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The Microsoft Ecosystem

Tech Industry658 words4 minutes to read

In 2011, I wrote about Apple vs. Android and how “It’s all about the ecosystem, stupid!”. The more time I spend with my iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV, the more of a believer I become in the power of the ecosystem.

The Digital Hub

Apple spent the first decade of this century focusing on the idea of The Digital Hub. It started with Mac + music, then they added photos, movies, TV shows, books, and all sorts of things. With the launch of iCloud, they’ve taken the next major step in that strategy and they are dominating the market, cumulatively.

Samsung might make a good Android-based phone, but where’s the tablet that’s better for reading and games? Where’s the set-top box that shows my media on my TV that I can control with my phone? Where’s the ability to stream the cool thing I found on my tablet to the TV so everyone can watch it? Where’s the computer that streams my terabytes of music, photos, movies and TV shows to my devices? Where’s the ability to walk from room to room and bring my music with me to the nearest set of speakers?

Samsung doesn’t have that, and neither does Google. Google TV and the Nexus Q were unmitigated disasters. The Android experience on tablets still sucks (I have Android 4.1 “Jelly Bean” running on my HP TouchPad). There is no ecosystem at play in the Android universe.

Microsoft’s dark horse

While reading a post by Ken Seagall, I watched this video:

Source: Dont fight. Switch. The Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone.

Suddenly something occurred to me. Something that Microsoft has done a terrible job capitalizing on. Something that, if executed properly, could position Microsoft back in the #2 position behind Apple: The Digital Hub.

Let’s look at what Microsoft has today that already works well together: Windows, Surface, Windows Phone and Xbox. Your Windows Phone and Surface tablet have different use-cases in your life, but they sync together with your Windows PC, and the Xbox is the media hub in your living room. They also have Outlook.com (née Windows Live Mail, née MSN Hotmail, née Hotmail.com), Office 365, SkyDrive, and lots of other services to complement the devices they have.

But Microsoft is so discombobulated internally that it can’t figure out how to put one foot in front of the other. It’s like watching a drunk guy stumble across the railroad tracks.

Microsoft is okay at services (still not as good as Google, but much better than Apple), they have a very mature desktop OS with a massive number of apps, and they have the best selling living room console behind Apple TV. Windows Phone may be nice, but there’s no notable audience for it. And the Surface is, well, junk. (It’s the worst kind of “me too” product out there.)

Can they pull it off?

If (and this is a really big if) Microsoft can get rid of the warring internal tribes, and can set aside empty, doom-inducing rhetoric like Windows Everywhere and No Compromise, I think they may have a shot at being #2 overall. Windows still dominates on the desktop in terms of numbers (I’ll avoid talking about other metrics for the moment), and Xbox is (finally) making money, but they’re failing at everything else.

They need to have a leader with a clear vision and the know-how to execute that plan. They don’t need a loud-mouthed buffoon as a mouthpiece. Their financials are OK, but they could be so much more if they tried harder and focused their efforts behind a singular vision.

Apple has a rock-solid ecosystem. Google & Samsung do not. Microsoft has all the pieces of a solid ecosystem, but they have too many cooks in the kitchen with conflicting visions.

I never thought I’d say this, but I find myself rooting for Microsoft. I really hope they can get their act together and clinch the #2 spot.

Ryan Parman

is an engineering manager with over 20 years of experience across software development, site reliability engineering, and security. He is the creator of SimplePie and AWS SDK for PHP, patented multifactor-authentication-as-a-service at WePay, defined much of the CI/CD and SRE disciplines at McGraw-Hill Education, and came up with the idea of “serverless, event-driven, responsive functions in the cloud” while at Amazon Web Services in 2010. Ryan's aptly-named blog, , is where he writes about ideas longer than . Ambivert. Curious. Not a coffee drinker.