So you just became CEO of Microsoft. What now?
Imagine for a moment that you wake up one morning and discover you've been teleported into the body of Satya Nadella, Microsoft's new CEO. What should you do? How do you change Microsoft for the better, for the current landscape?
Here are my changes:
Office is Microsoft's biggest money-maker, and probably its strongest brand. But it's been hobbled by the Windows Team's insistence that it be updated and ported to Windows first. We don't live in a Windows-centric world anymore. That it's 2014, and there's still no iPad version of Office, is ridiculous. For that matter, that there wasn't a touch-based Office version for the Windows 8 Metro interface at 8's launch should be seen as an embarrassment. That this is still the case is even worse. Office, in many ways, should be seen as Microsoft's core business, and for it to remain so, it needs to be accessible from any device.
Office is dominant now, but Google Docs is making inroads, and if Microsoft doesn't make a play for being on other platforms eventually people will stop waiting and move to another solution. And that's dangerous territory for Microsoft. Making Office available everywhere should be priority 1.
Microsoft should go back to referring to the new Windows interface as "Metro." They dropped that term after German retailer Metro AG complained. So call it Metro everywhere but Germany, and think of a different name for there. "Lidl" or something.
Microsoft's big strength in business is management and (don't laugh) security. That needs to be pushed into allowing management of all devices, for all businesses, large or small. They're kind of already doing this with their "InTune" service, which can tie into the big corporate "System Center" product, or be used standalone in the cloud, but they need to make folks aware of the product, and push it hard. Talk about encryption, talk about device policies, talk about the benefits of a product like this. Bundle with Office 365, and push it along with Sharepoint Online as a Dropbox alternative that can be locked down and secured, and put it everywhere along with the Office apps needed to edit stored files. The key to winning the next phase of computing for Microsoft is going to be saying to customers "you have valuable data, we can help you secure it and allow your employees to access it anywhere, on any device, business owned or personal." Sharepoint is huge for this. That aspect: that employees can just grab their files from their iPhone or Droid or home computer or whatever, the files can be encrypted, secured, and sandboxed while they're viewed and edited is a huge deal and something people really want.
The pieces are in place for this already. They just need to let people know about it. And that letting folks know has been a hurdle because when someone asks "how can I manage my iPads?" they don't think "I'll use Microsoft's products." But they should.
Licensing Microsoft products is a disaster. There are dozens of SKUs, Client Access Licenses for servers, free licenses for if you're virtualizing (sometimes), and product atop product atop product. It's stupid, and requires a specialist just to tell you what you need to buy to be correctly licensed for the products you're already using. That's just dumb. So, in place, I suggest:
Windows - One Windows version. That's it. No Pro, no Ultimate, no Enterprise, just Windows. You have Windows? Great. You have Windows. No more discussion required. Also licensed for the lifetime of the machine, free upgrades to the newest version. You pay for the Windows license when you buy or build the system, and you're done.
CALs - There are a lot of functions of Windows Pro version that the average consumer doesn't need, and which only really kick in when you attach a device to a corporate Domain. Shift the "Pro" cost to the CAL. Charge when a device is joined to the domain in the same way MAK or KMS keys are implemented now. This also has the advantage that, with only one Windows SKU, folks can bring their own device and have it just work, without having to think about whether they have the right Windows version. Want to add your personal laptop to the corporate domain? Go ahead, no hassles.
Office - Drop down to 3 Versions of Office: Office 365 Home, the current home version, Office 365 Business with Exchange, Lync, and Sharepoint Online, and management options for devices (one SKU, none of this breaking things down into different components, you have it all, or you're on the Home SKU), and Office for Business, the "traditional" locally stored, locally managed and installed version. No usage restrictions. No more of this "not for commercial use" stuff, if you own Office, you can use it for whatever. The different price points just give you different stuff. Give teacher and student copies of 365 Business out for the low, low price of free.
Windows Server - One version of Server. Pay per machine. If you're virtualizing, you pay a lower license fee for virtualizing on Hyper-V or Azure, otherwise the same price. Done.
Other Server Products - Pay per install. Done.
