A New Microsoft

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This post was first published on my business blog, which I’m closing down now that I’ve retired, so I’m archiving some of the better posts to this blog.

It’s been very interesting to watch ever building evidence of a re-invigorated Microsoft. A Microsoft that’s becoming more relevant for both consumers and enterprises as their message of productivity, mobile and cloud starts to become real.  What seems obvious is that Microsoft is now addressing the whole mobile marketplace and not just on Windows or Windows Phone, in fact a case could be made that they are more focused on IOS and Android because that’s where the users are. Microsoft is focused on people and their productivity across all the devices that they use, regardless of device technology, Frank Shaw VP of communications at Microsoft explains what they mean by this.  Microsoft wants to provide integrated consumer and business capabilities facilitating easy migration in both directions, for example if you are a home user of a Microsoft product like OneDrive, it should seamless to also use the same application for business use.

Satya Nadella definitely seems serious when he says that nothing is off the table when it comes to achieving the mission, and it’s clear that this means they no longer care about protecting their legacy business at the expense of their future.

Here’s a sample of the recent news that supports this:

  1. Microsoft announced Office Mobile for Android, a very similar product to Office for IOS.  We already know that a lot of the codebase is shared between IOS, Android and Windows so we should expect all three products to share a lot of the same look, feel and functionality.  office 2016 was available for OSX before it was available on Windows (next month)
  2. In a very important move Microsoft has now made Microsoft Office clients on IOS and Android free provided you have a Microsoft account (which is free).  This can be seen as a defensive move against Google and Apple who already provide free Office applications, but it’s still great for consumers and enterprises who both benefit from everyone getting to use a class leading product at work and home.
  3. Microsoft improved Office 365 as a platform by releasing a set of APIs that allow third parties to develop applications that connect with Office 365 mail, contacts, calendar and files.  An example of this is IFTTT (which I love) which connects 130 services with Office 365.  This means that consumers are likely to benefit from a whole range of cool applications that integrate with their office 365 data.  Hopefully future versions of the API will allow these these applications integrate with Microsoft’s DLP technologies.  In fact Satya Nadella recently said that Office 365 was Microsoft’s most important API.
  4. To further strengthen their consumer story Microsoft has also made unlimited storage just a ‘feature’ of Office 365 for consumers and business, although unlimited storage is less of an issue for businesses, who’s users are unlikely to be saving huge amounts of video and audio. For anyone using any version of Office 365 there’s really no reason not to use OneDrive, although personally I still use Dropbox because it’s just faster and more reliable (you get what you pay for)
  5. Anyone reluctant to use OneDrive though is likely to be a passionate users of Dropbox, because they also use applications that integrate with it’s rich API (like me), well in a surprise announcement Microsoft have integrated the Office mobile applications with Dropbox.  This extends Microsoft’s reach beyond users of OneDrive.
  6. As another step in their progress towards strengthening and cleaning up their branding Microsoft are renaming Lync to Skype for Business, they already use this branding for OneDrive (OneDrive for Business) and I think it’s likely they will do the same with other strong brands like Outlook and Office 365.  I particularly like the fact that Microsoft are moving towards single client applications that support both consumer and business capabilities in an integrated fashion. This is already the case with the Office and OneDrive mobile apps and while Skype and Skype for business will be different apps initially they will be more integrated and share a common look and feel.

On several of my projects I’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of battling with Microsoft to get a way to licence Windows and Office to a user rather than a device.  Office 365 addressed user licencing to some extent and now Microsoft are moving in the direction of licencing Windows to users rather than devices, although some complexity still remains, see this article for more details and resources.  The main winners from this change are:

  1. Enterprises who want to provide users with access to virtual desktops running remotely using VDI from any device. Unfortunately RDSH and Azure Remote App (in beta) are licenced separately
  2. Enterprises who want to provide Windows Enterprise capabilities to BYOD devices running Windows Pro.  This allows for example me to buy my own ultra book running Windows 8.1 Pro and my company to stream applications to it using App-V (previously only available to a Windows Enterprise Device with SA and MDOP)

Still sticking with Microsoft, of particular interest to enterprises:

