微软最近好事不断，Windows Phone 7刚登台就争夺了许多眼球，体感游戏控制技术Kinect也有望在年底前脱销，看来微软是时候与Apple、谷歌一争高下了。
在iPhone平台的App Store中，游戏仍然是最热门的应用类型。Windows Phone上最欢迎的10款付费应用中，多数是XBox Live游戏，这一点倒并不令人意外，毕竟iOS和Android已经拉拢了大部分第三方手机游戏开发商，微软只能靠自产自销，打造独具特色的应用商店Windows Phone marketplace。这里面就有一个关于鸡生蛋，蛋生鸡的悖论：如果Windows Phone没有足够多的应用支持，用户就不会接受这个平台；而如果没有足够多的用户，开发商也不愿意为这个平台编写应用。越多用户使用运行于Windows Phone的应用，微软就越容易说服开发商面向该平台投放产品。
Windows Phone的游戏确实比iPhone和Android游戏更有优势，因为该平台还支持用户与XBox 360或PC等其他平台游戏玩家一起决战。微软已经培养了一群XBox 360铁杆粉丝，对这些玩家来说，绑定了XBox Live功能的WP7手机实在很有吸引力。但也并不能说Windows Phone已经完全脱险，因为这个平台的用户数量可能难敌休闲游戏玩家，要知道痴迷《愤怒的小鸟》（Angry Birds）这类休闲游戏的玩家远多于《星环》（Halo）等硬核游戏玩家。
苹果和谷歌现在都正不遗余力地向家用电器进军，试图将手机操作系统市场的成功模式推向这一新领域。新登场的Apple TV采用的就是和iPhone、iPad、iPod Touch一样的iOS系统，尽管有关传言不绝于耳，但苹果至今也还没有发布面向Apple TV的专门应用，Google TV也同样没有动静，并没有推出专用的Android应用和游戏产品。
虽然苹果和谷歌都已在这个一贯难以攻克的市场施展拳脚，不过微软却也不乏自身优势，它已经掌握了一批XBoX家庭游戏机用户。除了游戏之外，XBox还可以提供Netflix和Last.fm等其他类型的应用服务。只要市场营销不出岔子，XBox完全有可能取代Apple TV或Google TV。已有传言称，微软正在计划面向XBox 360平台推出网络电视服务。
另外，微软最近还正火热招聘银光（Silverlight）应用开发者，面向XBox 360及绑定WP7的XBox Live开发产品，这种迹象表明，微软确实准备将Windows Phone手机应用推向XBox平台。微软已经具有规模庞大的开发商基础，这些开发商对微软开发技术工具也已经是驾轻就熟。如果微软可以说服开发商为Windows Phone编写应用（该平台现已聚集了15000名开发商），并且这些应用还能方便快捷地跨平台移植到XBox上，那么微软在网络电视市场无疑更将领先一步。
Google TV允许任何制造商面向自己的平台生产电视和机顶盒，而XBox唯一的硬件制造商只有微软本身。如果要在家庭娱乐市场上更上一层楼，微软最好采用与Windows Phone类似的模式，允许更多独立制造商生产采用微软操作系统的电视和机顶盒。
谷歌90%的营收来源于广告，它向第三方免费提供办公应用软件（Google Docs）和操作系统（Android以及即将发布Chrome OS），这一点让微软特别头疼。几乎所有的谷歌应用都是基于网页技术，用户不需要在电脑上安装谷歌软件就能运行这些应用。微软则与此大相庭径，它有相当一部分营收得益于Windows操作系统和Office办公软件，这两者价格不菲，而且还会占用大量的硬盘空间，只有安装软件才能使用全套功能。
微软仍将生产它的原始办公应用软件，但现在也提供一个在线免费简装版本。这个策略对扼制谷歌极为重要，毕竟Google Apps现在正不断从微软手中抢夺Office用户。这款在线Office应用会危及微软自身的营收吗？也许会。但它也可以吸引用户购买功能更齐全的Office工具包，同时又能防止他们投向Google Docs的怀抱。
Windows Phone绑定Office和XBox Live功能，是微软挽留用户的一种策略，只要微软可以提供与硬件平台无缝兼容的Windows Phone、XBox、Zune等服务，它就可以守住客源。
对微软帝国来说，2010年应该是极具历史性意义的一个时期，如果微软的Windows Phone、XBox和Windows 7能保持现在的发展势头，它的网页应用能吸引更多用户，相信微软仍将继续在这个科技领域保持雄风。（本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译，转载注明来源：游戏邦）
Is Microsoft readying for a surprise comeback?
