Microsoft and the Surprising Strategic Play

I love to watch news pundits pontificate about how they see an organisations strategy and their predictions of the various steps in delivering that strategy. We love to feel like we are getting some insight that we could put to good value, but business isn’t a safe place where you do predictable things, it’s a place of competition where sometimes your best strategy is to be surprising.

Microsoft has pulled a few surprises for the pundits in recent weeks all of them revealing in practical terms Satya Nadella’s strategy of “mobile first, cloud first”.

For those of you not watching here were the “surprises”:

Dropbox Partnership

Microsoft have partnered with Dropbox to embed Office into Dropbox and Dropbox into Office.

Much of the growth of Dropbox has been driven by mobile users wanting to synchronise their data across multiple devices and with colleagues on multiple devices.

In so doing Microsoft cements Office into the working experience of Dropbox’s over 300 million users (May 2014), and more significantly improves on the experience of Dropbox and Google Drive together.

Free Office for iOS and Andriod

Microsoft now gives away Word, PowerPoint and Excel for Android and iOS users. People have previously had access to read-only capabilities without an Office 365 subscription but these limitations have now been taken away.

The result was that Office Apps for iPhone and iPad sky-rocketed to the top of the AppStore most downloaded list with Word at #1.

Again a Microsoft strategic play for mobile customers and providing linkage to cloud services without mandating their use. Rather than making access to Word, PowerPoint or Excel a reason to move to Office 365 they are choosing to extend the capabilities of Office 365 with benefits such as the newly announced Clutter, or the extended Groups experience.

Per User Licensing for Windows

Licensing of Microsoft software is a mixture between science, art and chaos theory. Mostly it’s done on a per device basis, it’s further complicated by rights to use licenses on multiple devices in some circumstances depending on the connection method and the ownership of the devices itself. This type of licensing made sense in a world where people were given a device from their employer, with licensed software from their employer, and they did everything on that device. But that’s no longer how people work; people want to use their own devices, they want to be able to connect from anywhere and they want to be able to use virtual desktops if required.

Microsoft has made evolutionary changes to the licensing regime to recognise this. The latest change is the provision of per user licensing for Windows.

Perhaps not as significant as the other two surprises, at first glance, this move licenses a whole set of mobile devices to connect to Windows virtual desktops. This, in turn, clarifies the licensing position for many BYOD scenarios where people want to get access to Windows applications from their own devices. It removes risk and friction from organisations wanting to deliver virtual desktop experiences.

.NET Core now Open Source and Visual Studio Community for Free

One of the driving forces for the explosion of Open Source has been open source development frameworks. Now Microsoft has joined them by moving .NET Core to an open source model extending support into Linux and Mac OS-X at the same time.

Visual Studio has been a popular IDE for a long time (over 17 years) growing and morphing as different development capabilities have been required. The new free Community edition has similar capabilities to the Professional edition so it’s no neutered basic starter edition.

To quote the blog post announcing these changes:

With these releases, we are broadly opening up access to our industry leading platform and tools to every developer building any application in today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world. No matter if you are a startup, a student, a hobbyist, an open source developer or a commercial developer, and no matter the platform you are targeting or the app you are creating, Visual Studio, Visual Studio Online, .NET and Azure will help you be successful.

Another strategic play to reach out to the development community to make Microsoft the chosen starting point for mobile and cloud projects.

Strategy and Surprises

Commentary on each of these surprises is a mixture of defensive strategy and offensive strategy. The best strategy comprises both.

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