Channel Watch

Is Microsoft's 'Big Year' Big Enough?

Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Windows Server 2012 are making this a landmark year for Microsoft, but there's a chance that Redmond has waited too long.

"Our biggest launch year ever" has been a common refrain out of Microsoft this year. Heck, it's been a common refrain from Microsoft every time a release cycle contains Windows, Windows Server and Office. With Microsoft's ever-increasing install base, it has almost always been true each year that Microsoft says it. (Kind of like when a company says it's having "record" profits -- it had better. A quarter that's not a record is a problem in the grow-or-die environment of capitalism.)

There's something to the "big year" meme this time. To say Microsoft needs a successful launch for existential reasons is probably hysterical. This is a huge company that often misses big trends and muddles through OK, holding its position near the center of the IT world. Recent shifts have definitely been alarming, though. Microsoft really needs this launch year to be big.

Redmond watched first the Apple iPhone and then the Google Android device define a new smartphone market and dominate it. IDC recently said the two companies own 85 percent of the smartphone market -- a device that rapidly went from high-priced toy to a critical corporate category. Then Microsoft watched as Apple followed the same path with tablets.

Microsoft finally started to effectively articulate its response strategy early last year. Short version: Make the next version of Windows work effectively as a tablet and leverage a single kernel for phones, tablets and other PCs to create a potentially huge ecosystem for developers -- all the while keeping corporate management of devices in mind.

This is the year when the response strategy goes into effect. Actually, this is the month. With Windows Server 2012 out last month, Windows 8 goes into general availability at the end of this month with Windows Phone 8 expected to hit around the same time.

On paper, Microsoft has a very strong story. There's evidence that CIOs are paying attention and might be ready to commit if the products deliver on the promises.

It's tempting to say things are going to get exciting this month. That's actually probably not true. Lately, even when Microsoft's strategies are successful, the company tends to develop market momentum on a slow timetable. We'll probably continue to wonder whether the big Microsoft launch is a hit or a miss a year from now.

The big question for Microsoft and the partners that have invested in the company is whether Microsoft has given its competitors too much of a head start. What do you think? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at [email protected].

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.