Microsoft's shifting priorities: It's about time

I’ve asked a few illustrious members of the worldwide Microsoft community to share their insights via guest posts on a variety of topics — from Windows Phone, to Hyper-V.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

I'm taking a couple weeks off before the busiest part of Microsoft's 2012 kicks into full gear. But never fear: The Microsoft watching will go on while I'm gone. I've asked a few illustrious members of the worldwide Microsoft community to share their insights via guest posts on a variety of topics -- from Windows Phone, to Hyper-V. Today's entry is all about Microsoft's increasing consumer focus and is authored by Mike Brown.

For a while I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I could tell something different was happening in Redmond.

It started with Windows Phone 7. The mobile team, which was normally very accessible and open, had gone dark. Anyone paying attention knew something big was happening, but just what was it? Granted there were some leaks that gave hints as to how the next mobile platform would work. But there was very little voluntary information coming from Microsoft until they were ready.

The level of secrecy around Windows Phone 7 was like an open book compared to the tight wraps Microsoft has placed on Windows 8. Again, there were inevitable leaks, but the Windows team, the Visual Studio team, everyone remotely involved with Windows 8 again has had tight lips -- even to the point that the Build conference did not even have a public agenda before the opening keynote.

Having observed this shifting tide over the past few years, I can finally identify what is happening. Whereas in the past, Microsoft’s offerings have been targeted at the enterprise and developers, Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 both have a consumer focus.

To that, I say it’s about time.

I’m not saying that prior versions of Windows 8 and Windows Mobile totally ignored the non-business/non-professional user. It’s more that Microsoft counted on the fact that people were familiar with Windows from work, making it the easy choice for their home.

But then came the iPad. The iPad and the iPhone before it were gateways into the Apple ecosystem. If you’ve stepped inside an Apple Store, you’ve probably observed how it is a streamlined experience to get you engaged with their product. “Oh you want an iPad? While you’re at it have you looked at our new MacBook Pro with 17 inch high resolution display and brushed metal unibody construction?”

The Apple store feels less like a computer store and more like a high end boutique that sales Apple products instead of clothing. Not only is Apple winning larger and larger shares of the home computing market, but their customers are bringing their devices to work and impacting corporate decisions. While I find it unlikely that a big enterprise will perform a corporate-wide rollout of MacBooks for all employees, there's no question that more creative groups and executives are choosing these over Windows based devices that are just plain in comparison.

Microsoft has needed to respond to this phenomenon. And respond, it did.

Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 are Microsoft’s ode to the consumer. Not everything is perfect (yet). For example, as a developer, there are some aspects of both platforms that I feel are missing. For example I wish it were possible to jump from a Metro App to a full Desktop Application in Windows 8 (a la Internet Explorer). I would love the ability to communicate to a background service running on the machine from a Metro App. Also there are questions about managing devices and deploying enterprise Metro apps from an IT management perspective.

But to me all these are minor inconveniences because -- for the first time in many years -- I am excited about Windows as an end user again.

Mike Brown is a software engineer with over 16 years of experience in the IT field. When not involved in late night experiments with Windows 8, he is working on re-launching Azure Coding .NET as the premiere portal for Microsoft Cloud news and resources.

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