Who am I to even write a blog post entitled “The future of Microsoft”? Well, admittedly my field of view on this topic is limited. I’m just a regular guy. However, perhaps I have an interesting perspective after working with their tech for the last 20 years.
History (me and Microsoft):
- I’m a guy that got interested in computers in my late teens.
- A few times in high school, when the computer science teacher was not feeling well (she was pregnant at the time) I got to help facilitate teaching my fellow students BASIC – yeah that BASIC.
- My dad gave me his old PCs as he upgraded. He was an accountant, and fortunately for me accountants adopted computers quickly. I used them to write (play with) HTML in notepad, and render it in Netscape Navigator. All the while I was buying $50 two inch thick books from Barnes and Noble to learn more using the money I earned mowing yards and washing cars at a local car dealership on the weekends.
- My friend Rick got me an internship in the Information Resources department at a great company in our area. My job was to help support the field sales laptops that ran Windows 3.1, and assist with the migration effort to get them all migrated to Windows 95.
- After high school I attended a community college for one quarter in a plastics engineering program, then quickly dropped out to start a web hosting company with Rick (who got me the internship). We became the first Microsoft Authorized Web Presence Provider for Microsoft FrontPage in NC, and one of the first 50 in the nation. We did it all in the beginning with a 64k ISDN line and a Gateway 2000 server (not really a server at all by today’s standards).
- I earned my MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification when I was 19 years old. Back then, this was a big deal.
We will pause there for a moment. These were the glory days for Microsoft from my perspective. Microsoft was killing it and I was lucky enough to be along for the ride. For lots of firms, we were installing their first networks and first internet connections. When we were not putting new stuff in we were ripping out Novell powered networks and replacing them with Windows NT like crazy. We helped companies register their first domain names, and configure their first email addresses over and over and over again.
It turns out, for a nerd (especially a Microsoft infrastructure focused nerd) I entered this career at exactly the right time. By the end of 1999, Microsoft stock was up over 800% from where it was at the start of 1996.
After the dot com bubble bust in the early 2000’s things started to settle down. The hype was over, and now businesses depended heavily on these systems. I’ve kept busy for years taking care of the systems we built. We upgraded servers running Windows NT to Windows 2000, then Windows 2003, then Windows 2008 R2 for clients along the way. All the while upgrading the hardware, applications and other infrastructure systems around them.
However, somewhere a few years ago things started to shift. Remember the I’m a Mac and I’m a PC commercials? I hate to say it but in some ways they mirrored this shift and were well timed. Slowly, PCs and the Microsoft server infrastructure that ran them started to feel more boring.
Lots of us old NT4 MCSEs moved on up the food chain. Some took the management route, others of us who stayed focused on the technology focused on more interesting areas where more innovation was happening from a technical perspective. For me those areas were virtualization (VMware), Linux (RedHat), security (SANS GPEN etc) or countless other areas where cool stuff was going on. For me, I still did plenty of Microsoft focused consulting in order to pay the bills, but my attention and real interest shifted elsewhere to where more interesting stuff was going on.
Lately, you upgrade your server OS because you have to, not because you want to. The old one is not going to be supported or some app the business needed required the new one, so you upgraded. You did not really want to, but you did. It’s not that Microsoft did anything so horribly wrong, well other than Vista and Windows 2008. They just were not doing anything particularly interesting. In most cases, there was no compelling reason for me to tell clients they should upgrade their desktops from Windows XP or their servers from Windows Server 2003. Those tools got the job done, and overall they were solid. That trend has essentially continued. Today, I have no particular burning reason to tell a client to upgrade Windows 7, Windows 2008 R2, or Exchange 2010. Run it until support expires, or you have a real need for something else.
Boring. Operationally important even critical to most businesses, yes. Interesting, not all that much. Surely not as interesting as it once was.
The subtle recent shift:
Recently, it feels like things have started to shift. Microsoft has actually started to innovate again! They have also started to make good decisions and gain ground where they had fallen way behind. Here are a few areas I can think of where they have shown recent positive improvement.
- The Kinect was an actually a really cool and innovative product. I’m still not crazy about the Xbox UI, but the Kinect itself is cool tech.
- Microsoft entered the cloud space with Office 365 (SaaS) and Microsoft Azure (IaaS / PaaS). Both of those are maturing nicely and offering some very credible competition to the folks who really innovated in these spaces.
- The Microsoft Band is awesome! I’ve got a friend who has one, and he is crazy about it. They are still sold out online, and only available in the Microsoft stores if you can get one when they are in stock.
- The Microsoft Surface is a really solid piece of tech. Take an average business person and replace their existing tablet with one of these and in my experience they will thank you. For some of them, you can also use it to replace their laptop and desktop (docking station and external monitor required).
- Microsoft development tools continue to offer developers some of the very best tools to work with. I’m a C# beginner so I’m not qualified to say this, but this is what some of the best developers I work with and respect tell me.
- Microsoft open sourced .Net and embraced Linux running on Azure. Thank goodness the holy war against Linux and Open Source in general seems to be over.
- Hyper V seems to be catching up with VMware. If you hire me today, I’ll likely still suggest VMware but I’m less certain I’ll be doing that forever. Especially, if you are considering eventually building a hybrid cloud with Azure.
So, the big ship Microsoft seems to have gotten turned, and it feels like it is headed in a more positive direction.
The future is an awfully hard thing to predict, especially in the tech space. However, I think HoloLens has real potential to have a huge positive impact on the entire Microsoft ecosystem. Go ahead – click here and watch the two minute video. Its worth it. I’ll wait…
Ok – so is that awesome or what? Its a fundamentally different way to interact with a computer than anything any of us use today. Its unbelievably innovative.
Imagine choosing to upgrade Microsoft Office because you want to do 3D data visualization with Excel, or you want to present HoloLens content with PowerPoint. Imagine wanting to upgrade to Windows 10 so you can use the HoloLens. Imagine your users begging you to upgrade your Remote Desktop servers so that HoloLens enabled apps will work remotely. I think the potential is huge. Never mind just the examples of extending the apps we have today with this technology. Imagine the apps this technology will enable that simply can’t exist today.
I might look back on this post a year or two from now and think it is the craziest thing I have ever written but I’m going to say it anyway. I think now is the time to double down on Microsoft.