Microsoft's differentiation plan: A suite of 'experiences' on any device

Microsoft gave its reseller partners their fiscal 2015 marching orders on the opening day of its annual partner conference. Productivity, enterprise mobility, security and CRM all figured prominently.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

At Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference, company officials give tens of thousands of reseller partners their marching orders for the next fiscal year.


On July 14, the opening day of the 2014 show, those marching orders included some differentiators from the directives of previous years. Specifically, Microsoft's brass is telling partners that "productivity is our strength," in the words of Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner.

The focus on productivity -- and "platforms" -- is the newest focus for Satya Nadella's Microsoft. Just last week, Nadella outlined Microsoft's shift from a devices and services company to one focused on productivity and platforms. Turner elaborated on this message during his part of the three-hour opening day WPC 2014 keynote in Washington, DC.

For Microsoft, productivity starts with the company's core Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Lync and OneNote. But it goes beyond that to include OneDrive, Bing, Outlook.com, Xbox Music, Skype, Skype Wi-Fi, and Office Mobile, Turner explained. He talked about Microsoft targeting dual users: Ones that have work and home lives that are intertwined.

Turner said Microsoft's goal is to continue to offer the "best experience" on Windows. But now it's part of the company's -- and, by extension, its partner salesforce -- to extend those productivity experiences to other platforms, including Mac, iOS and Android.

Microsoft wants to offer a "complete suite of Microsoft experiences preinstalled on any device, on any platform," Turner said. And that's a far different mission which centered around "attach and license," he said.

Turner acknowledged that if all platforms, meaning all phone, tablet and PC operating systems worldwide were measured as a single entity, Microsoft has only 14 percent market share -- in spite of the fact that it still has 90 percent PC operating system share. That's why, in the new mobile first/cloud first world, Microsoft and its partners need to have a "challenger mindset," he told Monday's keynote attendees.

Turner teased the partner audience with a passing reference to "Threshold," the next version of Windows. While he said Microsoft would not be discussing that OS release, which will be a spring 2015 deliverable, during his remarks today, he did promise that it would be "great world class enterprise OS when it comes out."

Turner also promised that Microsoft would listen and take into account feedback from not just consumers, but enterprise and small/midsize business users in developing Threshold -- an important commitment given the largely lackluster reception that Windows 8 received initially from business users. 

Turner told partners to expect Microsoft to emphasize its Dynamics CRM Online, Enterprise Mobility Suite and its OneNote note-taking platform in fiscal 2015, which for the company began on July 1, 2014. These products are all examples of where Microsoft can and will differentiate itself from the competition, Turner said.

Turner also promised that Microsoft's new "zero dollar" pricing for Windows on devices under nine inches will result in some new, inexpensive devices from its OEM partners later this year, including $99 seven- to eight-inch tablets and $249 Windows PCs, the latter of which -- coming from Acer and Toshiba -- will be positioned as Chromebook competitors. 

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