With its new CEO Satya Nadella, there has been a lot of focus on the I word in Redmond. Many of you might scoff at the notion that the software giant can innovate. The company does have a rich history of being late to many tech parties over the years. But I want to remind you that there have been some glimmers of innovative thinking in several products down through the ages.
For example, back in 1989 Microsoft introduced Office on the Mac OS, a year before it came out for Windows PCs. Indeed, Word was available on the first 1984-vintage Macs and one of the main reasons people bought Macs back then, when Multimate and Word Perfect were the major DOS word processors. It wasn’t the first to have a way to create documents on a graphical OS but it did become the standard, largely through the integration of Powerpoint and Excel. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that hasn’t used these products today.
Several years later, they released a new version 6 of DOS that included the ability to compress data in software before it was written to a hard drive. Now that desktop and laptop PCs have terabyte drives, it is hard to imagine that anyone cares about disk compression. But back then saving a few megabytes of disk space was a big deal. The problem was that this disk compression was already being done by Stac Electronics in a product called DoubleSpace. Lawsuits and counter-suits followed, and Stac was able to win and receive a large investment and royalty from Microsoft as a result. Was this innovative or more combative? Still, a memorable Microsoft moment.
And in 1995, Microsoft wasn’t the first to integrate the desktop with the Internet browser, but they helped to blur the lines on how you stored your files. Remember Netscape? They failed miserably at the task with the same browser code base. Today most of us switch between the desktop and online pretty much effortlessly, and we even have Chromebooks that have almost no local storage for our files.
Then there is Kinect, Microsoft’s innovative motion sensor peripheral to its Xbox game console. While it still hasn’t taken off for business computing, there are lots of people trying to incorporate it into their products. I just saw a demo from a new company a few weeks ago that is trying to use Kinect for physical therapy exercises.
So what is my wish list for future innovation for Satya? I feel like we should be on a first name basis, with all the press videos that have been posted this week. Here goes:
1. How about making Windows the most secure desktop OS in history, rather than the most exploited? Enough with making it more Metro-sexual.There is a reason why a lot of folks have stuck with XP all these years: it works just well enough. Let’s lock it down and get rid of the world’s botnets once and for all. While they are at it, do the same for its IIS web server security too.
2. How about finishing off the half-hearted integration of Hyper-V and Azure so that Windows can be the VM Switzerland and be used to run virtual machines from either VMware or Amazon’s Web Services? Let’s take another look at the lessons learned from Netscape.
3. Let’s give up the ghost on Windows Phone: it is time to realize that the world has moved on. Maybe that few billion for Nokia is largely an academic exercise. Is there still a mobile play that Microsoft could benefit with combining forces with Apple’s iOS? Like making Office work really well on that platform? Think about what Word did for the new Macintoshes back in 1984.