It's official. Microsoft is no longer just a software company. CEO, Steve Ballmer, said so in his recent annual letter to shareholders.
"It truly is a new era at Microsoft ...This is a significant shift, both in what we do and how we see ourselves as a devices and services company," Big Steve said.
What that means is MS is focused on hardware augmented by Cloud. That includes both consumer products and those built for businesses, with a significant overlap that Ballmer hopes will leverage the BYOD movement to promote the use of personal devices in enterprise networks.
"Fantastic devices and services for end users will drive our enterprise businesses forward given the increasing influence employees have in the technology they use at work a trend commonly referred to as the Consumerisation of IT," he said in the letter.
In defining the new Microsoft to shareholders, Ballmer also said the company will embrace new form factors for devices such as the Surface tablet/PC, but doesn't say whether that means the rumoured Windows 8 Phone handset. But he emphasised tying services to all types of hardware is key.
"Further, as we develop and update our consumer services, we'll do so in ways that take full advantage of hardware advances, that complement one another and that unify all the devices people use daily," he said.
One important goal for the company: "Firmly establishing one platform, Windows, across the PC, tablet, phone, server and Cloud to drive a thriving ecosystem of developers, unify the cross-device user experience, and increase agility when bringing new advancements to market."
So you get the big picture. Ballmer wants Microsoft, if not to be Apple, then to beat Apple at its own game by offering the best solution possible.
That's fair enough on a philosophical level. But in practice? It's an interesting thought.
ARN's editorial staff have been quietly sounding out distributors, vendors, resellers, analysts about Windows 8, which launches on October 26.
Which ever way you look at it, Windows 8 is very, very, VERY important for Microsoft. It has to succeed. It can't afford W8 to be another Vista.
Now I'm not going to say it is. But I will say the signs aren't good. Some businesses leaders have categorically said they will not upgrade to Windows 8 in the short-term, that they may upgrade to Windows 7 or they might just sit on Windows XP.
And there is a reason for this, which US commentator Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols stated perfectly in a opinion piece for IDG's Computerworld (US): "Windows 8 is not a Windows upgrade. This is not a misstep like Vista, to be followed by a real step forward, as happened with Windows 7. This is a giant leap into the dark."
Vaughan-Nichols statement came at the end of a piece catalysed by Intel CEO, Paul Otellini, allegedly telling his Taiwanese staff that Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system is being released before it's fully ready.
Intel is Microsoft's biggest partner and although Otellini softened the blow by saying he was sure MS would patch Windows 8 to acceptable levels after its release, the damage was done.
Microsoft already has a reputation for releasing and patching. Looking further afield, test drives of Windows 8 have been predictably mixed. Some just say it is rubbish, others wax lyrical about what a revolution in operating system (OS) it is. Most do not go that far. If there is a theme to them it is that there is considerable hump (three to five days) to get over initially but once you do, it's a good OS.
The easiest way to avoid any problems? Perhaps, sit back and wait for a year until the software is stable, then consider upgrading. Then there's Surface, the tablet Microsoft is manufacturing and selling itself. The reviews so far are positive. Is it an iPad killer? Probably not? Will it be a competitor? Probably, yes.
In the real world all this translates to: Microsoft and Windows fanatics and Apple-haters will rush out en masse and buy Surface and adopt W8 for their home computers. Business will be probably be slower. As Vaughan-Nichols writes, "Everything that everyone on your staff ever knew about how to use Windows is gone."
How many businesses will be willing to have every staff member spend three or four days being instructed in how to use, and come to terms with, Windows 8?
So Microsoft may no longer be a software company but software is still going to rule its fate. If W8 staggers then Ballmer's goal of "firmly establishing one platform, Windows, across the PC, tablet, phone, server and Cloud" is highly unlikely to succeed, at least in the short-term.
It's going to be a very interesting last couple of months of the year. And Microsoft must be working up a healthy sweat.