Foley on Microsoft

Predicting the Unpredictable from Microsoft

In more than three decades of closely observing Microsoft, there's never been a year as unpredictable as the past 12 months in Redmond.

Microsoft made moves in 2014 I never would have believed possible -- from open sourcing the server-side .NET stack, to prioritizing enterprise users' needs with Windows 10, to the canceling in the 11th hour its Surface Mini tablet.

Microsoft's unpredictability makes predicting what's in store this year quite difficult. A Magic 8 ball might yield better results, but instead I'll use my new favorite method: Take a typical Microsoft strategy and flip it on its head. That's the most likely course for the new Microsoft. As such, here's what I'm predicting we'll see from the ‘Softies in 2015:

1. Touch and Pen Come to the Masses
Yes, there likely will be at least one new Intel-based Surface tablet in 2015 (think Surface Pro 4). But a more affordable, much larger Perceptive Pixel (PPI) touchscreen device could come to market, too. I'm not sure how much smaller and cheaper they'll be than the current PPIs ($7,500 for 55-inch models), but they'll run Windows 10 and enable pen use. Microsoft officials have said the company was gearing up to mass produce the new PPIs as of fall 2014.

2. Microsoft Microservices Multiply
Microsoft is going to try to jump-start its Microsoft Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud by redoing it as a microservices-enabled offering. Micro-services allow developers to design applications as suites of independently deployable services that can communicate via something as simple as an HTTP application programming interface. Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich said microservices are key to the future of Azure PaaS, and some of Microsoft's own cloud services running on Azure already make use of a micro-service/component architecture. But expect to hear lots more on this front in 2015.

3. New OfficeSuites for Windows (and Mac) Finally Debut
It's been a long wait, but Office 16, the successor to Office 2013; the touch-first Windows Store version of Office ("Gemini"); and Office for Mac 2015 are all expected in the second half of calendar 2015 (probably in the fall). The new mobile-first/productivity-first Microsoft delivered updated Office suites for iPads, iPhones, Android tablets and Android phones ahead of the comparable versions for Windows and Mac OS. It'll be interesting to see if the Windows versions provide any features or functions that are superior to those on other platforms. If not, why go Windows?

4. Bing Breaks Even; Yahoo Continues To Wriggle Free
At the end of calendar 2013, Microsoft execs said Bing was closing in on breaking even. There've been no blaring trumpets in 2014 signaling that this happened, but I'd expect that milestone should be coming very soon if it hasn't already. The 10-year pact with Yahoo, which entailed Bing powering most of Yahoo search, has been key to hitting break even. But Yahoo is continuing to try to wriggle out of the deal, striking new search partnerships with Firefox and -- its execs hope -- Apple. It's worth noting there's a clause in the Microsoft-Yahoo arrangement that would allow Yahoo to exit from the partnership in 2015 if the revenue-per-search threshold vs. Google doesn't pass muster.

5. Windows 10 Is a Winner
Windows 10 is tracking to launch in the summer/¬≠fall 2015 time frame. Though it's still early in the test process at this point, I'm declaring the coming OS a winner, at least in terms of its potential appeal to desktop/laptop PC users, especially compared to Windows 8. I'm less sure about whether Windows 10 will boost the Microsoft tablet and phone share and am curious to see if the ‘Softies end up providing some type of mechanism for running Android apps on Windows 10 mobile devices, as has been rumored as a possibility for months. But with Windows 7 SP1 mainstream support ending in January 2015 (but free Windows 7 security hotfixes still coming through 2020), Microsoft's primary focus needs to be on its installed base with Windows 10.

That's my short list. What are you expecting from a very different Microsoft in 2015?

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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