Microsoft is on a roll: Its newly launched Windows Phone 7 is gaining momentum, and Kinect, its motion controller response to the Wii, could very well sell out before the end of the year. If there was ever a time for Microsoft to get back on its feet and stand shoulder to shoulder with Apple and Google, this would be it.
This positive buzz comes at a time when Microsoft sorely needs it. Microsoft’s major source of power and revenue – the Windows operating system – is under an unprecedented threat on several fronts. First, as mobile phones become smarter, the Windows franchise will lose its dominance unless Microsoft can find a way to compete with Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. Second, as operating systems find their way into other connected devices such as Internet TV, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are getting all the buzz. Third, as the Internet becomes speedier and demand for cloud-based storage increases, web apps will become even more popular, making the Windows operating system even less relevant.
So what’s Microsoft doing to regain footing on these three fronts?
Despite arriving late to the party, Windows Phone 7 has received strong reviews so far, and while there are a few glaring omissions (such as the missing copy/paste function), on the whole it is a great leap forward from the antiquated Windows Mobile platform.
It’s too early to tell whether Windows Phone 7 can catch up in a market dominated by iOS and Android, but it has some clear advantages. Tighter integration with Microsoft Office, still the most dominant productivity suite, is one of them. Gaming is another.
Gaming remains the most popular category in the iPhone app store. It’s no surprise then that most of the top 10 Windows Phone paid apps are XBox Live games. With most third-party mobile game developers already committed to iOS and Android, Microsoft has had to develop several games in-house to kick start Windows Phone’s marketplace. This was essential to circumvent the chicken and egg problem: Users would not like the Windows Phone unless there were enough apps, and developers would not write apps unless they thought there were enough Windows Phone users. As more users start using mobile apps on the Windows Phone, it will be easier for Microsoft to convince developers to build apps for the platform.
Games on the Windows Phone do have a notable advantage over iPhone and Android games. Users will soon be able to play games with players on other platforms such as XBox 360 or the PC. Microsoft already has a passionate following on XBox 360, and these XBox gamers are more likely to be attracted to Windows Phone 7 because of its tighter integration with XBox Live. The risk, however, is that the Windows Phone might not win over casual gamers. Casual gamers who indulge in games like Angry Birds easily outnumber hard-core gamers who revel in the likes of Halo on XBox.
Strategically, Microsoft’s Windows Phone is more open than the iPhone, but less so than the Android. This semi-openness could prove vital as more hardware manufacturers embrace the Windows Phone (Samsung, for instance, will focus on the Windows Phone in the coming year) and therefore help it catch up with the iPhone. At the same time, Microsoft is keeping tighter control of phone specifications than the Android. This could result in a higher quality and more stable platform.
Operating systems are no longer housed by just PCs and mobile phones. Home devices are the next front for innovation and opportunity, and the Internet TV market is of utmost strategic significance. Not surprisingly, Google and Apple are making big plays there.
Apple and Google are both leveraging their success in the mobile operating system market to propel their operating systems into homes as well. The new Apple TV, for example, uses iOS, Apple’s operating system behind the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. However, despite rumors, Apple hasn’t launched iOS apps on the Apple TV yet, and Google TV has not launched full-blown Android apps and games either.
While Apple and Google try to enter a market that has traditionally been tough to crack, Microsoft already has a passionate base of users with XBox consoles at home. In addition to games, XBox already offers popular apps such as Netflix and Last.fm. If marketed well, there is no reason why XBox cannot be an alternative to Apple TV or Google TV. Indeed, rumor has it that Microsoft is planning to launch television service on the XBox 360.
In addition, Microsoft’s recent push to hire Silverlight app developers for the XBox 360 and XBox Live’s integration with the Windows Phone indicate that Microsoft is serious about bringing Windows Phone apps to the XBox. Microsoft has a large existing developer base familiar with its development tools and technologies. If it can convince developers to write apps for the Windows Phone (more than 15,000 are already on board), and if their apps can be easily cross-deployed on XBox, Microsoft will have a leg up in the Internet TV market.
Unlike Google TV, which any manufacturer can license for TVs and set-top boxes, XBox is currently only manufactured by Microsoft. In order to make further inroads in the home entertainment market, Microsoft might be better off taking a similar strategy to its Windows Phone model by letting independent manufacturers license its operating system for their TVs and set-top boxes.
