Should we care what Microsoft is up to in 2012?

Having just attended the Microsoft Australian Partner Conference and spent three-and-a-half days looking at their latest technologies being released to market, I have to say I am impressed. This year Microsoft will release more new versions of its operating systems and software than in any previous year.

I have been using and recommending Microsoft technology to businesses for about 18 years. In that time there have been plenty of technology alternatives from Linux to Novel to Google and Apple and all along I have looked at the gains offered to business productivity and real cost to business of each of the technologies. Not just in the operating systems but also in the applications and productivity tools.

Microsoft’s acquisitions and R&D focus

Since 1987 Microsoft has been buying companies from Visio to Great Plains and Navision, Skype and beyond, over 145 acquisitions and at least five of them over $US1 billion. They have developed the Office suite and Microsoft Project along with SharePoint and Exchange, which for a long time was in close competition as the engine for email against players like Lotus Notes. Microsoft has also forged ahead on the database front with its SQL server against many worthy competitors from Oracle and DB2 to Sybase and MySQL.

Many of these contenders still exist as large-scale competitor products, but there is no doubt that Microsoft has prevailed to offer the most diverse set of business tools that can be applied to the SME business environment or the enterprise market. We now add the set of cloud tools that Microsoft is offering us and it is clear they have changed tack and will remain relevant as a player in the cloud.

With Office 365, Windows Azure and SkyDrive all being extended to offer more capability than earlier releases at a decreasing price point, we now get the option of moving away from server based software to using cloud or utility computing to solve our business problems.

What struck me this year like never before is that with the release of Windows 8, Microsoft’s new operating system, the ‘one program, any device’ paradigm offers us a level of integration between phones, PCs, Laptops and tablets that has been missing from the market. Adding to this the level of integration between their product set of applications and we have compelling productivity tools for our businesses. Microsoft has realised this is all so mind-blowing that they have built what they call Customer Immersion Experience labs where we can take clients for a three to four hour look at how all the tools can be used together to solve business problems.

Age of maturity

I believe Microsoft has come to an age of maturity that has taken many release versions of its various products with a focus on the end point of integration. We have all put up with bugs and limited functionality in different products at different times. These will rapidly become memories of a bygone age as we make use of the new slick tools being released this year.

If we are looking at new IT solutions for our business we need to ask ourselves how well they will integrate with the tools being offered by Microsoft, as these are still likely to be our core platform for some time to come. With Microsoft spending over $9 billion a year on R&D to ensure they remain at the forefront of technology it would be folly to invest too much time in avoiding using their products.

I am sure there are plenty of people who hate a big player and would rather support smaller players or open source solutions for their PCs and servers. But the bottom line is about the capability of your business to remain competitive in a world of rapidly changing technology at the lowest cost to the business.

Big changes afoot

I appreciate that Microsoft will not be all things to all people and that there are still plenty of opportunities for niche players and specialist solutions. However, for people who just need their IT systems to work so they can get on with their non-IT jobs it is going to be pretty hard to move away from Microsoft.

The other important aspect of this year, when Microsoft is releasing new versions of more products than it has ever released in one year before, is that we are about to enter a few years of rapid change in how we use computers. The connection between our PCs and phones offered by Windows 8 and SkyDrive is going to lead to massive innovation in personal performance tools for all sorts of information-based workers and mobile workforces.

One of the issues is going to be finding IT people who are up to date and keeping up with the pace of change who can help you to innovate and implement these technologies in your business.

David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.



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