It's a huge year for Microsoft. The venerable tech giant is essentially reinventing itself from the ground up for 2012. A new server OS, new desktop OS, new Microsoft Office suite, new mobile platform, and new tablet hardware are all being launched virtually simultaneously. To say Microsoft has a lot riding on the success of the new products is an understatement.
Apparently, Microsoft is willing to put its money where its proverbial mouth is, though, and lead its customers by example. There are reports that Microsoft plans to accelerate its normal PC refresh cycle to give all employees new Windows 8 desktops and laptops. But, wait--there's more! Microsoft is also allegedly issuing new Windows Phone 8 smartphones and Surface RT tablets to all employees as well.
Aside from Microsoft playing Santa Claus (or Oprah--choose your own benevolent icon), and bringing Christmas to employees a tad early, the move also demonstrates Microsoft's confidence in the new platforms and software. It is arguably the most extreme example of the "eat your own dog food" mantra ever implemented.
It's probably not entirely altruistic, though. It seems safe to assume that there is a deeper business strategy behind the decision.
Onuora Amobi, editor of Windows8Update.com, thinks it's a brilliant move by Microsoft. Aside from fostering loyalty and good will with employees, it allows Microsoft to do a massive real-world test of its manufacturing and distribution channels, and it enables Microsoft to demonstrate--on a massive, global scale--that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are ready for enterprise customers to roll out themselves.
From a marketing and consumer standpoint, the strategy makes sense as well. With more than 90,000 employees carrying and using Windows 8 smartphones and Surface RT tablets, the devices will get a huge boost in exposure. The friends and family of those 90,000 employees will have a chance to touch and feel the new Windows 8 smartphones and tablets, and the word of mouth marketing will be much more invaluable to Microsoft than any advertising it can buy.
Of course, Microsoft followed a similar strategy a couple years ago when it gave all employees Windows Phone 7 smartphones. Despite the word of mouth marketing and excitement that should've been generated among Microsoft family and friends, the Windows Phone platform has still been struggling to earn a seat at the table with other mobile platforms like iOS and Android.
Microsoft is putting its money on the line in other ways as well, though. Previous versions of Windows have cost consumers hundreds of dollars to upgrade, but with Windows 8 Microsoft is offering the upgrade for a mere $40 for a limited time. There's also a rumor that Microsoft could price its Surface RT tablet at around $200--a very aggressive price for a tablet of that caliber, and something, which is sure to draw attention if it proves true.
Microsoft isn't just developing incremental tweaks to existing product lines. The operating systems, platforms, software and devices Microsoft is unleashing this year represent a bold departure from traditional Microsoft products and strategies. Much of what Microsoft is doing is essentially a gamble--but it's a gamble that Microsoft is going all in on.
We'll see if the strategy pays off.