I read an article about 2012 being the year of Microsoft, when it 'shakes off its malaise and takes its place alongside Apple, Google & Amazon as one of the great technology innovators' and that this could be 'the year of Microsoft's return'.
I really like the article and I thought it made a lot of sense, the opportunities for Microsoft in 2012 could be huge, and the barriers to them achieving the potential is, as the article states, likely tied to their dependencies on two things; the revenue from Windows & Office and their partners to build hardware that can live up to their software.
However, a few things made me frown a little and I thought I'd look into them a further.
First: Is Microsoft not already one of the great technology innovators? Can we really say that the company that put a PC in every home or on every desk is not innovative? What really makes an innovative company, or makes technology innovative... perhaps that's a larger question, is it creating something new, something clever, something beautiful, something different. (@somnesia actually does a great presentation on this subject if you get a chance to see it).
Here's a couple of examples of innovative (in my opinion) things that have come out of Microsoft in recent years:
Photosynth - turns your photos into 3D images so you can get a better feel for the subject matter.
Kinect - you'll have seen the ads no doubt - you are the controller. In fact, Microsoft set a new world record with Kinect sales.
Surface - interactive multi-touch digital table. They launched version 2 last year to some good reviews.
Second: Are Microsoft really returning? Have they really gone anywhere? If you look at market share across the major technology spaces, they are not dominating the lot, but they aren't doing so badly either:
Operating Systems - most reports have Microsoft (for versions from XP - Windows 7) having anywhere between 77 and 88% of the worldwide operating sytem market share. Not too shaby.
Browsers - Microsoft's Internet Explorer (all versions) browser currently stands at about 34% market share, with Firefox being it's closest rival at about 23%.
A pretty rosy picture so far, ok so it's not as hot in the next few areas, but at least they are competing:
Search - Microsoft's Bing search is certainly on the up, recently it was reported that Bing overtook Yahoo to be the number 2 search engine behind Google (which admittedly has about 80% market share).
Security - Microsoft has also been on the up in this area - 2011 reports show them at #4, but it's tight at the top with just over one percent separating the top 4.
Database - Microsoft have about a 13% share of the market (which is automatically limited for them to Windows), trailing to Oracle and IBM only. It has been commented that the leaders Oracle are facing tough competition from both IBM and Microsoft.
Mobile - Microsoft is running behind the competition at present with about a 2% market share for 2011. Android, Apple, RIM and Symbian are all ahead. There is lots of talk about the Nokia partnership being just the catalyst Microsoft needs to improve in this area though.
I appreciate it's not comprehensive, but you get the point.
So, if 2012 does turn out to be the year Microsoft returns, I don't think they've really gone too far!
* Disclaimer: I like Microsoft. Probably partly because they are one of our clients and therefore I get to know more about their technology (voluntarily or involuntarily) than any other. But, also because they make stuff that I like. If you follow me on twitter you'll know I love my Lumia for example.