Is Microsoft going soft or maturing gracefully?

Microsoft has changed. No longer the bulldozing bully, Microsoft has become the benevolent giant who's bent on building partnerships rather than empires.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

I know it sounds crazy but I've noticed a big change in Microsoft--especially in the past two years. But, it's been coming for about five or more years now and it has nothing to do with Apple. It has everything to do with evolution. In fact, a few months back, I asked Jason Perlow, what the heck was up with Microsoft. Neither he nor I could explain it. After much thought, contemplation and new headlines; I think I've figured it out. Microsoft is growing up. And, not a moment too soon.

Sure, a lot of people weren't happy when Steve Ballmer took the reins from Bill Gates a few years ago. We've all watched his antics on stage, listened to his words in the news and observed his new strategies with awe--and shock. It's a kinder, gentler time for Microsoft and we need to notice it.

I, for one, was impressed with Microsoft's foray into open source software with its Port25 initiative. I was mystified when Microsoft revamped its licensing program, which included a self-service portal, volume discounts for as few as five licenses and a whole new outlook on licensing compliance. I choked on my Diet Dr. Pepper when I read that they're giving away megabuck licenses for Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V.

And, now, I must tell you that I've now heard it all when Steve Ballmer stated that he sees Microsoft becoming more like Apple. We all know that Ballmer is no Steve Jobs. Heck, he's not even Bill Gates. But, what he is, is clever enough to change what's wrong and to make it better. He actuallly said that "We're making Microsoft cool."

I know. I had to pinch myself too.

Ballmer, cool and Microsoft. All in the same sentence. And, I thought something like that would cause a rip in the space-time continuum so severe that we'd be using our fingers to swipe sticks and stones instead of sleek new tablet computers. Never would I thought I'd hear myself say--or the voices in my head that I attribute to myself say--Microsoft, you are cool.

Now, before you think that I've gone soft in the head over Microsoft, let's take a step back and examine this statement.

Microsoft, for some of us, has always been cool. Yes, they've had their ups and downs--every company has but overall, they've always had a cool factor. I've done crazy things with Windows systems over the years and for all my complaints, it works 99% of the time. That 1% seems larger because of the severity of some of the problems but you really have to admit that Windows (and DOS before it) has taken the world from an ivory tower exclusive computing elite and placed usable computing devices into almost every hand on the planet.

Sure, I still want a Macbook Air, who doesn't. I want one for the podcasting, videocasting, movie-making, creative stuff but, when I get ready to write, explore, play or do technical work, I reach for my Windows computer. It's always been that way.

Yes, I work a lot with Linux too. But, that's a whole other world. Linux is not just a passion, it's also a workhorse and another way of doing things. 

This really isn't odd. I have a limb saw, a chain saw, a crosscut saw and two or three handsaws. They all cut wood but in different ways and for different applications. So it is too with Windows, Mac and Linux.

Windows has always been there. Microsoft has always been there. Microsoft has never let me down. They've never left any problem that I've had unresolved. In the rare instance where I've found a new bug or run into a problem that wasn't already solved, they wrote a fix and delivered it to me. Yep, Microsoft did that.

Oh, hey, in fact, Microsoft should use that as their new tag line: Yep, Microsoft did that.

You're welcome.

And, thank you.

I'm looking forward to the official launch of Windows 8, although I've worked with it for a while, with enthusiasm and with a bit of selfishness. There's a part of me who wants people to love Windows 8 just because it's cool. And, because they'll ask me how to use it. I'm ready.

Microsoft, you are cool. But, you're not like Apple. I don't want you to be like Apple. I want you to be Microsoft: The company that put an affordable computer into everyone's hands. Yes, you're a different company now than you were just ten years ago.

We've all grown up a bit.

You've realized that loyalty, reliability and a steady hand beats the competition. You still have the most popular desktop operating system, the most sought after applications and the best tools available. You also realize that you have to evolve with the times. I admit that you had me worried there for a while but the success of Windows XP let me know that you still had it.

Windows 8 will make a larger impact still.

So, the answer to the old question, "Where do you want to go today?"

Back to my Windows computer so I can get something done. That's where.

And, now, something I thought I'd never say, "Steve Ballmer, I almost like you." I guess I had some growing up to do too.

What do you think of the "new" Microsoft? Do you think the change is permanent or just another marketing rouse? Talk back and let me know.

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