Let’s talk about Microsoft – My Interview with Wes Miller from Directions on Microsoft

So in light of all the Microsoft related noise happening out there, I recently got a chance to sit down with someone who does this for a living.

Wes Miller is a (highly respected) research analyst at Directions on Microsoft and has been on the Microsoft beat for a while.

I met him at the first BUILD conference 100 years ago and since he’s always seemed to know which way the Microsoft wind was blowing, I wanted to get his 10 cents on some of the recent Microsoft headlines.

Note – this was before the Nokia unit acquisition.

Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Onuora: Hi Wes, thanks for taking the time to do this. Let’s get into it, could you tell us a bit about your background?
Wes: I’m a research analyst at Directions on Microsoft. I’ve been here for over three years, at startups and other tech companies in Austin before that, and over 7 years at Microsoft before that, primarily working on Windows.

Onuora: I assume you’ve had a chance to see and play with the Windows 8.1 Preview, what were your first impressions?
Wes: I have. It’s a good direction, and a welcome set of improvements over Windows 8.0. While I’m still having some issues with the preview on two of my systems, I’m hoping what I’m seeing are issues that are resolved before new machines are in user hands this October.

Onuora: What’s your gut feel about the consumer reaction to Windows 8 and will Windows 8.1 change that?
Wes: The consumer reaction to Windows 8 was… not favorable. The app ecosystem is not where I’d hoped it would be, and enterprises definitely took a wait and see attitude about 8.0. 8.1 will definitely prove more appealing to businesses than 8.0 did, but the question is whether it will do so in a strong enough way, and pick up enough steam with consumers, to really begin pulling in developers and leading to great platform-unique apps.

Onuora: How do you think Windows 8.1 will impact the enterprise?
Wes: 8.1 will do far better in the enterprise than 8.0 did. However some of the most interesting features in 8.1 require an investment in, and deployment of, Windows Server 2012 R2 – so it may be a while before we see large-scale deployments of 8.1 as well.

Onuora: XP support ends relatively early next year, where do you think businesses go next – 7 or 8.1?
Wes: I still expect most businesses that are refreshing PCs to move to Windows 7, and primarily put Windows 8.1 into touch-focused roles – tablets, kiosks, and the like.

Onuora: What does Microsoft need to do to make 8.1 successful?
Wes: First, more great apps (not just a high volume of apps). Second, get partners to build great devices that deliver great experiences without charging too much, and third, explain the value of the platform to developers, consumers, and businesses (where “the value of the platform” is not synonymous with “Office on Windows” or “More than one window at a time”).

Onuora: What’s your overall impression of the quality and quantity of apps available for Windows 8?
Wes: There are lots of apps. There are some great apps. There are not a lot of great apps.

Onuora: What more can Microsoft do to engage developers?
Wes: I think that Microsoft needs to seriously engage enterprise developers, and help them understand how to build great experiences, and why they should be building WinRT apps. As it is, it feels like the enterprise is stalling out, and either building legacy Windows apps or apps for other mobile device platforms.

Onuora: Any thoughts about Windows 9 yet?
Wes: Nope. There’s much talk of what comes next, and people are already saying it’s “9”. I’m not so sure.

Onuora: Let’s talk Surface – why do you think the Surface line of tablets wasn’t successful?
Wes: One word. Price. Both devices were far too expensive for what they delivered, and much like Windows 8’s own value message, I think it is unclear to consumers and businesses what exactly Surface is vs. Android or iOS tablets, and why they should invest in a family of v1 devices with such price premiums.

Onuora: What does Microsoft need to do to make the next Gen Surface line of tablets successful?
Wes: Watch the price very, very carefully, and clearly denote why Windows 8 is a better choice than an iPad – without focusing just on Office or multiple windows. Frankly I’d also like to see a Surface that ditches the 16:9 landscape-focused display in favor of a more neutral 4:3 display that works well in portrait as well.

Onuora: Surface vs Ipad – who wins and why?
Wes: This might make me unpopular, but… iPad. It wins on price, weight, battery life, selection of software and accessories, and a mature SDK… Surface wins primarily on the presence of Office (and the desktop on Pro, though many would argue that the presence of the desktop on a tablet isn’t necessarily a benefit).

Onuora: What did you think of Microsoft’s latest reorg?
Wes: Having seen many reorgs before – including some massive ones while I was there, I’m taking a wait and see attitude. Great products aren’t created through changes in the org chart. Great products are created by individual contributors who are focused on creating great products, not focused on their reporting order.

Onuora: Looking forward, what line of business do you see Microsoft being the most successful with?
Wes: I’m very bullish on Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, as well as Windows Azure and SQL Server. While Microsoft may not be hitting home runs with the Windows client, they are building some amazing server technologies, the Azure PaaS platform is very strong and the Azure IaaS platform is finally here and is quite impressive.

Onuora: If you had to name one thing, what would be the most important thing Microsoft needs to do in the next 12 months?
Wes: Hit the pavement. Get out there and evangelize like Microsoft of old. Help developers build great consumer and enterprise applications, and get the world to clearly understand why Windows was, is, and always will be great, even as Windows changes. Let Windows stand on its own, though – don’t use Office as a crutch for Windows, or Windows as a crutch for Office. Those two products need to stand on their own. If you use one to hold the other up, both get hurt in the long run.

Onuora: Steve Ballmer is leaving, thoughts on his tenure? Also do you think his leaving makes MSFT stronger?
Wes: I don’t think Steve leaving necessarily makes Microsoft either weaker or stronger. It’s really up to his replacement to make their own mark. They have a formidable challenge ahead of them, however, as they are likely to be pulled in three – potentially discordant – directions, by the board, investors, and customers.

Onuora: Who or what kind of person do you think should replace him?
Wes: I think the person who replaces Steve needs to be someone who is creative, and steadfast about helping the entire organization build technologies that delight customers (that will in turn drive sales). The next CEO shouldn’t be someone focused primarily on P&L – the company needs a visionary and a technical/design leader first.

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