Microsoft’s Evolution: 7 Things I Learned From Touring Microsoft’s Redmond Offices

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Recently I and other “small business influencers” were invited to tour Microsoft‘s Redmond campus and be briefed by executives responsible for Microsoft’s marketing into the small business market. We also met with executives from Microsoft’s OEM Partner team (ensuring Microsoft Windows works well with HP, Lenovo, Dell, ASUS, etc), Microsoft Retail, Microsoft Research and  Office 2016 and Office 365.

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Cindy Bates, Vice President, US Small Business, Microsoft

A PC In Every Home. What’s Next?

Bill Gates’ mission for Microsoft was to have a PC in every home. His dream has been reached. Sure – not “everyone” – literally has a computer – but the overall societal reach of a ‘PC in every home’ has been reached and in fact surpassed.

We are now in a new era, where the PC is no longer the dominate or desired device.

Business professionals and consumers are using mobile devices (phones and tables), accessing information via the cloud (online applications) and living in a world of online movies (as traditional TV declines) and social networks.

Microsoft has been able to morph and adopt from a PC centric company with software installed on these computers – to one that is focused on mobile and cloud.

Microsoft Culture

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, is the driving force to ensure that Microsoft operates as a nimble, cross functional company. He wants to ensure Microsoft is willing to partner and work with competitors such as Salesforce, Google and Apple. This culture shift brings interesting scenarios. There’s the Microsoft Surface tablet team. But then there’s the Office team who is working with Google, Apple (and other partners) to ensure Office software is on their devices.

Microsoft Software vs Free Applications

Small business owners and entrepreneurs have access to an almost unlimited amount of free (and very cheap) tools and services to build their businesses – this is a challenge to Microsoft’s traditional software business.

Microsoft‘s legacy of heavier and fee based solutions is evolving to meet this new norm – of light and freemium based applications. This challenge was highlighted by by entrepreneurial influencer Evan Charmicahel. Tools such as Evernote, Asana, Slack and Google Docs are free tools which are in direct competition with Microsoft’s software offerings. Many small business and entrepreneurs use these tools because they’re free and simple to use.

Why consider Microsoft software?

For business owners who are looking for built in security, team collaboration, and a rich user experience, Microsoft‘s software and hardware is an ideal and at times preferred solution for growing businesses.

Office 365 is Microsoft‘s flag ship solution for growing businesses. It’s the online offering of Word, Excel, Power Point, OneNote, Skype and other tools, but also available for download.

Microsoft’s software gets better and better. Being able to easily schedule meetings from an email, leverage a real time document with pertinent information about the meeting and include it in that calendar invite are just a few of the enhanced features within Office 365 and Office 2016.

Read this Microsoft blog post for an overview of Microsoft’s new Office

Microsoft Power BI continues to be another powerful tool enabling business owners to mine actionable information from data. Bring data from a variety of sources and query the data using natural language. Create a dashboard for your business.

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Enhanced Security

Microsoft Office 2016 and Office 365 have enhanced security – known as Microsoft Data Loss Prevention (DLP). For example, typing the word “confidential” in the subject line of an email automatically restricts where that email can go (this option can be turned on or off by an authorized person).

According to Microsoft’s web site, DLP policies are simple packages that contain sets of conditions, which are made up of transport rules, actions, and exceptions that you create in the Exchange Administration Center (EAC) and then activate to filter email messages and attachments. You can create a DLP policy, but choose to not activate it.

Read even more about Microsoft’s new security here.

Microsoft Research

Microsoft has 1,000 scientists dedicated to looking at the future of computing. Microsoft Research is asking “what would happen if…”. This constant quest of exploration means Microsoft is ok with a research project
leading no where and not working out. They’re ok with this because they also know this quest will birth amazing technologies that will benefit businesses and individual consumers  – and of course Microsoft – over time.

