While some saw its CES offering as lacking in shiny new stuff and general awesomeness, Microsoft (and its partners) have big things planned for this year. What can we expect from Redmond, and who could benefit or feel threatened?
Enterprise Can Rest Easy
While many businesses will quake at the arrival of Windows 8, it is pretty clear that Microsoft is positioning its new platform at the consumer market first and will leave the enterprise assault until Windows 7 has run its natural course. That, of course, ignores all those executives demanding a sleek new ultrabook or a WIn 8 tablet for their desk, and IT having to figure out support for them.
Perhaps a company's most pressing need will be getting its developers to create a Windows 8 Metro app for any public or customer-facing services, to go along with their iOS, Android, HTML 5 web app and all the other widgets that they need to offer a fully-rounded online experience.
Heavy on the Hardware
The new operating system offers impressive speed and high ease of use via Metro on a tablet, an ultrabook or big screen TVs as well as your old, existing PCs. It will probably look just as good on future Windows phones and future hybrid devices that emerge. With huge numbers of ultrabooks and Windows 8 tablets hitting the shelves over 2012, it would be a brave person to think Microsoft will have a rough time.
Microsoft has had a busy time of it at CES
Then there's the resurrection of the Windows Phone (with analysts reckoning Nokia alone could sell around 37 million Windows Phones in 2012) and the transition of the Xbox from a games machine to home-media center.
While it may take a little time to get going, Windows Phone could well become a force in mobile again, and struggling BlackBerry would be a logical target for Microsoft to aim for. By offering better email and unified communications, or getting RIM to offer BlackBerry features on Windows Phones, it gives it the growth to then start to legitimately challenge Android and iOS.
Microsoft does have to get up to speed on the apps front. Offering the Cut the Rope game as a lead example at CES is hardly going to get things moving. But, if Microsoft's hardware partners do manage to hit their sales numbers, then developers will rapidly add support for Windows Phone and Windows 8 Metro as a matter of course.
Connecting With Kinect
Throw in Kinect becoming available for Window machines, which opens up a new level of interaction between users and their PCs, and things get even more interesting. Kinect-enabled browsing might be a niche, but it could really help develop user and customer experience apps, to help developers uncover, on a wide scale, what users look at on a site and help improve things.
Put that all together, and Microsoft has rarely had so much going on in so many fields at once. With much of that activity having a consumer focus, Microsoft will be relying heavily on its hardware and retail partners to do the marketing. So expect to see the Microsoft logo everywhere in a way it hasn't been since the Windows 98 days.
Looking for Chips in the Glass
The only real threat to the overall impression of Microsoft having a good year is the pricing of a lot of these devices. Ultrabooks are starting at the higher-priced end of the market, which is natural as the makers want to get back to high-profit devices after slumming it with cheaper notebooks for a few years.
However, will consumers look up-market in enough numbers to prevent a PlayBook/TouchPad style disaster? Remember that Microsoft gets money just for hardware vendors shipping Windows, so won't be too affected by poor sales, but if ultrabooks fail as did the first tablets, Windows TVs and other hardware lines, the impression of Windows as a thriving environment could take another Vista-sized dent to the benefit of Apple and tablet OS devices.
In the Office
Ignoring issues of perception, Microsoft's Windows, Office and SharePoint juggernaut will continue to roll on in the enterprise space, bringing home the bacon for the company. Whatever the developments and moves among cloud players and upstarts, little will change that.
With the next big updates due in Office 2012 (version 15), expect it to follow the Windows 8 Metro look and fine-tune other features to the expectations of a cloud-using, web-publishing audience. Its appearance on iPad seems a certainty, continuing the trend of offering the Microsoft experience wide and far.
Across its many divisions, Microsoft has a lot on its plate this year. But it has shown that the recent commitment to user experience and improving in its weaker areas is paying dividends. 2012 should have a lot to offer users in all areas.