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Microsoft has bumbled around like an overladen pack mule over the past few years, occasionally braying about an update to the frostily-received Windows 8 or another Lumia smartphone destined for mid-market obscurity.

The Xbox 360 might have found success in the gaming world, outselling its PlayStation 3 rival, but Microsoft's corporate bulk felt lacklustre and a bit aimless under the yoke of ex-chief executive Steve Ballmer. But as Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a' changin'."

Aside from the odd sexist gaffe, new boss Satya Nadella appears to have taken a metaphorical defibrillator to Microsoft and given it good kick-start since he took charge at the beginning of 2014.

Pressing ahead with his strategy of ‘mobile first, cloud first', Nadella appeared to have given Microsoft a shot in the arm.
People may still shun Windows Phone for iOS and Android, and the PlayStation 4 is currently beating the Xbox One in the games console wars, but Microsoft's business apps are in rude health as the firm builds out the Azure cloud platform and packs new features into productivity tools.
Microsoft's second wind hit home when I attended the company's Convergence 15 event in Atlanta.

Myself and around 12,000 others watched as Nadella energetically took to the stage and outlined the evolution of Microsoft's 2014 strategy for the years ahead.
"We are in the empowerment business," said Nadella, explaining how Microsoft wants to help corporations and individuals use software to harness data and improve their personal and business lives.

Empowerment is a slightly nebulous word often regurgitated in self-help books, but at its core Microsoft's 2015 strategy is simply integrating software and making it available across multiple devices supported by the company's Azure cloud.
Among a healthy dose of industry buzzwords, Nadella announced updates and service availability aimed at realising this empowerment strategy.

For example, Microsoft's Lync and Skype have been combined to create Skype for Business which provides access to enterprise-grade communications services with a familiar consumer-focused interface, rather than forcing people to choose one or the other.

The Azure IoT Suite, meanwhile, provides a combination of cloud-powered tools that enable developers to create software services on top of data harvested from the Internet of Things.

Nadella was followed on stage by Julia White, general manager of product marketing for Office, who adopted a ‘show don't tell' approach to demonstrate empowerment in action.

White assumed the role of a busy salesperson. She used a preview of Office 2016 and the updated Dynamics CRM service to show how the integration of Microsoft's productivity and communications tools gives workers everything they need across multiple devices.

White's demonstration and Nadella's strategy received rapturous applause and the praise of everyone I spoke to at Convergence 15, but Microsoft appeared to get away with not actually announcing anything particularly new.

Updates to, and the wider availability of, existing products and services was the flavour of the day, supporting the goal of empowerment rather than driving it.
But I thought this made a lot of sense. Rather than pursue reinvention, Microsoft has simply identified the products its customers like, expanded on them, integrated them and pushed the packages into the cloud.

Forget empowerment, this is Microsoft taking a no-nonsense approach to giving people what they want and where they need it. It's an antidote to what I felt was a fragmented strategy over the previous years.

I directly benefit from this integrated approach to empowerment. As an iPad user, I'm locked into the iOS walled garden and limited to the software that Apple deems worthy to sit in its hallowed App Store.

Rather than take a similar approach to its rival, Microsoft's empowerment goal involves making the Office 365 apps available across multiple mobile platforms and not just those running Windows.

So I now I can use OneNote on my Android smartphone, my iPad and my laptop running Windows 7. I can take notes, and the magic of the cloud makes them available whenever and wherever I need them.

Do I feel empowered? Probably not, but it certainly avoids the irritating process of cutting and copying notes in and out of emails that I have to send to myself.
However, there is one caveat to Microsoft's strategy that a cynic might draw out. Offering integrated products and services hosted in a cloud environment could see Microsoft move from software licences to subscription models.

This approach may chafe against people used to paying once for Office and other tools. But perhaps that is just the price of progress. If Microsoft can continue to make my working life easier, that's something I can subscribe to.

Source: v3.co.uk



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