Technet - FFS, bring Technet back. Lots of folks use those products for at home labs, or needlessly complex setups just so they can play with things. This is how most IT folks learn, and Technet let them do so legally and easily. Bring it back. Perhaps require some sort of proof of employment or certification to be able to buy it, to reduce fraud. Oh, and include an Online component so these people can play with Office 365 and use it, too. This is the only place a "no commercial use" clause is appropriate.
Buy LastPass - Integrate into Windows, keep the other clients for everywhere else. Integrate into InTune for 365 Business customers.
Sell Xbox One as a videoconferencing solution - It's there, it's cheap, it would work. Buy off the shelf, change a setting so it connects to Lync Online or Lync Server, done. Cheap and effective.
The Metro app store is still incredibly disappointing. Microsoft has been doing the right thing trying to persuade big names to write apps, but they're completely failing in important specialties. If I'm an educator, a doctor, musician, and many more fields that are well supported on iOS, if I go to the Metro app store I'll find very little of use. Microsoft should seriously consider looking at studios with experience of writing applications for those, and other fields, and either hire them to write apps or buy the studios outright. Or create their own internal studios. But independent developers aren't stepping into the breach fast enough. Microsoft needs to fix that.
For example, if a Windows 8.1 tablet is demonstrated well to a teacher, they'll usually come away enthusiastic about the platform. And they should: the versatility of having both a good tablet OS in your hand, and a full laptop OS when you need it is great, and extremely useful to those folks. But when they actually go and look for tablet apps to use in the classroom, they'll find almost nothing that's both useful and high quality. If Microsoft wants adoption of hybrid and tablet devices, that needs to change. They've had 2 years, and right now, it feels like they just don't get how big a problem this is. They need to start throwing money and resources at this, now.
Publicity and Consumer Education
Windows 8 has been a PR disaster. Part of that is that it shipped in what was, frankly, an unfinished state, which forced users to jump between the older desktop interface and the new Metro interface, and if you wanted to change something, often it was difficult to know where to go to do so. Had that setting been moved over, or was it still in the legacy interface? Things got better with 8.1, but it's still not perfect. Additionally, Microsoft was so desperate to show that 8 was easy to learn that they gave no guidance to new users on how to deal with a completely new, strange interface. Of course, this resulted in frustration, unhappy customers, and the popular perception that Windows 8 is terrible.
Microsoft needs to both fix Windows 8 so it can be used either in desktop mode, Metro mode, or a hybrid (with all settings available in both environments), and then explain to users that's what Windows 8 is. It's versatile. Use it how you want, and if you go do something else, switch interfaces, seamlessly, or mix and match if that's what you want. And Microsoft needs to educate. There should be a tutorial a new user has to go through before they start using a machine running 8, to make sure they understand how the interface works, with more detailed "how to" videos available once they're done. Yes, it'll annoy the power users, and a few others besides, but it's worth it to not have someone struggling for hours to do things that on Windows 7 were easy for them. Talk to Best Buy, Staples, and other brick and mortar stores about running classes to get users up and running quickly, and make them free. Apple does this, and the popular conception is that their OS is easy to learn.
One of the reasons most PCs are sold loaded with crapware is because Microsoft can't stop PC manufacturers from doing so. That's an old antitrust thing, but it shouldn't hold anymore. Microsoft isn't the monopoly it used to be, and they should challenge any court orders that prevent them from clamping down on crapware shipping on PCs, and then do everything they can do to stop OEMs shipping PCs loaded up with garbage.
They also need to publicize the "Signature PC" program more (at all), which is basically a way that PCs are sold crapware free, through Microsoft. You can pay Microsoft, if you take your computer into a Microsoft Store, to put a signature install on the system. That service should be free.
Bring Back IE6
However, IE6 is what keeps a lot of organizations (hello, UK government!) using Windows XP. Windows 8.1 Update 1 is going to feature a way for enterprises to make certain sites run on a version of IE8 for compatibility reasons. Microsoft should work on getting a version of IE6 running, preferably sandboxed, in the same way so that organizations tied to IE6 can migrate to a newer OS.