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Microsoft needs to prove it’s not another IBM

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Build is a good opportunity

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Photo by Amelia Krales / The Verge

Microsoft has been known as the Windows company for years, but that’s changing. As it embraces a world beyond Windows, Microsoft is increasingly focusing its efforts on businesses rather than consumers. The software maker has been reshaping itself recently and embracing rival technologies in the process. Slowly but surely, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has made cloud, AI, Mixed Reality, and quantum computing his priorities for Microsoft’s future, moving the company away from the concept of Windows being at the center of everything it does.

It’s not clear what will replace Windows as Microsoft’s main priority, but this week’s Build developer conference will give us a clearer sense of what really matters to the company. Nadella will take the stage this morning to detail Microsoft’s AI, cloud, IoT, and other work. It’s not going to be the usual Build keynote, as Microsoft has decided to shift the Windows demos to a second keynote on day two. I’m expecting to see a lot of impressive cloud and AI demos from Microsoft with a focus on businesses, not consumers. It will be very telling to see how many times Windows is even mentioned today.

This shifting focus toward Microsoft’s most loyal customers makes a lot of sense. Businesses rely on Windows and Office, and they’re showing a lot of interest in Microsoft’s cloud offerings and subscription services. It’s natural for Microsoft to serve those customers, but it’s not without risks. Microsoft has dropped the ball on consumers in many ways with Windows and its associated services, and Google has managed to pick up the pieces in the process. G Suite is soaring in education in the US, potentially shifting the next generation of workers away from the Windows reliance that currently exists.

Microsoft can’t afford to become the next IBM and lose any relevance it still holds with consumers, but if it’s not careful, that might be inevitable. Even tomorrow’s Windows-focused keynote is all about Microsoft 365, the company’s subscription service for businesses that combines Windows 10 and Office 365. Microsoft has an opportunity at Build this week to show developers that it’s not just another IBM and that it’s not going to turn into a company that lacks the mindshare and technological influence it possessed in its heyday.

Build is a chance to show off the good bits of the new Microsoft and where exactly the company will be heading in the next five years. Vague promises of AI and quantum computing won’t be enough without a good demonstration of its software prowess in action. Microsoft has the opportunity to show the world this week what it really stands for and why people should still care.