We saw Skype translator, which seamlessly translated a conversation between one scientist  (with a slight Brazilian accent) and his colleague who was speaking in French. We saw the Skype call being translated live. Other pretty neat technology was ‘auto cropping”. A tool that could sense what part of a picture was important and crop it accordingly. These are just a very small amount of the benefits and features of Microsoft‘s research program.

I interviewed Rico Malver, Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and the Chief Scientist for Microsoft Research.

Ramon Ray with Rico Malvor, Microsoft Chief Scientist (Microsoft Research)

Ramon Ray with Rico Malvor, Microsoft Chief Scientist (Microsoft Research)

Microsoft and Entrepreneurs

Microsoft BizSpark, is Microsoft’s program to reach out to startups. Before startups are big and have decided on a platform, Microsoft wants to work with them. BizSpark is a program which gives startups 3 years of free stuff – software, services, tech support, and Azure cloud. A startup qualifies if it is less than 5 years old, is privately held, and earns less than $1M annually. And at the end of your 3 years, you keep all the software you’ve downloaded – at no cost.

According to the entrepreneurs we spoke to BizSpark is beyond just technology, but also introducing entrepreneurs to partners – technology partners, financial partners and others who they might need to grow.

Ritu Gupta, entrepreneur founder of Cirkled (like LinkedIn for Kids) with Ramon Ray

Ritu Gupta – Cirkled in – with Ramon Ray

Microsoft Retail

Retail is a $22 trillion industry in the US. Consumers going into a mall, local auto repair  center, purchasing coffee, buying clothing from a downtown boutique – these are all retail experiences. Microsoft and it’s partners have solutions to improve the retail experience for shoppers and provide better customer buying information to retailers.

We toured the Microsoft retail experience which is a “fake” mall filled retail scenarios.

One of the many retail technologies we saw was the use of beacons. Imagine going into your local coffee shop, your phone wirelessly connecting to a beacon. The beacon constantly sends out a signal, which triggers your phone to communicate to the coffee shop that you’ve arrived, so your coffee can now be made and ready for you.

Microsoft Kinect (audio / video camera originally built into Xbox) is useful for more than just gaming – it’s an integral part of Microsoft’s retail strategy. Kinect technology can sense movement and audio be enabled for powerful retail applications to track store movement and enhance the retail experience.

Using Kinect’s incredible sensitivity to motion, a customer could touch a boxed retail product in an aisle and have information about what product they touched, displayed on a screen in the aisle. A Kinect camera would be above the aisle watching for the movement of a hand touching a boxed retail product. Another scenario, Kinect could be embedded in a candy/beverage dispensing machine and sense the foot traffic passing in front of it. How many are passing by? What is their gender? How many bought? This information is very powerful for a retailer.

These are just a few of the examples how the power of technology, Microsoft technology, is enhancing the retail experience.

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Taking us on the tour of Microsoft Retail was Brendan O’Meara who heads Microsoft Retail here’s my interview with him.

Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book

Microsoft’s push into mobile technology is impressive. It’s tablet (Surface 4 and 3) and “tablet notebook” (Surface Book) have received good reviews and are built for business and pleasure. I’m seeing more and more professionals using Microsoft Surface – it’s no longer a rare sight.

We also saw the Microsoft Surface Hub, a conference room collaboration tool.The Surface Hub comes in an 80 inch and 55 inch configuration. From the ground up, the Surface Hub is built for real time collaboration with others. You can use virtual ink to write on the screen, share that writing with other participants, join a Skype meeting and so much more.

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Microsoft Display Dock (Continuum)

Take your phone, connect it to the Microsoft Display Dock and operate your phone like it was a computer. Connect a monitor and keyboard to your phone at operate your phone powered applications as if it was a desktop computer.

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Intel Compute Stick

Intel Computer Stick is a neat gadget which turns any HDMI monitor or TV into a computer. The small devices gives you a quad-core Intel® Atom™ processor, Intel® HD Graphics, integrated Wi-Fi* and Bluetooth* technologies, 32 GB storage, 2 GB memory, a USB 2.0 port, and a Micro SD card reader.

We saw it at Microsoft campus used in a variety of ways.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

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