Microsoft has really upped its game over the last four years. The turning point, at least for me, was in 2010 during the Windows Phone announcement in Barcelona. This completely revolutionary platform inspired me, and continues to do so today. Because of this, and so many other recent changes, it’s worth talking about where Microsoft is headed. What will it look like in the future? How does it stack against its competitors right now?

Let’s take a look – but first, a little history.

Power, products and PowerPoint

When Microsoft rose to dominance in the 80s and 90s, it was due to its products, as well as a very cunning business strategy. There was Windows 95, which was a huge commercial success and put Windows-powered PCs on everyone’s mind. The company’s deal to put Windows on IBM personal computers eventually saw Microsoft Windows running on more than 90 percent of the world’s computers. In 1990, Microsoft introduced Office which, at the time, included Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These products would help make the Washington-based company an absolute giant in the software industry.

Past Microsoft Office logos

From the immense successes of Office and Windows rose a large number of products, some more obscure than others. Do you remember the Microsoft Liquid Motion , a Java animations tool? Or how about Microsoft Comic Chat ? Talking to people who worked at the Microsoft Orbital Head Quarters in the 90s, it’s clear that Microsoft was essentially made up of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller companies. There was little communication between all of these entities, and though numerous products were released, any actual consistency or sense of unison was hard to find.

Unlike Apple, Microsoft was a bit of a Frankenstein creation; where the left arm was from Microsoft Office and the right arm couldn’t even type. This continued right up until the early 2000s. As mentioned, the turning point for me was the announcement of Windows Phone 7. But that wasn’t the only thing that sparked a new era for Microsoft. The introduction of Office 2007 with its ribbon-style controls was a huge change for one of Microsoft’s most profitable product suites. What is now known as OneDrive first appeared in 2007, and Windows Azure (now Microsoft Azure) changed the space of cloud computing in early 2010. What Microsoft was doing was placing all of the pieces in an elaborate chess move.

The new Microsoft

All of the pieces in this intricate game are only now starting to become the winning formula. You may have noticed that more products being rebranded or named “One.” This alignment aims at a single experience within the product suite from Microsoft: One experience, one company, one user. This bold and highly ambitious plan makes so much sense. As users are becoming increasingly mobile, more connected and more involved, they want a single experience no matter where they are. This is the new Microsoft.

In 2012 Microsoft took the final step away from the era of desktops, software on physical mediums and a fragmented product suite. But not in the way you might think. No, the company merely changed its logo. The old existing logo was retired and the current refreshed face of Microsoft was put in its place. The old logo symbolized 25 years of doing a lot of same thing over and over again.

Microsoft logo 2012

While it may seem small, it’s actually quite significant and symbolic; changing the entire company image meant leaving a big legacy behind. Microsoft is now on a path to reinventing itself around a proven existing product suite. One of the keys to this is, without a doubt, OneDrive. This is the backbone of each single user’s personal data, and it provides integration with all platforms. Your Windows Phone will automatically save images to OneDrive, all of the Office products will keep track of last opened docs across devices using OneDrive, and even your Windows user settings will be the same across devices. The new Microsoft is about one experience. And I know you are thinking, “but that is exactly what Google and Apple are doing.” Well, yes – and no.

These companies do have an online cloud solution for creating a single user profile and backing up content. Each also has its own smartphones, browsers and computers. But no other company has the complete experience that is Windows Phone, Windows, Xbox and OneDrive, which gives users a unified experience from their pocket to the living room. The new Microsoft may be slightly late to the game, but it holds all of the right pieces, and has the persistency to create something unique.

Microsoft and innovation

The future is looking bright for Microsoft. Things are only becoming more streamlined, and there are so many new initiatives to bring all of the products even closer together, at least for consumers. Windows is now at version 8.1, and it’s constantly being improved. Finding the balance between tablet and desktop on devices ranging in resolution, using a combination of touch and mouse, and having different relational formats is no easy feat. Windows is not perfect, but it is a lot closer than any of its competitors to bridging the gap between tablet and desktop. And at least it isn’t just doing the same thing over and over again anymore (I’m looking at you, Apple). I truly believe that Windows has the most innovative smartphone platform when it comes to design, unique features, development environment, camera functionality and much more. But as much as I am a WinPhan, I genuinely believe it’s a cornerstone of the Microsoft One strategy. And with the update to version 8.1, a large number of the features users wanted now exist. On top of that, developers are now able to create apps that work across Windows and Windows Phone.

Build one app, sell it on both Windows Phone and Windows, and probably Xbox soon enough. Each app can even automatically carry settings across devices, and users only pay once. The One experience is not the only pioneering piece of infrastructure to come out of Redmond. My bet is that you’ve already heard of Microsoft Azure .

This cloud solution is capable of a lot more than you might think. Want to host an Oracle database? No problem. Want to create your WordPress site? Done. Want to perform load testing on your cloud solution? Use the Loader IO add-on from SendGrid built right into Azure. And the team behind Azure is adding new features all the time. In fact it is evolving so fast , that by the time books are written and published, they are outdated. The Azure platform is the backbone of Microsoft services, and if you are a developer on the Microsoft stack, chances are you will use it soon. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap? Very cheap . In fact, you can host websites for free, set up virtual machines at a very low cost. It makes more sense than building your own infrastructure.

My prediction is that Azure will become an offering for the entire catalogue of Microsoft services. And despite all the jokes that come to mind, if you mention Microsoft and the auto industry, there are already prototypes of a version of Windows Phone being built for cars . It certainly isn’t finished, and by no means is it pretty, but cars will become part of the “One” vision in the future. Bottom line: Don’t discount Microsoft just yet. Yes, Apple might be selling truckloads of iPhones and iPads, and Google is dominating the smartphone landscape with a list of Android devices. But the old Redmond monolith is breaking up with the past and is the most focused it has been in years.

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Microsoft: headed in ‘One’ direction