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- Reuters Photo

Microsoft has been pushing the envelope when it comes to innovation in recent years. There have been some remarkable breakthroughs even if they didn’t make it to market or were discontinued.

Courier was Microsoft’s incredibly innovative dual-screen tablet focused on content creation.

see it in motion!

Spearheaded by J.Allard, the father of the XBox, the Courier project was cancelled and Microsoft opted to pursue a ‘Windows-based strategy’ for it’s tablets.

Zune was Microsoft’s Music and Media player. A respectable hardware product which found quite a following with it’s ‘Zune Pass’. This was when iPods were music players. When lines between phones and media players started to get blurred, and the Zune started to encroach in the Windows Mobile space, it was killed as a hardware product and replaced with a software-based music client. Now, the software component has been collapsed under the larger ‘XBox live’ services umbrella.

Metro: The new typography-based design philosophy at Microsoft. It sounds fast, snappy and urban; all perceptions that are reinforced when you look at it. It’s new, refreshing and a stark departure from the icon/grid based interface popularized by Apple in 2007 and it’s many clones including WebOS, Android and MeeGo.

Metro is the backbone of Microsoft’s new push into the touch-friendly landscape of cell phones, tablets and computer operating systems. It’s a philosophy that extends well to other forms of design too. See a social network with a Metro-inspired interface. It makes Facebook look like it was literally coded by an amateur in a college dorm room.

The following is how Microsoft viewed and promoted Metro:

"Metro is our design language. We call it Metro because it's modern and clean. It's fast and in motion. It's about content and typography. And it's entire authentic"

Agreed. Except that now Metro is known as Microsoft’s ‘New Windows 8 Interface’

The official story is that there was a brand name issue with a European partner called The Metro Group. If Apple can settle iPad naming issues with Fujitsu, and iPhone and iOS names with Cisco, can Microsoft not wrestle the Metro name from the Metro Group financially?

Even if they couldn’t, why call it Windows? How does a ‘Windows 8 Interface’ become part of the Xbox interface? What happens when Windows 9 comes about? Won’t changing the name be akin to slapping a new badge on an old car? If you call it Windows, it will be compared to other versions of Windows and that will play a role in determining it’s level of success or failure.

I suspect the issue, like many other ones in recent times, is a struggle to stay relevant. Not for Microsoft, but for one man. Steve Ballmer is more invested in the Windows name than any other individual at Microsoft. Windows brings in billions in revenue for Microsoft each year through it’s OS licenses and dozens of enterprise-level server products. Steve Ballmer is a champion from the early days of Windows and Microsoft.

When Robbie Bach and J. Allard left Microsoft, most people thought it was because they took on Steven Sinofsky and his Windows-based tablet, and lost. Barely 2 months after the launch of the famed tablet, and a brand new operating system, Windows President Steven Sinofsky - a 23 year veteran and touted future leader, is no longer at Microsoft. Now it looks like their departure had nothing to do with Sinofsky but rather because they suggested an alternative or rather, a complement to Windows.

Kinect, Smartglass, Surface (referring to Microsoft’s earlier, large-format, multi-touch computing surfaces) and Silverlight and Pivot on the development side. There is a steady stream of breakthroughs coming from Redmond. Anything that doesn’t challenge the dominance of the cash cow’s (Windows and Xbox), or draws attention away from them, is allowed to live, breath and graze.

Steve Ballmer was utterly dismissive of the iPhone when it was announced, because it wouldn’t cater to business-customers.

Ballmer on the introduction of the iPhone in 2007

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The problem is that lines between business/corporate/enterprise use and personal use are being blurred. The problem is that perceptions have changed because reality has changed.

Marissa Mayer, the new, and much publicized, CEO of Yahoo is on record saying that that all Blackberry’s are being replaced by ‘smartphones’ at Yahoo.

Thats a telling statement. In a time when the current CEO of yahoo doesn’t think a Blackberry is a smartphone, the CEO of Microsoft might be doing the company a disservice by clinging so closely to what he thinks are it’s enterprise roots. In that space, Microsoft is a behemoth.

If Salesforce and cloud computing haven’t been able to dislodge Microsoft in the corporate market, then the existence of these comparatively small, ancillary products and services wouldn’t damage it’s perception either.

If anything, it would paint Microsoft as the forward-thinking, progressive company that it actually is.