  1. Microsoft continue to drive forward the office 365 platform which is no longer just a cloud version of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.  It’s a unique product in it’s own right rapidly evolving with new levels of integration and new platform capabilities.  For example capabilities like Delve are early examples of capabilities built on the underlying Office Graph which currently incorporates “content and signals” from email, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online and Yammer.  The Office Graph is a platform upon which a lot of innovation will be delivered in the future.  It’s interesting that Microsoft say “email” and not Exchange, it’s my guess that they will move to rebranding their email services as Outlook and Outlook for Business soon.
  2. Of particular note is Microsoft taking the decade old Information Rights Management capability and taking it mainstream.  IRM encrypts and wraps each individual document with metadata that any IRM enabled client can interpret and must enforce,  for example I might be able to open and read a document, but not change it or copy and paste content from it.  This is very powerful and will be built into all Microsoft Office client applications over the next few months (including IOS and Android).   Microsoft are also providing an IRM enabled Managed Browser, PDF Viewer, AV Player and Image Viewer mobile apps.  Anyone who gets access to the file will be unable to open it (it’s encrypted) unless they use an application that enforces the access rights embedded in the file.  IRM already has good support in Outlook and SharePoint the two main places from which documents get shared and it looks like Windows 10 might use the same technique for their secure file containers, but that’s just a guess.
  3. Sharp readers will notice that a ‘managed email client’ is missing from the previous list. Microsoft bloggers are dropping massive hints that they are going to deliver a class leading managed email client, my guess is that it will be called Outlook for Business, this is clearly a huge gap in their existing mobile app suite.
  4. Windows 10 also looks like it’s going to be reengineered with many of the MDM and deployment features we have come to love on IOS and Android, most of these were announced months ago including new capabilities for managing a bring your own device, adding enterprise applications and configuration to it, and protecting it.
  5. What’s new for Windows 10 is Microsoft hinting (for those of us who didn’t attend TechEd Europe) at a fully integrated DLP capability being built right into Windows 10, providing familiar MAM and MIM capabilities.  These capabilities will be “similar to those provided by Samsung Knox or Good Technology” in the mobile world.  My intuition is that this will be something like an encrypted App-V container and it’s interesting that the Azure Docker container announced recently is based partly on App-V technology, so this maybe it.  I’m also seeing hints that there will also be an encrypted data container (think windows folder) that only ‘managed apps’ will be able to access.
  6. A massive recent announcement was that Office 365 will include mobile application management of the Office mobile clients on IOS, Android and Windows Phone.  These are a subset of Intune’s capabilities integrated into the Office 365 management interface.  Some of these capabilities will be unique to Office 365 and Intune, effectively making one or the other mandatory for most enterprises.
  7. Microsoft announced a number of  Intune updates that enable enterprises to manage Office mobile apps, wrap management technology around their own line-of-business applications, enable more secure mobile app viewing and provide powerful conditional access features that allow better control of corporate resources with conditional access features. This will be available "within the next few months," Microsoft says.  These capabilities start to make Intune look pretty compelling for a lot customers and the rate of improvement that Microsoft can deliver through a 100% cloud hosted service is impressive.
  8. Azure Active Directory has been the surprising new service of that last 12 months for me and it’s going from strength to strength.  New updates include the Azure AD Application Proxy which will make it possible to publish on-premises applications to external users via the cloud. Azure AD Connect, expected in preview by the end of the year, will make it easier to connect on-premises assets to the cloud and synchronize directories to Azure AD.  Azure AD already supports single sign on to thousands of other applications and can integrate with on-premise AD.  In Windows 10 it will be possible to authenticate to Azure AD rather than a Microsoft Account enabling easier access to the enterprise Windows App Store, Office 365 and Intune.
  9. Microsoft continues to drive forward it’s support for graphically intensive remote Windows applications.  In fact activity abounds in this area with Citrix, Nvidia and Mainframe2 also making improvements to their capabilities as well.

Those looking for even more evidence of a ‘new Microsoft’ need only look to the the developer and cloud divisions:

  1. Microsoft are open sourcing even more of .NET basically everything that’s needed to execute a .NET server (not client) applications is now open source.
  2. Microsoft are extending the reach of Visual Studio through the new Community Edition, which is free for non-commercial use, small businesses and anyone working on open source
  3. Microsoft is enjoying being able to say that it “loves Linux” with a straight face with the announcement that Azure will fully support Docker containers (popular on Linux), Azure IIS now formally supports 5 Linux distributions, Microsoft is providing a fully supported port of .NET to Linux, and OSX servers (OSX server is often used on Apple Macs for software development)
  4. Microsoft is open sourcing the comprehensive sensor platform used by their new fitness band
  5. Android and IOS are getting more love than Windows, at least until Windows 10 ships

Although I don’t have any data to support this, I’m guessing that Microsoft must now be one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) Android/iOS developer, at least for complex applications.  Microsoft now has a huge range of such applications and they are some of the most sophisticated and compelling available.   This video shows just how sophisticated Microsoft is at cross platform development, here’s a subset of Microsoft IOS apps off the top of my head Lync, OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, Skype, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Office Mobile, OWA, Sway, Photosynth, Xbox Smart glass, Bing, Remote Desktop, Xbox Music, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Windows Intune.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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