Is 2006 Microsoft’s winning number?

Last week, I joined 1,500 technology professionals who attended the Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) Global Summit in Redmond, Washington. This MVP Summit provided the opportunity for Microsoft to share its software upgrade plans and receive feedback from thousands of Microsoft-recognized and -awarded MVPs in areas of expertise that align with Microsoft product groups.

While I am under a strict non-disclosure agreement that prohibits from discussing details shared at this summit, I can share my general impression about the direction the company is heading, and whether the new software offerings will make a big impact on all Windows PC users in 2006. I believe Microsoft will be successful in 2006 and continue to be the largest software shareholder in the mobile and desktop computer market.

Technology thought leaders and think tanks have started to project that Microsoft is in a steady decline as open source software and Linux grows in market share. While I understand that viewpoint, what I see is just not pointing to that market outcome in any kind of short time frame. I do see Microsoft struggling to manage its enormous size and complexity. It is a company that tries to be all things to all people, and often times is not the innovator that it thinks that it is. The very structure of the company often keeps its product groups from innovating in the marketplace.

The coming Windows Vista operating system is new in name, but the new Vista user interface design is far from new in the marketplace, and once again mirrors the long history of kinship with the Apple OS. Many will view this kinship as a positive development. I see it as a crack in Microsoft dominance that gives Apple and Open Source the opportunity to step in and build marketshare over time. I think Microsoft needs to really start innovating on the desktop PC again. The major areas of weakness are in the IE browser and Windows media player. I believe that Microsoft has lost significant marketshare and mindshare to Mozilla and Apple, respectively.

On a more positive note, I do see some real innovation at Microsoft in the areas of mobile device platforms with Windows Mobile 5.0 and the Tablet PC. These two devices improve with each upgrade cycle, and the Windows Mobile platform will be the dominant mobile smart phone operating system in the years to come. I also think that the Tablet PC and Xbox 360 will be high growth areas for Microsoft. I was highly impressed by what I saw with the software in all three of those devices. Microsoft also seems to have new processes in place that will create better quality software and tighter security.

It will be very interesting to watch Microsoft roll out so much new software next year, yet the success that they see could be somewhat muted by a few faster-moving online software companies like Google, Yahoo, and Java’s Sun Microsystems. But I believe that 2006 will still be a very good year for Microsoft, and a good time to buy a better and faster Windows Vista 64 bit Notebook or Tablet PC.