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Microsoft - the old behemoth wakes up

04 April 2014 / 13:04:15  GRReporter
4180 reads

Ivan Petkov

Some time ago we informed you about the significant changes that had led to the withdrawal of two of the most emblematic figures in the software giant Microsoft, namely Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. The expectations were that the new CEO, Satya Nadella, would be able to restore the innovative spirit of the company and re-gain the trust of users.

To build up again

BUILD Conference, at which Microsoft usually presents its new developments and products is the first one under the leadership of Satya Nadella. And you can feel the difference. Instead of oppressed, the teams that develop Internet Explorer, Windows and Windows Phone seem inspired. It is again a key challenge to create new and interesting products and technologies. We see the long-awaited revival even among the MS Office development team and it seems that the development of the long-awaited version of Windows tablets has sped up.

The attitude towards Satya is mostly positive: the idea that a programmer is back on top of the organizational pyramid is a "sigh of relief" for many developers. Yes, obviously, they would not criticize their new boss now, but many of them had provided Nadella with real feedback when they had worked for him before his promotion. And the opinion of him is positive: he is a purposeful man who knows how to set up and manage big projects and this experience helps him motivate the employees.

The general feeling, however, outweighs the fact that Nadella is a programmer who came from the ranks of regular employees in the company in Redmond. Many people feel that he really understands the true capacities of Microsoft and the launch of Office for iOS before the completion of the Windows version demonstrates this, making him, in the first place, a software leader with a correct perspective on market realities, which would not happen at the time of Ballmer.

Of course, not everything is perfect. Although Nadella has the confidence of all employees, the question about the right way of development of many of the company's products remains. Windows Phone and Surface tablet are two of the most controversial products facing low user enthusiasm. Moreover, the integration of all Nokia employees and engineers is underway too. The development of Windows Phone is too slow and creates the impression that the project is not of paramount importance for the company, although it is quite the opposite. Innovations are late in coming and the most significant of them are already present in competing mobile operating systems. On paper, the market share of Windows Phone has increased but actually, it is far from the levels that would convince users and analysts that Microsoft's mobile platform is developing in the most appropriate manner.

However, the view and feeling that Nadella brings new energy to the company clearly stand out as well as the fact that he provides motivation for expression and development, which the company lacked until recently. One can see the "new" Microsoft in the conduct of BUILD and in the atmosphere of the various events. There were more informal discussions and distinct pathways displacing the loud and hollow "motivational" speeches. There is a strong feeling that the employees are highly encouraged by the direction, which Nadella is trying to impose. The employees share that, being the head of the company even for a short while he already makes decisions, which will lead it to growth and revival. Let us see how all the enthusiasm dominating in Microsoft has materialized.

Battle for the mouse and keyboard

With the advent of Windows 8, Microsoft was strongly criticized because of the radical changes introduced in the new operating system and, in particular, because of focusing on the elements for working with touch screens. The majority of the people use Windows on personal computers that we know very well. However, they do not have such screens and the main interaction takes place with a mouse and keyboard. Users felt ignored and too uncomfortable in terms of the new ways to work with Windows. The feeling was that Microsoft had "given up" the convenience of millions of users of traditional PCs in the name of non-existing users of Windows tablets.

Initially analysts were divided, as the delay in terms of tablets was one of the main criticisms to the company. Therefore, this risky move seemed somewhat justified. Over time, it became clear that the mixing of desktop and mobile operating systems in a common operating system, in the way in which Microsoft did so, did not satisfy the owners of the first Windows tablets either. The separation of the operating system into two versions called Windows and Windows RT had further confused users and failed to meet their expectations.

We have already seen the first major update of Windows to version 8.1, which has brought insignificant changes and does not solve the biggest problems in using this operating system. Microsoft has restored the start button but has not restored the start menu, which is Windows trademark. BUILD presented the next important update to Windows 8.1, which will be available after 8 April. Here are the innovations:

- More attention to mouse and keyboard users - it is now possible to use context menus in the start screen, which can change the dimensions of different elements on it as well as to pin and remove them.

- The turn off button is again on the start screen

- The modern applications already have a titlebar with minimizing and closing buttons. The titlebar is hidden and it appears only when moving the cursor to the top of the screen.

- The taskbar is now visible on the start screen.

- The newly installed applications are easily notable.

Here is a short video of the new options:

The main change is in the attempt of Microsoft to unify user experience in terms of the different types of applications, of the familiar and traditional applications and the "modern" ones that came with Windows 8.

In the first place, the start menu is back! Essentially, it reminds us of the familiar start menu, but with one major difference, namely that it already features modern applications and allows the pinning of "tiles" of information from them.

Another important innovation is the ability to run advanced applications in the windows of a traditional desktop. We have seen such an option in software solutions of third parties and it is more than expected and desired.

Windows Phone 8.1

The long-awaited Windows Phone 8.1 will be available with an update to current users of Windows Phone 8 within the next few months but before that, in late April or early May, new smartphones with preinstalled Windows Phone 8.1 will appear in the market.

The new demonstrated features include a new notifications centre, which allows quick access to various phone functions and displays notifications of applications. Users can define which applications can access the function and which can use the vibration function. The company demonstrated a new locked screen the appearance of which can be changed by external applications. With respect to the home screen, phones with a smaller diagonal screen will show more tiles too - until recently, this feature was available only to models with a display larger than 5 inches. In addition, it is now possible to select an image as the background of the tiles.

The new features also include Wi-Fi Sense, which automatically connects you to the nearby free access points to the Internet. In addition it allows you to share your wireless home network with friends without giving them your password.

The most important new feature, however, is the new voice assistant, Cortana, which uses data from Bing. At first glance, it is a response to Apple's Siri and offers similar functionality such as creating calendar appointments, searching for information, playing music, setting up the time when only your close people can contact you, etc.

Like Google Now Cortana learns from the habits of the user and retrieves data from the information in the phone. It can interact with other applications installed on your phone and, for example, can start a Skype conversation with a selected contact or to open a particular Facebook profile. The function will be launched in the U.S. at first and it will later be available in the UK and China, before reaching other markets. The long-awaited option for independent control of the volume of different platform functions is available too.

Microsoft's goal is to continue to expand Windows in order for the devices that use it and the innovations that it offers to provide developers with an attractive marketing platform for their applications.

There is lunch  

One of the key moves that analysts had predicted for some time was officially announced, namely that Windows is free for all devices with screens less than 9 inches. This means that we can expect a wider variety of cheaper Windows tablets and smartphones. With this step, Nadella hopes to fight off the competition on the part of Android, which is available free of charge to manufacturers of smart mobile devices. Thus, manufacturers reduce their costs which is why Android has been able to establish itself as the preferred mobile operating system. The first devices developed under the new licensing policy of Microsoft will be available this summer, as announced by the company. This will not directly increase the company's revenue from Windows, but Microsoft hopes that the payment for other services related to the operating system will compensate this.

We see an apparent change in the course of Microsoft development as well as the responses of its employees. It remains to see if all these moves will lead to actual positive results. However, it is clear that the giant has woken up.

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