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Microsoft Quietly Had a Really Good Week

The company made moves to distance itself from the past -- and to bring that past into a more modern future.

Asa Mathat

Microsoft got some positive buzz this week for a few different moves, but the sum is even greater than those noteworthy parts. Taken together, the developments show that Redmond is not just thinking differently, but acting differently.

Since his first day at the helm, CEO Satya Nadella has pledged to bring Microsoft’s services to all the devices that a customer uses. Increasingly, that has become a reality.

On Monday, Microsoft announced it had turned last year’s $200 million Acompli acquisition into Outlook for iOS and Android. While bearing the Outlook name, the program is a conduit for a wide range of email and online storage services including names like Apple, Google, Box and Dropbox, in addition to Microsoft’s own storage and email services.

Later in the week, even the technorati were still heaping praise on Microsoft over Outlook. A report on TechCrunch surfaced that the company is close to acquiring Sunrise, a calendar app for the Mac, iPhone and Android. Sources told Re/code that the acquisition, while not quite ready to be announced, is essentially a done deal.

Buying Sunrise shows that Microsoft isn’t just looking to check a couple of boxes on a compatibility chart, but is instead quite serious about being a leader in productivity apps for iOS and Android. Indeed, the company now has more than 100 apps for iOS and Android, according to Quartz.

Finally, Microsoft showed that it is finally making progress in bringing its own key products to the touch version of Windows. After showing off full-touch versions of its Office suite earlier this month, the company released them for download alongside the technical preview of Windows 10.

The preview versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote are designed to coincide with Windows 10, the new version of the operating system that aims to marry the classic Windows desktop to the touch-based apps Microsoft introduced with Windows 8. Windows 10, like the new Office apps, is due later this year.

Bringing its services to other people’s platforms is necessary, but Microsoft’s future depends on it being able to also sell a new generation on Windows, and is perhaps the most pressing task facing Nadella.

Having a touch-first version of Office won’t guarantee success for the new Windows, but its absence was a huge stumbling block for Windows 8. In making sure that it is ready for Windows 10, Microsoft is demonstrating its confidence in the software, and leading by example.

Microsoft has even more challenges when it comes to its mobile operating system, Windows Phone. Despite years of investment, Microsoft still has just a tiny sliver of the phone business, and many developers have written off the effort. In just the past month, two big banks — Bank of America and Chase — said they will stop supporting the Windows Phone apps they have.

With Windows 10, though, Microsoft may get a second crack at developers. That’s because this time around developers will be able to write one “universal” app that runs on Windows 10 desktops and laptops, as well as on phones and tablets.

The ability to reach all Windows customers with one app may appeal to some developers who weren’t interested in writing an app that only worked with Windows 8, or only on Windows Phone.

Microsoft also indicated that in the second half of this year it will have a new full version of Office for traditional keyboard- and mouse-based computers. Office 2016, while perhaps not as sexy as some new touchscreen app, can provide some of the old-school profits Nadella will need in order to pay for the transformation he has been leading.

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