also admirably realistic about the role technology plays in education: it assists and empowers but can’t replace committed teachers and parents or educational institutions. I have separate posts about Windows 10 S (here) and Surface Laptop (here). But I like the way Microsoft is introducing education into many of its existing products, including Office, Minecraft, Intune, and so on. Treating education as a first party audience alongside consumers and enterprises makes perfect sense, and is the route others have already taken. What Microsoft announced today feels like it will move its story forward in education considerably. Both Google and Apple have developed more comprehensive stories in education over the past couple of years too, but Microsoft’s arguably goes further, though developer events from the other two in the next six weeks could redress that balance a little.
Last week Google announced its Slack competitor, and this week Microsoft is announcing the availability of its previously announced entry in this space: Teams. One big difference versus Slack is that Teams will be baked into every Office 365 enterprise subscription rather than being a paid standalone product, which should almost immediately make it available to many more people than Slack. In addition, it will be integrated into other parts of Office more fully than Slack itself. The big question then becomes whose implementation of the concept is better, and also to some extent whether people keen to use something other than email to collaborate will look to a startup or the company that actually runs their email – Microsoft is making the argument that it isn’t actually trying to replace email but instead offer another way to collaborate when email doesn’t make sense. To some extent, that actually has more credibility to me than replacing email entirely, which has always seemed a slightly unrealistic goal for Slack.