It’s not been a great year for Microsoft. The company has seen 12 months of slow decline in many sections of its business, and very few bright spots in the rest.
The year didn’t start well for the company. Steve Ballmer’s keynote at CES was a disappointment – full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. He showed off some Windows 7 tablets, none of which has come to market yet, and talked up a lot of new technologies without going into specifics.
On the consumer side, the news was a little better. CES saw the first demos showing what Project Natal had turned into, and the end result was Kinect. The hands-free gesture control system has been a huge hit so far and has helped drive Xbox sales this year.
At February’s Mobile World Congress, Ballmer had better news, with the announcement that Windows Phone 7 was at last ready to ship. Uptake of the new phone platform by manufacturers has been steady, with HTC providing nearly half the available handsets (and enterprise integration tools), as well as products from Dell, Samsung and LG. Windows Phone 7 hasn’t set the world alight but analysts are predicting it’ll get Microsoft’s share of the mobile operating system market growing again.
Ballmer took personal control of the mobile division for a time to get the team working on an operating system that worked and had some sort of an enterprise edge. The company’s mobile market share has been in single digits all year and needs significant uptake if it is to attract developers and businesses. Judging by the first handsets, Phone 7 has a way to go yet before competitors get worried.
Never was this mobile mismanagement more in evidence than with the launch, and speedy demise, of Microsoft’s Kin platform.
Kin was launched in April as a Windows CE device that was strong on social networking. Aimed at the youth market, the handsets were initially launched in the US and planned for Europe but sales were minimal and Microsoft pulled the platform after barely three months. It is mistakes like that that cost Ballmer part of his bonus this year.
On the installed platform side of things, the year yielded few surprises. The new Visual Studio has been welcomed by developers but Windows 7 sales continued apace, and we got regular missives from Microsoft over the year pointing out its high sales compared to XP and Vista, while leaving out the obvious factor of a much larger computer-buying population.
Companies are upgrading to Windows 7, particularly those who are still running XP systems, but the move isn’t as fast as some had predicted. For a lot of firms, Windows XP works just fine, and with budgets tight, putting off an upgrade for another year is an easy choice. Vista users are usually keen to upgrade because the new operating system isn’t Vista.
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