Friday, July 18, 2014

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2014 Summary

I attended the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) earlier this week in Washington D.C and I wanted to take this opportunity to share my impressions.   An annual event, this year's conference had over 16,000 attendees who earn their living from selling Microsoft-based solutions.  The highlight of the conference was a passionate, vision keynote from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

This was my first time attending the Microsoft partner conference as part the IBM MobileFirst team which includes software, services and partnerships including the Apple/IBM partnership which was announced on Tuesday.  Key topic areas for the conference included cloud, big data, mobility and devices and enterprise social which are the key technologies that are fundamentally transforming our industry and the world.

Even before the conference kicked off on Sunday, we had a sense, albeit high-level, of where the new Microsoft is headed.  On Thursday, July 10, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sent an company-wide email which he published to the web titled "Starting FY15 - Bold Ambition and our Core."    In the email, Mr Nadella outlined his vision for Microsoft and the evolution from a "devices and services company" to "productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world."  The e-mail was short on specifics, as was Mr. Nadella's keynote at WPC but it did mention that more details would be shared on July 22 when quarter-end earnings are released.

From Monday's opening keynote, Microsoft acknowledged that while they were once the leaders, they were now the challengers, particularly in mobile, and they stressed the need for change.  Like any large company, it's difficult to change overnight and re-organization and restructuring is required to align the company with the new strategy and its new CEO.   I was encouraged, however, with Microsoft's decision on Thursday to drop its Android-based Nokia X-line of smartphones and focus its efforts on Windows Phone.  Microsoft still has work to do to consolidate Windows Phone/Windows and RT platforms.  However, I am encouraged that the same mobile application can run on both Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 without the need for re-coding.

Although it took time, Microsoft is now delivering solutions for competing mobile platforms including the newly-released iPad-specific versions of Powerpoint, Excel and Word which are excellent.  I use these applications regularly on my iPad Mini as part of my Office 365 subscription.  I'm looking forward to an the upcoming Android version.  Microsoft needs to deliver the same touch versions of Office to Windows tablet which are now lagging in usability.

My short list of highlights:
  • Cortana digital assistant (competitor to Apple Siri and Google Now)
  • Skype language translation: demoed on stage Mr. Nadella's keynote.  Speaking in English, translated and voiced in German language to an employee in Germany.  Not all the translations were successful and it lead to some humorous moments
  • Microsoft Perceptive Pixel display: multitouch displays for presentations, with support for pen and annotations.  Also for use in digital signage and camera can distinguish male/female approaching the sign (similar to Intel demos at NRF last year)
  • Siena (beta): build mobile apps without coding (uses Excel syntax)
  • Windows Phone 8.1 demos.  I'm looking forward to upgrading my Nokia 520 when its released later this month
  • Windows 9 "Threshold"  While not specifically called out or demoed, sharp eyed attendees got a glimpse of the new Start menu and more when executive were presenting other demos.
  • Mandarin Oriental Hotel demo of guest services (room service, transportation, TV and room controls) available via Surface Pro 3 tablet in each guest's hotel room.
  • Delve and Office Graph: intelligent search.  Show me the information that's relevant to me in a Flipboard-like experience
  • Azure and Office 365.  Office 365 is Microsoft's fastest business ever with over 4 million paying customers. 

I was fortunate to attend the mobile and devices keynote where every attendee received a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.  I own two Windows 8.1 devices: A Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 and a Microsoft Surface RT.  The Dell is my first 8 inch Windows tablet I've owned running an Intel Atom processor capable of running both Win32 and "modern" (Metro) applications.  While the build quality and screen are excellent, there are a few things I don't like:
  • Pre-installed bloatware
  • The need to type in a Office activation code
  • Odd position of the Windows Start button on the side of the device
  • A single micro-USB connector for charging and file transfer and no full-sized USB adapter was provided (I had to buy one)
  • No hardwire video output capability.  Miracast wi-fi is supported.  This is an issue for me as it would be great to connect the tablet to an overhead projector to present to clients. 


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