‘Tis the season for year-in-review stories, and the techie blogosphere is sounding off on Microsoft’s performance in 2015. It was a banner year for Redmond, most observers agree, despite a few stumbles. Microsoft made bold forays into newer areas like virtual reality and hardware, while leveraging its strong enterprise customer base to build its cloud business, and releasing an operating system that people actually were excited to use. Or as the headline of a recent Business Insider piece put it, “Everybody suddenly loves Microsoft–but the turnaround’s not over yet.”
By far the biggest success was Windows 10, now running on more than 120 million machines. With a seamless user experience on desktop and mobile, the new operating system “has for the most part erased any lingering bad memories” from “the disaster that was Windows 8” as Paul Thurrott writes on Petri. Heavy hitters from Netflix to Pandora have recently announced apps built on the Universal Windows Platform, which allows developers to create for multiple devices at once. (There’s even a BB-8 app that lets you control an on-screen droid with voice commands. Merry Christmas, Star Wars fans!)
Critics have slammed Microsoft for failing to address privacy concerns about user data collected by Cortana, Windows 10’s virtual assistant, and for a pushy rollout that had Windows 7 and 8.1 users facing a barrage of prompts to update. Microsoft Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela responded to those concerns last week on Windows Weekly, saying, “You absolutely have control of your own data,” and that users can easily stop Cortana’s notebook from collecting information about their likes and dislikes.
As for those heavy-handed reminders (‘Would you like to upgrade to Windows 10 now or tonight?’), Capossela said: “For us, it’s just so incredibly important to try to end the fragmentation of the Windows install base…We’re willing to put up with some level of discomfort if we feel like we’re getting something that’s better for the ecosystem.”
He offered his own assessment of 2015, singling out as game-changers the augmented reality rig Hololens, which Time Magazine dubbed Gadget of the Year, and the Surface Pro 4 tablet. While some testers have grumbled about the Hololens’ limited field of view, Capossela said it’s what all the college kids on the recruiting trail have wanted to talk about.
In cloud services, 2015 was the year Azure climbed solidly into second place behind market leader Amazon Web Services. It’s earning developer love “mainly by getting over its long-time insistence on making coders use Microsoft tools and languages, and broadening out to support the actual tools that they want to use, like Linux or Docker containers,” writes Matt Weinberger in Business Insider.
One thing that didn’t change in 2015: We all continued to gripe about Windows Phones. With a lack of quality apps and limited carriers, mobile continues to be Microsoft’s achilles heel. “This was the year that the dream ended,” Tim Anderson writes in The Register, citing the company’s ill-fated acquisition of Nokia.
Capossela was more optimistic, fueling the rumors that have been circulating about a possible Surface Phone on the horizon. “We need some sort of spiritual equivalent [to the Surface] on the phone side that’s not just a phone for people who like Windows,” he said on Windows Weekly. “It’s gotta be like, wow, that’s a real shocker…and it’s going to make me pause before I buy my 17th iPhone. And we need time to build that.”
Will we look back on 2015 as the year Microsoft became cool again? Will Windows Phone fans ever be able to get Verizon service on their Lumia 950s? Stay tuned in 2016.