Microsoft's Devices and Services Direction Outlined by Larson-Green
The new "One Microsoft" reorganization aims to bring devices and services together in a way that will connect people across their work and home lives.
At least that was one of the main talking points coming from Julie Larson-Green, executive vice president of Microsoft's newly formed Devices and Studios segment. She fielded questions today from a moderator at the UBS Global Technology Conference in Sausalito, Calif. Her experience at Microsoft goes back 20 years, with stints on Internet Explorer, Office and Windows teams. She oversaw the Windows redesign with Windows 7 and Windows 8 and now is tasked with creating devices that affect people's lives.
One Microsoft Reorg
The One Microsoft engineering restructuring effort was announced back in June with an eye toward enabling more collaborative efforts among Microsoft's teams. Microsoft has sometimes been described as having a collection of management fiefdoms within the company, in part sustained by its cutthroat legacy employee ranking system. However, Larson-Green dismissed that scenario, stating that "it's not completely foreign for us to work across as a group. We were busy with many things. Now we are busy on one thing." She added that the company has a shared vision, a shared roadmap and it meets weekly. "We can't say we're going to be One Microsoft and divide into teams."
Long-time Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is transitioning out of the position in the next month or so, but Larson-Green didn't see that as a problem for the company. "Having the strategy really helps, so we work together as one team, so it's not as dependent on one decider," she said.
Larson-Green said that the genesis for Microsoft's restructuring was to catch up with other devices in the market. She added that Microsoft has the platform that can scale and the services that can bring things together, and it can focus its research in a new direction. "We have one operating system, so you can target all of those devices as a developer," she said. She admitted a lag on the applications side, though, noting that it is a "chicken and egg" scenario of needing the applications first to attract users to the platform. She said that "we are starting to see the momentum building."
Microsoft's reformation as a devices and services company would appear to create potential tensions with its traditional equipment manufacturing partners, particularly with Microsoft's launch of its Surface tablet-PC product line. However, Larson-Green described Microsoft's move into the hardware space as bringing innovation to that partner ecosystem.
"We thought we could innovate on the hardware and learn a lot about the challenges they go through," she said. "When you are developing an OS like Windows 8, there wasn't the hardware out there to do the things we wanted to do. We innovated and brought that to the ecosystem."
She suggested that Microsoft's Nokia acquisition, approved by Nokia's shareholders this month, may bring some of Nokia's geospatial and music solutions into Microsoft's products. Microsoft will learn from Nokia's hardware supply-chain inventory experience and global distribution. She also commented favorably on the quality of Nokia's engineering team.
Microsoft's Windows business has been eroded by mobile operating system competition from the Google-fostered Android and Apple's iOS, and Larson-Green was asked where Windows was trending in that world. She didn't really answer the question but said that Microsoft was "more modern" in its thinking with the cloud. It has been addressing how Windows can scale from small devices to large devices and get information out to people in businesses. She suggested there would be more interactions with devices, such as on a person's wrist or carried in a pocket. She added that Microsoft believes in "the power of the device" and that having data stored remotely will be a big trend. She suggested a future where individuals would have many different devices, integrated with services.
On the mobile front, Larson-Green said that Microsoft was seeing more momentum building outside the United States. Microsoft is thinking about future devices, and it's not just about smartphones and PCs. She added that "it is critically important to transition from one [device] to the other." For instance, people can use a smartphone, walk up to a PC, and have things happen. She hinted about "some really exciting things" next year. Microsoft also wants to make things easier for the enterprise by separating corporate data from personal data.
Touch is the current inflexion point for Microsoft and that's enabled through Windows 8. Larson-Green said that there will be "another inflexion point and it will be with hardware input." Sensors will be used to bring information to people, such as showing a person's pulse rate or telling them when a bus is late. She hinted that there will be a "new wave" of Web apps for devices.
The combined Windows 8 and Windows RT launch is often thought as being confusing because the user experiences aren't the same. However, Larson-Green said that Microsoft sees a need for "a simplified consumer experience on electronic devices" and that "Windows RT, Windows on ARM, was our first go at creating that turnkey experience." She added that Microsoft didn't explain that point too well.
Microsoft's latest innovations on its Surface device side include a smoother user experience, longer battery life, a more lightweight device and a new docking station, Larson-Green said. The new Touch Cover adds the ability to use the keyboard to swipe, too.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.