REDMOND, Wash. -- Microsoft's army of product "evangelists" has long preached the
benefits of a Windows-centric universe.
They still do. But something slightly blasphemous has started to take root at the world's largest software maker. The company's latest, coolest products actually work seamlessly on Apple and Google Android products.
"Microsoft is allowing interoperability between competitors, something they've been vehemently opposed to in the past," says Aamir Shah, a business manager for En Pointe Technologies, a Los Angeles-based reseller of Microsoft products.
Indomitable forces are at work. Global sales of PCs fell 14% in the first quarter of 2013, the deepest plunge since research firm IDC began tracking PC shipments in 1994, as consumers and businesses flocked to smartphones and touch tablets. Beleaguered Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer remains obsessed with maintaining the Windows PC operating system and Office suite of productivity programs as cornerstones of computing.
But to do so, Microsoft, which reports its fiscal third-quarter earnings on Thursday, must demonstrate that it knows how to play well on the wildly popular mobile devices sold by rivals Google and Apple. "Microsoft is a superpower in the technology business," observes Karl Volkman, chief technology officer of SRV Network. "Superpowers first try to beat the others, and when that becomes difficult, they turn to alliances."
Take Bing, Microsoft's try-harder search engine, and its Xbox gaming and entertainment system, for instance. Both have been optimized to work well on Apple's and Google's mobile device platforms.
In fact, Bing trumps Google in touch-accessed services designed expressly to help iPhone and iPad die-hards have cooler experiences shopping and finding restaurants online.
"The guys and gals who build Bing apps for iOS really understand Apple's platform and what Bing can bring to it," says Wes Miller, tech industry analyst at independent research firm Directions on Microsoft.
Meanwhile, Xbox, Kinect and Xbox Live continue to emerge as a rich hub for games, sports, movies and TV shows that can be accessed via touch and voice controls. And these controls are being increasingly integrated into all manner of screens: HDTVs, smartphones and tablets.
"Two years ago, very few services connected," says Frank X. Shaw, Microsoft's vice president for corporate communications. "Now if you have an Xbox, you can see Bing, access SkyDrive (cloud storage) and use your Windows Phone to have a better experience, because the services are shared."
Even more crucial, Office 365, the latest iteration of Microsoft Office, has undergone a profound shift in how it is being sold. This is a momentous, if complicated, move that hasn't received much media notoriety, in no small part because Microsoft executives and product managers have a difficult time explaining company strategy in simple terms.
"There's been some confusion about what Office 365 is," observes David Smith, vice president and fellow at Gartner Research. "It is meant primarily to compete with Google Apps and Google Docs. But what most people don't realize is they get actual licensed copies of the full Office desktop suite. That's a pretty compelling thing."
As part of this shift, Microsoft on Feb. 27 made Office 365 available for
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