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Previous USAToday Columns

April 15, 2015
Is Apple now a Gen 2 product company?

April 2, 2015
Smartwatches: The New Smartphones Jr?

March 19, 2015
Microsoft Windows: Not dead yet

March 5, 2015
MWC 2015: It was all about connected wearables

February 11, 2015
High tech and the laggard effect

anuary 29, 2015
Microsoft Hololens and the evolution of computing

January 15, 2015
Commentary: Tech device diversity set to explode with IoT

2014 USAToday Columns

















USAToday Column


April 30, 2015
The new platform wars

By Bob O'Donnell

SAN FRANCISCO — Let the battles begin. Again.

After years of serious challenges to its future as an operating system provider, Microsoft came out guns a-blazing at its Build developer conference here.

The company laid out a comprehensive view of its Windows 10 operating system, citing the new system's ability to run on a wide range of different hardware devices — everything from Raspberry Pi development boards (used by many in the Maker Movement and other electronics hobbyists) to smartphones, tablets, PCs and the company's amazing new HoloLens head-mounted computing device.

Even better, the company announced a number of efforts to let software developers leverage work they've already done, on websites and Android and iOS apps. Their new tools will enable all of these to run on Windows 10, which Microsoft thinks will be running on 1 billion devices in two to three years.

Of course, there are still a number of unanswered questions, notably exactly how much effort will be needed to move an existing Android or iOS app to Windows, and is their forecast of 1 billion Windows 10 devices accurate?

Regardless, the overall takeaway — even to a generally cynical crowd of Silicon Valley tech reporters and analysts — is that Microsoft's mojo is back.

Under CEO Satya Nadella, the software giant has brought back a more open version of the "embrace and extend" philosophy that the company was known for more than a decade ago, and are ready to make the "platform wars" interesting once more.

To be clear, Microsoft faces enormous challenges in gaining share in the critical smartphone market — even reaching 10% market share would be a huge win for them and will take years (if ever) to achieve. But it's equally clear it can no longer be written off as a non-issue in the overall device platform wars.

The company's renewed influence and impact can be traced to a number of different factors.

First, Microsoft is driving visions of devices and how we interact with them in more compelling ways than many of its competitors.

The company's HoloLens device is far and away better than anything we've seen from Google or Apple. You can just feel the future of computing opening up in front of you, as you start to use it. I know that sounds ridiculously hyped, but it really is true.

On a more practical level, Microsoft's new Continuum features for phones will allow you to connect certain next-generation Windows 10 phones straight to a large display (wired or wireless) and use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to give you a PC-like experience from your phone. It's not a complete PC replacement — among other things, it won't run standard x86 PC applications — but by giving people access to key applications and their data in new ways, it could prove to be beneficial.

In fact, this capability is one of many efforts Microsoft announced at Build, which point toward a device-independent computing experience. While it may seem odd for a platform company to be laying the groundwork for a world where the OS on any given device starts to matter less, that's exactly what the "new" Microsoft has done.

Why? Microsoft is looking to the next iteration of platform wars, one that will be played out at a web-based services level that is independent of, and sits on top of, existing OS platforms. In a "metaOS" world, Microsoft's Azure cloud platform becomes significantly more important, and positions the company well to compete at new levels with players like Facebook, Apple and Google.

Platform wars have always been healthy ways to drive tech industry innovation, and with these new efforts, Microsoft has raised its game to a new level. The upcoming skirmishes are bound to be fun to watch.

Bob O'Donnell is founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services.

Here's a link to the original column: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2015/04/30/microsoft-build-conference-satya-nadella/26579403/

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