Google, which makes more than 90% of its revenue from advertising and gives away things such as productivity applications (Google Docs) and operating systems (Android and soon Chrome OS) for free, continues to be a headache for Microsoft. Almost all of Google’s applications are web-based; users do not need to install Google software on their laptops to use the applications. Contrast that with Microsoft, which earns the majority of its revenue from Windows and Office, both of which are expensive, take up a significant chunk of the hard drive, and must be installed to achieve full functionality.
This is a precarious situation for Microsoft. Unlike Google, Microsoft has little expertise in developing web-based apps, and even if it did, its web-based apps would cannibalize its desktop software.
Another challenge for Microsoft is presented by the trend towards proliferation of new form-factor devices such as tablets, e-readers, and Internet TV boxes.
Moore’s Law, which says that processing speed and memory capacity are improving at roughly exponential rates, means that smaller devices like phones will become more powerful. This has led analysts to predict that several devices such as PCs, mobile phones, digital cameras, and PDAs will eventually converge into a single device – a phenomenon known as digital convergence.
However, an unexpected consequence of Moore’s Law has been multiplication (and not convergence) of specialized devices. As processors become more powerful and as technologies advance, newer applications emerge, resulting in the aforementioned specialized devices.
This phenomenon, along with increased consumer mobility and media consumption, has resulted in increased demand for storage and accessibility. Google’s web-based apps provide a solution for both. Since most of its user content is synced with the “cloud” and thus can be accessed from any Internet browser, users benefit from better accessibility and less need for local storage. Google contacts, documents, and email are prime examples.
Apple, on the other hand, has the weakest web-based portfolio of the three tech giants. This is partly because Apple believes in the quality and power of native apps, and partly because Apple makes money from local-storage-based phones, iPods, and laptops. This is also why I don’t think Apple will launch a “cloud based” iTunes anytime soon despite the rumors. It almost doesn’t have to. If it can make the syncing between devices wireless and seamless, it will continue to attract users.
Microsoft’s response to the threat has been again to opt for the middle road. Unlike Google, Microsoft’s offerings are not purely web-based. But Microsoft doesn’t have as tight an integration between its devices and software as Apple does.
Microsoft continues to offer its powerful native Office software but now also offers a free but limited version online. This is imperative to compete with Google, whose free Google Apps continue to lure users away from Office. Will online Office cannibalize some of Microsoft’s revenue? Perhaps. But it could also entice users to buy a more powerful Office suite and keep them from switching to Google Docs at the same time.
The newly launched Windows Phone and its integration with Office and XBox Live presents another opportunity for Microsoft to keep its users hooked to its devices. If Microsoft can offer seamless syncing between its devices – Windows Phone, XBox, and Zune – it can retain its user base.
While Microsoft can now claim to have web-based offerings comparable to Google’s – the Live.com portal, online Office, Hotmail, and inline Messenger are some examples – its offerings still seem like works in progress and are not as seamlessly integrated as Google’s. Moreover, while Hotmail has a sizeable following, most of its user base is “pre-Gmail”, and it will be a challenge to win over Gmail users and the younger generation that has grown up in Facebook and Google times.
Even putting aside the fact that the younger generation is generally more attracted to Google, Facebook, and Apple, Microsoft has a hard battle ahead. Its weak market share in the mobile market and loose integration and generally slower performance of web-based apps are handicaps that will be hard to overcome.
Additionally, its middle-of-the-road strategy – its mobile phone OS is not as open as Google’s but not as closed as Apple’s, and its software is not as device-centric as Apple’s but not as web-based as Google’s – could position the company as a “jack of all trades, master of none.”
But most importantly, Microsoft needs to stop playing catch-up and start leading. To give it due credit, Microsoft introduced tablets several years ago, even though its tablets never took off. It has also brought innovation to console gaming by introducing XBox Live (with the ability to play with other gamers around the globe) and is now leading again with the introduction of Kinect, a gesture- and motion-based sensor. However, Microsoft has been too late to market in several areas where it matters most – mobile computing and apps.
2010 could go down as one of the most exciting times in Microsoft’s recent history. If Microsoft can keep up the momentum behind its Windows Phone, XBox, and Windows 7, and attract a sizeable user base to its web-based apps, it has a real shot at staying strong and relevant for a very long time.（source:venturebeat）