By Andy Jonak
We all know and love or hate Microsoft—sometimes both—and their solutions, which is why the title of my post this month is The Microsoft Paradox. You are usually in one camp or the other, and there is often no middle ground. For a long time, Microsoft solutions were thought of as “good enough.” Well, that has undoubtedly changed. Not only have Microsoft solutions become much more than “good enough,” but they are being embraced and beloved, but of course, there will always be a group of detractors. Microsoft continues to grow, and its stock has even reached an all-time high for the past decade. Dare I say it, but Microsoft has become cool again (in perception and execution) and this distinction is well deserved. This month let’s talk about why Microsoft is cool again and what they are doing.
Microsoft’s journey to being “cool again” is not something that just happened, it’s something that we’ve all noticed gradually, but haven’t really paid attention to it. When did it begin? There’s a clear answer to that: 2014. What happened then? Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft. That’s when it started. He changed the culture of Microsoft, focused on cloud and subscription services, and opened up Microsoft solutions for other platforms. I am writing this blog post on OneNote on my iPad. OneNote for iOS is an outstanding product, and OneNote overall is exceptional—I’ve been using it since 2006. When Microsoft it decided it was going to open things up and allow for a porting of its solutions to the iOS and Android platforms, it marked a change, a significant change. Instead of being closed and stuffy, they made the decision to be open to all platforms (at Satya Nadella’s direction), and not just opened things up, made outstanding versions of these Microsoft solutions that people (like me) completely embraced and use. It might not sound like it, but it’s a big deal and a big turning point for Microsoft.
At first, people didn’t understand what Microsoft was doing when the introduced Office 365 and the subscription model. For clarification, it’s not new, as Microsoft launched O365 in June of 2011 and eight years is a long time in our business. What this gave is that new way to experience and get updates to Microsoft solutions. Monthly updates (if you so choose) to get the latest versions, with all of the desktop solutions, and OneDrive, which was initially SkyDrive. I think it had slow growth and languished around a bit as sort of a stepchild for the first few years, where Microsoft wasn’t sure what to do with it. After all, if successful, it would cannibalize their Office business. No longer would people spend $400 to $500 for a new version, but now it’s $12 to $20 per month. However, then what happened? 2014 and Satya Nadella did.
Satya Nadella doubled down on the subscription model, and the focus on Azure, and saw this as the path forward for Microsoft. Many doubted this approach and said it wouldn’t work, but it did. Look what happened. Both O365 (and all its flavors and nomenclatures) are growing, and Azure is now number two behind AWS in cloud solutions. Windows licensing is still a big part of Microsoft’s business, but that’s not what you see out in the news. The perception that the public sees is all around subscription services and cloud. This is a significant shift in culture and how Microsoft is perceived.
But what about the products? Do they stack up? Absolutely, and see my notes above on OneNote, as a personal example. That’s pretty much indicative of the entire solution suite. Microsoft has made tremendous strides in their solutions. I can’t imagine NOT using Office for my productively and daily work. Yes, there are never Microsoft’ers that use G-Suite, which is a fantastic online solution. However, in many ways, it does not compare to Office, especially if you are using the desktop applications. IMHO, there is no comparison. Office applications surpass what G-Suite offers—In terms of the overall experience—and is just about on par with their online capabilities. How you tried the online version of Office lately? Right up there with how Google does it.
Sometimes it does take a while for Microsoft to get it right. Think of Skype, Skype for Business, and now Teams as examples. Skype was OK, Skype for Business is very good, and now Teams is exceptional. That seems to be how Microsoft does it. Look at Outlook’s progression, SkyDrive to OneDrive and the other parts of the Office productivity suite, on Windows and mobile. The solutions keep getting better, with more features, but yet with a focus on trying to simplify the experience, as just look at the new version of the ribbon in Office apps. As I mentioned earlier, the online and application versions are just about on par, across all platforms. That’s not luck, that’s doing it right.
I’ve mentioned it before but Vicom, the firm I work for, is an indicative example of how good the solutions are. Vicom is a Microsoft Gold Partner that has for decades helped firms with their on-premise Exchange and other Microsoft solutions. When O365 came out, we move our entire firm (around 80 users) over to it, even though we help firms with their Microsoft environments. We can easily do it ourselves and don’t need to move to the O365 model.
However, even a firm like us (that does this for a living) doesn’t want to manage our Microsoft messaging environment. We’d rather pay the monthly per-user fee, and in the long run, it makes it much more efficient and useful for the company, our users, and our IT team. The subscription and hosted service have removed a lot of the challenges that we use to have to manage on-prem, just like our customers. No longer, and we are happy to embrace the subscription model. Even as a Microsoft Gold Partner that is very self-sufficient.
We are far from alone in this. Most of the firms we know are embracing and using O365 solutions. Microsoft solutions were considered “just good enough,” but no longer. They are now good, desirable, effective, and work. They work and make sense. Which leads to this beautiful perception that Microsoft is really cool again. I am big supporter but far from being a fan-by here. I believe at times, Microsoft can bring out updates to the Office and OneNote solutions and new features more often, which leads to frustration. Plus at times their UX and intuitiveness can be better. I am willing to point out the good as well as the bad.
It’s fascinating to see the perception of Microsoft today and looking like rock stars (in solutions and earnings), especially for someone like me that has been in IT for 25 years and has been using Microsoft solutions for at least that long. I mean at Microsoft Inspire (Microsoft’s yearly partner conference), they had Queen perform as their headlining act. Queen, albeit without Freddie Mercury, RIP, but Queen nonetheless. That’s rock stars. Well done.
Microsoft has given us all hope and confidence in what they are doing, and most are embracing it. However, it’s not all perfect. We’ll see what Microsoft continues to do to keep this going, and I believe they will. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for and from them, and what that means for all of us. See you next month.