I just got back from Microsoft’s 15,000 attendee-strong Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Los Angeles, and I have to say, the company and its partners are pumped. How can this be, given the number of people who have written Microsoft’s eulogy of late? If Amazon owns the cloud, if Apple owns the consumer, if Google owns search, if Cisco owns unified communications, if EMC/VMWare owns virtualization, if Oracle and SAP own ERP and if Oracle/Siebel and Salesforce.com own CRM, how can Microsoft be ambulatory, let alone doing jumping jacks and running races?
The WPC keynotes shed some light on this. Jon Roskill, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Partner Group, emceed the keynotes. On Day 2, he called out the confidence/dismissal disconnect by saying “it is my opinion that Microsoft and our partners are being massively underestimated right now.” And in the individual executives’ keynotes that followed, the reasons for partners’ elevated confidence were born out. But on Wednesday, Kevin Turner, Microsoft’s COO and “Chief Compete Officer” really made Microsoft’s case, point by point. Among the very useful points of information in his address:
- With a $9B R&D program, Microsoft now invests more in R&D than any company in any industry in the world (that’s almost a direct quote)
- Winning in the mobile phone space, and running Windows on ARM (key to a competitive Windows tablet) are two of Microsoft’s big bets
- Microsoft converted 4.5M seats of Lotus Notes to Exchange last year
- Office 365 (ostensibly including BPOS) has over 5M licensed users and 2.8M users deployed
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online (i.e. not counting on-prem) has 30,000 customers and over 2M licensed users
- Azure users and applications are doubling in number every quarter
- Hyper-V is growing market share at almost 2x the rate as VMWare
- A vast number of Oracle customers are dissatisfied with service, pricing or both
- Microsoft believes it can bring Windows Phone units sold to 100M per annum, from the Nokia deal alone
- In a Goldman Sachs survey, asking “Who do you view as your top 3 strategic IT vendors today?”, Microsoft was selected more than any other vendor.
So even though Microsoft’s been pronounced the loser in so many product categories, it seems in reality to have been beefing up its offerings just as its competitors are beginning to suffer from the vulnerability of hubris. Why the misalignment between the punditry and apparent circumstances? Let’s go back to Turner for guidance. In his keynote he said “too many customers in the world define Microsoft and define our partners by old versions of Windows and old versions of Office.” Perhaps that’s why, to re-quote Roskill, “Microsoft and our partners are being massively underestimated right now.”
Roskill and Turner make fair points. Microsoft’s a dark horse, but it can win in UC with Lync and Skype, it can win in virtualization with Hyper-V and other technologies, and it can win in the cloud with Azure, Office 365 and even with a little help from Windows Live and MSN. It can make further inroads in search and advertising with Bing and adCenter, it can gain share in CRM, it can stage at least some comeback in consumer devices, be it in the phone form factor or the tablet with Windows Phone and Windows 8, and can maintain continuous strength in gaming and TV with Xbox and Kinect.
It’s OK for the press and blogosphere to keep bashing Microsoft; the company seems to like adversity and do well when it encounters it. But if you want the real story, look past the headlines. Microsoft is steadfast in its competitive will, and tenacity. To get a real sense of that, talk to Microsoft’s partners and ask them why they’re so bullish. If Microsoft fails, then so do they. If they’re happy, then there’s are likely several good reasons.