This blog post originally appeared as an article in the June/July 2015 issue of the AircraftIT Ops eJournal.
So, is Microsoft cool now? This is hardly a question on everyone’s lips, but it’s something that I’ve been asking myself lately. Some of their recent developments and activities have made me re-evaluate how I feel about them.
When I bought my first PC in the late 80s, Microsoft certainly weren’t cool but you were something of a weirdo and an outsider if you chose anything other than Microsoft for your computing needs. For most of my working life, Microsoft, Windows and Office suite have been something of the de facto choice for work and home computing. I sensed a feeling of disappointment in the pilot community as it became apparent that the iPad was no longer the automatic choice for an EFB solution as the Microsoft Surface and ruggedized Windows tablets like the Panasonic ToughPad had been selected by a number of airlines and operators. I think that disappointment was due to the general feeling that the iPad was cool and Windows tablets most definitely were not. The early Windows tablets suffered from the impact of legacy software. Software that had been developed for a keyboard and mouse oriented interface simply sucked on a tablet device and some of the early Windows tablets weren’t nearly as responsive to user inputs as the now mature and trusted iPads. Microsoft was definitely not cool a couple of years ago.
Nowadays, the choice between Microsoft and something else is not so clear-cut.
“I sensed a feeling of disappointment in the pilot community as it became apparent that the iPad was no longer the automatic choice for an EFB solution as the Microsoft Surface and ruggedized Windows tablets like the Panasonic ToughPad had been selected by a number of airlines and operators.”
With latest generation Windows tablets, the advent of Windows 10, regulatory acceptance and Windows support by so many software vendors, there is close parity between what iPad and Windows tablets have to offer for many use case scenarios. I don’t know anyone who has replaced their laptop with an iPad, but I have many friends and colleagues who have replaced their laptop and even their desktop with a Windows tablet. I even know of at least one software vendor whose developers all use the Windows Surface Pro 3 as their development machines, running Visual Studio and other enterprise grade software. This alone doesn’t mark a shift in my opinion, but if we look at some of Microsoft’s recent acquisitions and roadmap announcements, there is a clear strategy, a blurring of the lines between consumer and enterprise technology. This, in my mind is setting Microsoft on a path to something that might be cool.
Apple, with the release of the iPhone and later the iPad brought consumer technology into the workplace, and has changed our expectations of how enterprise IT should look and feel. We are on an unstoppable path towards the total consumerisation of business software and hardware. Microsoft has been a follower, not a leader in this movement, but they are critical component in how business IT consumerisation has become a ubiquitous effort in aerospace.
Microsoft’s policy of developing and supporting for ‘Mobile First’ and for ‘Cloud First’ displays a firm understanding of how we all consume technology these days. The recent acquisition of companies like 6Wunderkinder (the genius minds behind Wunderlist) and Datazen Software, suggest a desire to further blur the lines between consumer and enterprise technology and a desire to support any platform and any device beyond their own offerings. It is the pending release of the Hololens, Microsoft’s impressive augmented and virtual reality enabled wearable device that really excites me. Could this be Microsoft’s first really game-changing devices? Time will tell.
So, is Microsoft actually cool now? Not yet. But it’s certainly a technology company that I’m going to be keeping a closer eye on: they’re showing signs of doing something in the near future that might be interpreted as being cool… or at least that’s how I look at IT.