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October 31st, 2013

Microsoft has been in the news a lot—Steve Ballmer’s cheerless departure, the billion-dollar flop of the original Surface, Windows Phone inertia, and other miscues and missed opportunities haunt the firm. Yet Microsoft just posted better-than-forecast figures for Q1. The company reported that its “devices and services transformation is progressing” just as after-hours trading pushed shares up.

Microsoft is a fascinating study of a firm that has had several well-defined eras following its founding at the dawn of the microcomputer age—which is the problem at the moment. Long criticized for “going in one era and out the other” with tech strategies and marketing campaigns, Microsoft is looking for a solid new identity for its post-Ballmer era. We’ve written about Ballmer’s bad moves, but now let’s take a look at some positive incidents that just might reveal where this tech giant is headed.

Microsoft Logo
Aggressive pricing

Windows XP had a special edition that ran on tablet PC and before that, Microsoft had Windows for Pen Computing—for Windows 95! The company really does know tablets, from hardware and software to sales and support. Now that Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro tablets are on sale, Microsoft went ahead and reduced the price of the original Surface Pro. In August Microsoft initially reduced the price when slow sales slowed even further. Since then, however, Surface models have contributed $400 million to the Q1 figures cited above.

More bang for Bing

In July, Microsoft announced that Bing was much more than a mere search engine. It’s a developer platform, too, offering coders the development kits, back-end services, and control modules for creating new tools and techniques. Microsoft is aiming for the type of ubiquity enjoyed by Google, where everything from the temp’s computer rental to the CEO’s gold iPhone is using Gmail, Gdrive, and Google+. Just last week, Microsoft brought a missing piece to the Bing developers’ construction kit: speech recognition. A new control enables developers to include speech recognition as an input in apps made for Windows 8, Windows 8.1, and Windows RT. Microsoft managers also announced that the Bing Translator Controls and Optical Character Recognition Control would be updated, too.

Breaking into the Glass market

Microsoft may become a top rival to Google Glass, as the firm is already testing prototypes for web-connected glasses with high-tech specs similar to the Glass product. The Wall Street Journal cited some unnamed people “familiar with the matter,” but offered no details about the project, saying only that it is part of Microsoft’s “grand strategy” to become a top player in the device market along with Google, Apple, and Samsung.

Finally, fast fixes!

Within two days of removing the Windows RT 8.1 operating system update from the Microsoft Store on October 19 (just two days after its launch), Microsoft released a new, fixed update. The initial Windows RT 8.1 update caused problems with one of every 1,000 Surface RT 8.1 installations. Following initial criticism, Microsoft was lauded for its quick and complete fix.

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