At least once a year, I try to walk the Microsoft platform and do a roundup of all the products and technologies, especially focused on the developer side. (Here is an example – Mapping Out the Microsoft Application Platform.) It helps me see ahead, anticipate changes, challenges, and opportunities, and really get a balcony view of the company from a platform perspective.
This year, I was challenged as I was trying to walk the story from my usual paths. Normally, I walk Microsoft.com, MSDN, and TechNet. I know my way around so I can usually pull the pieces I need to figure out the platform and get a fast balcony view.
I realized that this time, in order to make sense of the platform, I really needed to step back. I needed to really understand the bigger story and the backdrop. To walk a friend through, I basically recapped some of the most important messages:
- 3 Screens and a Cloud – This is really a clients and clouds story, acknowledging little screens, like on a phone, medium screens, like tablets and laptops, and bigger screens, like the ones that fill a wall or a living room. Different screens create new opportunities and challenges, including a new breed of NUI experiences.
- Devices and Services – This is just acknowledgement that XBox, Kinnect, phone, Surface, are on purpose. It builds on and builds with the 3 screens and a cloud story. It also acknowledges the shift from “boxed” product to software as a service, as a first-class citizen.
- Unified Windows platform – I think this line says it best: “To hear Microsoft tell it, the five big trends to come will be natural user interfaces, machine learning and big data, unlocking application capabilities through the cloud, social networking, and the emergence of a single unified Windows platform across PC, mobile device, server and cloud.” – See Microsoft Predictions for Itself
- Public, private, partner, hybrid. When it comes to the Cloud, it’s really a spectrum. There’s stuff on premises, there’s stuff in the public Cloud, and there’s mash ups in between. Whether you “use the cloud,” “move to the cloud”, or “be the cloud,” you have to consider where you want stuff to live, whether that means living in a private Cloud on premises, or in a public Cloud, or as a private Cloud within a public Cloud, or within a specialized partner Cloud, etc. Once you know the permutations and the mental model, slicing and dicing becomes easier, and you can quickly figure out where something “lives” or should live.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). This is also another powerful way to slice and dice the platform. A simple way to think of it is “host,” “build,” and “consume.”
When you know the story and you look through that lens, many things make more sense. For example, if you know there is an on-premise story and a Cloud story, then it makes sense why there is SharePoint Server 2013 and SharePoint Online (part of the Office 365 story). If you don’t know that, then you can spend a lot of time wondering how do you figure out the platform stack and how do you make sense of what you see.
It even helps explain some of the transitions, like Windows 8. At first blush, on a non-touch device, it can seem awkward. Once you realize that it’s a step towards a unified model, where touch and other NUI experiences are a first-class citizen, then it makes a lot more sense.
It also helps to get an introduction to things by people who live and breathe the stuff. For example, we have a lot of former Apple folks, and we have a lot of Mac experts. I reach out to them and ask them what they think of Windows 8 and how they make the most of it. The power “touch” users are amazing in action. I like the balanced perspective from people who know both worlds, and who focus on effectiveness, user experience, and results. It’s always enlightening.
But the real surprise is how much power is right at your finger tips that you just don’t even know until somebody points it out. For example, I was in a meeting trying to find one of my apps on Windows 8 and a colleague said just hit the Windows key then start typing the name of the app you want. I didn’t believe him – it sounded too weird. In fact, I didn’t believe him so much, that I just did it to prove to him how he was wrong. Suddenly my app was at my finger tips, faster than I was ready for.
The more I dig into this, the more I realize I should share more about making sense of the platform. I did write up The Microsoft Story, but there is just so much more beneath the “surface” … and I think only the tip of the iceberg gets the buzz.