Reconciling Microsoft

Following the BUILD conference, there has been a great deal of uncharacteristically positive talk within the Apple sphere with regards to the products and services Microsoft recently unveiled there, as well as the new direction these announcements seem to indicate. In particular, Myke Hurley, Stephen Hacket, and Federico Viticci of The Prompt had an interesting discussions on these topics in the forty-second episode of their podcast, Beautiful Flower, as did John Gruber and Ed Bott in episode seventy-eight of The Talk Show, recorded live at BUILD. These two shows forced me to rethink the class of writers I follow, for I can no longer confidently state that Apple is the only company making anything interesting. So I set out to find some writers from the other side of the fence — onces not wholly focused on the iOS ecosystem, that could provide valuable insight into a company quickly regaining its relevance in today’s tech scene. Or at least, I decided to; I have yet to succeed.

A Google search for something along the lines of “Microsoft blogger” will return millions of results. What’s more, this has long-since ceased to be the best way to discover interesting writers. As I started looking, then, I realized the importance of knowing what to look for in these near-innumerable articles across the internet. I have no interest in following someone who constantly rails against Apple, after all; why would I want anything less from someone on the other side of the fence? I sought a writer whose opinions, at least to some extent, aligned with mine. Not to such a degree that my views would not be challenged and I would not come away having learned something, but I needed some common ground upon which I could reconcile this person’s opinions with mine. In order for that to happen though, I needed an opinion of my own; I needed to nail down the way in which I would frame these articles with regards to the way I thought about Microsoft, for only after that point could I make any meaningful progress. Thanks to the two shows cited above, this proved relatively easy.

Microsoft is an investment company. More than a software powerhouse, the corporation behind Office, or the firm that achieved its goal of Windows on every computer in the world, Microsoft is a company that makes investments that occasionally appear asinine at their inception, but often prove worthwhile in the long run. Take the XBox, for example: only after pouring money into that platform for years did Microsoft see any return on their investment in the game console industry, and now they vie with Sony for the industry’s top spot.

Bing, too, is another long-term investment, this time in search. Like the game console market, search is an industry that would probably have consisted of one obvious choice and a few smaller, obviously sub-par ones that nevertheless manged to subsist on the scraps Google deemed too small to scoop up had Microsoft not formed a viable alternative. Set your own opinions of Bing aside, look at the move objectively, and that is exactly what Microsoft’s entrance into the search industry was: a play to break up Google’s monopolistic stance on search and maps. And as Apple’s integration with Bing rather than Google for Siri suggests, at least some people appreciate that.

More so than anything else, Cortana included, this is the reason Microsoft built Bing. Behind the scenes, for years amidst the mishaps and failed products, Microsoft has been fighting its own holy war, of sorts. Not because they had to, though, for their nest egg, Office, has — for the most part — remained safe; rather, Microsoft shouldered these burdens because they could, and because it was the right thing to do. And right about now, it looks like those investments are starting to pay off. Good for them — and great for us; it’s time Apple had a real competitor. Turns out Samsung couldn’t make the cut. Can Microsoft? Everything I know about this space tells me “No”, but I think the right answer just might be a “Yes."