Chris Roberts

What is Microsoft Doing?

• Posted in Technology

There's something very strange going on at Microsoft - and I can't help feeling it's all down to a lack of coherent strategy.

I have already written about the unprecedented steps Microsoft has taken to take the fight to Apple in the Smartphone market. I am eagerly awaiting the launch of their new mobile platform. Will Microsoft be able to create an ecosystem to surround the platform that can compete with Apple? Will the Zune Marketplace be able to take on iTunes? Will the Marketplace be able to take on the App Store?

Who knows?

What I do know is that Microsoft has, at least, given itself a fantastic chance of pulling it off.

But what about a Tablet?

This, as far as I'm concerned, is where Microsoft has got their strategy completely wrong.

Earlier this year, the Internet was alive with rumours of the Microsoft Courier. The leaked concept videos of this device are truly stunning. If you haven't seen them, I urge you to check them out - think of it as an iPad that's actually useful for something! The courier looked like it might satisfy all of my own criteria for a decent tablet.

In the height of the biggest buzz Microsoft have created in a long time, we were all poised awaiting confirmation from Redmond that the device did exist and that we would be able to buy one in the coming months...

So Microsoft cancelled it.

The eternal optimist in me was wondering what magnificent product must be in the pipeline to warrant cancelling such an exciting project. And yesterday Steve Ballmer gave us the answer... a range of Windows 7 based Tablet PCs (or 'slates' as they appear to be calling them now).

I can only assume this means we are to be presented with another round of big, heavy, power hungry and more importantly - slow devices running an operating system which has had some pen based functionality hammered into it at the last minute.

With such impressive work going on with their new mobile platform, why on earth aren't these advances being exploited in their slate offering?

Ballmer said, "we want to give you a great device, a consumer oriented device, but a device that fits and is manageable with today's enterprise IT solutions". To my mind, Microsoft has been hiding behind the world's IT departments for years, making the excuse that Windows and Windows Mobile are easier to manage in the enterprise.

One possible glimmer of hope came with the statement, "They will accept ink as well as touch-based input". Does this mean stylus and finger based control? This would be a step forward, at least!

I may, of course, be proven completely wrong. Perhaps Microsoft will make sufficient performance and user interface improvements to turn Windows 7 into a compelling slate based operating system.

I just can't help feeling that the company's long-held aspirations for the slate form-factor would have been better served with a more coherent strategy. In particular, the use of an operating system more suited to the task - namely - Windows Phone Series 7.