Ladies and gentlemen, Microsoft is back.
I wasn't sure we'd ever have reason to write those words again, and Microsoft's not yet all the way back. But it's absolutely taking the right steps. And for the first time since I began worrying about this sort of stuff, Microsoft appears to actually have some direction, some common goal.
I found myself in unfamiliar territory late last week, a couple days before a trip without a couple of reviews hanging over my head. Relative free time. Windows 8 had just gone official, and I hadn't actually gotten around using any of the beta builds over the past few months, and a $39 upgrade is kind of a no-brainer. (That and my daily machine is now a Mac, so I wasn't overly concerned about app compatibility just yet.) So, I popped Windows 8 onto the box it now shares with an Ubuntu install (for those times I feel like torturing Jerry with Linux questions).
First off, I'm loving the move away from the traditional desktop metaphor. It's going to be a big adjustment for us old folks. But our kids are gonna love it. And (for me, anyway), things started to make sense pretty quickly. There are Metro apps (sorry, Microsoft, but that's what they're called, and that's what I'm calling 'em), which run on the cool (if busy) start screen, and there are legacy apps, which run on top of a traditional desktop space. We'll eventually see the latter phased out entirely, I suppose, but that's going to take time. It takes a little work getting used to only having one app on the screen at a time. But maybe that's not a bad thing for casual computing.
For me, though, it shows that for the first time in a very long time, the different departments at Microsoft are working together. Hell, they're probably allowed to talk to each other for the first time. Three screens and the cloud no longer is just bluster coming from Ballmer, ladies and gentlemen.
What does this mean for Google and Android? Not a lot, just yet. It's still early in this rebirth for Microsoft and it's going to take more time for the ball to start rolling down the hill. But it's most certainly in motion, and it's no longer going uphill. Google, obviously, is serious about the mobile space. You wouldn't be reading this otherwise. I think it's still kinda toeing the waters when it comes to Chromebooks, but I also think that'll change over the coming months as well. (I love this new Chromebook commercial. Google's got to do this for Android, too.) And I still think Google's got more in store for the living room space; the Nexus Q was just a teaser.
But consider this: Microsoft is making its products available on current non-Microsoft devices. We're already seeing that with Xbox SmartGlass. Xbox Music is coming to Android as well -- quite possibly sooner rather than later. Microsoft Office is still strongly rumored. I've always believed one of Apple's bigger mistakes was not letting iTunes -- and its purchasing power and gateway drug status -- infect other platforms. Microsoft has never been shy about spreading its reach. After all, it's how we ended up with Bing Android phones for a short time.
Microsoft may be in third place in the mobile space, and that's not all that likely to change anytime soon. There are just too many Android and iOS devices out there. But make no mistake, Microsoft's in a much stronger place than it's ever been.