The 10 Biggest Microsoft Stories Of 2010

Top 10 Microsoft Stories Of 2010

It's been a turbulent 2010 in the Microsoft universe. The year included the success of Microsoft Windows 7 and Kinect and the failure of the Kin.

2010 also saw changes in Microsoft's partner program and its management, the company's battle with Google for cloud computing supremacy, and more.

Here's a look at the the Top 10 Microsoft stories of the year.

1. Microsoft Windows Phone 7: Hello, Is Market Share There?

Microsoft began banging the drums for Windows Phone 7 early in the year, reaching a crescendo at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in July where executives like COO Kevin Turner implored channel partners to embrace the new mobile operating system.

Why the big deal? Because, as Turner said, mobile systems remains one of the few markets where Microsoft is an also-ran. Windows Mobile, Microsoft's earlier entrant in the mobile OS sweepstakes, faired poorly against the Apple iPhone, Google Android and other competitors. Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's biggest 2010 product announcement, is Microsoft's attempt to hit the "reset" button and start fresh.

2. Watson Moves Over, Roskill Moves In

It's been a year of big changes for Microsoft partners. The most visible was the change in top management of Microsoft's channel program. Allison Watson, who served as channel chief since 2002, moved over to become corporate vice president of the U.S. Business & Marketing Organization. Meanwhile, Jon Roskill, who previously held that post, took Watson's channel chief job, officially corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group.

But resellers were more directly impacted by an overhaul of the company's channel program, renamed the Microsoft Partner Network. The new structure took effect Nov. 1. Gone now are the Gold and Certified partner designations, replaced with 29 specific technology "competencies."

The goal under the new program is to upgrade partner skills, getting them to add more value through services. As the year drew to a close, Microsoft partners were facing tough choices about where they fit in the new MPN structure.

3. Microsoft vs. Google For Cloud Computing Supremacy

With its focus on desktop computing, Microsoft would seem an unlikely candidate to be a leader in cloud computing. And yet the company tried mightily in 2010 to convince everyone that it is, going so far as to get partners to join in a sing-along about cloud computing at the Worldwide Partner Conference.

In a keynote at the conference, CEO Steve Ballmer made it clear he expected solution providers to take advantage of tools, training and incentives Microsoft is offering partners to expand into cloud computing. Microsoft also pushed its Windows Azure platform for developing cloud software and its Office 365 cloud applications.

But the biggest news was Microsoft's battle with Google for cloud dominance. In October Microsoft struck a five-year deal with New York City under which the Big Apple will utilize Microsoft's cloud technology. That was a counter-punch to Microsoft's loss to Google last year for a cloud contract with the City of Los Angeles.

4. Heading For The Exits

For Microsoft, 2010 may be remembered most for the number of high-level executive exits.

News in October that Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie was leaving Microsoft didn't come as a big surprise to many. Still, Ozzie was widely seen as the catalyst for change within the company and his departure could signal more "business-as-usual" at the software giant. Ozzie seemed to recognize that danger when he penned a memo titled "Dawn of a New Day" in which he urged executives and employees to embrace a "post-PC world."

Ozzie wasn't alone. After two-and-a-half years as president of the Microsoft Business Division, Stephen Elop defected in September to become president and CEO of Nokia. And Microsoft veterans J Allard and Robbie Bach retired following a shakeup of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices division. Also leaving were Bill Veghte, who was instrumental in building Microsoft Office into the franchise it's become, and Mike Nash, corporate vice president for Windows Platform Strategy.

5. Vista? What Vista?

After the Windows Vista disaster, Microsoft executives spent 2010 patting themselves on the back (or at least breathing a little easier) after Windows 7 proved to be a hit. Microsoft launched the new desktop operating system in October 2009 and as of the end of Microsoft's first quarter this fiscal year (ending Sept. 30) the company had sold more than 240 million Windows 7 licenses.

In his Worldwide Partner Conference keynote, COO Turner emphasized the upgrade opportunities Windows 7 presented for resellers, noting that 85 percent of Windows users were still running old XP and Vista releases.

6. Live, From New York, It's Office 2010!

In May Microsoft formally launched Microsoft Office 2010, the new release of the flagship desktop application suite that remains one of Microsoft's cash cows.

Not skimping on the hyperbole, Stephen Elop, then-president of the Microsoft Business Division, called the new product ’an epic release’ as he debuted the product at the NBC studios at Rockefeller Center in New York. Microsoft also began shipping new releases of its SharePoint, Visio and Project applications that day.

Executives touted the potential productivity gains offered by Office 2010: Elop said switching from Office 2007 to the new apps could save two work-weeks per year for every employee in an organization. And Microsoft said customers could earn back their investment in the new software within seven and a half months. For Microsoft resellers Office 2010 represented a major upgrade opportunity.

7. Kinect(ic) Energy

The Kinect hands-free motion control system for the Xbox 360 will undoubtedly go down as one of Microsoft's biggest successes in 2010. Developed under the code name Natal, Kinect debuted in June and quickly wowed audiences at the E3 gaming expo, the Worldwide Partner Conference and other venues.

Kinect's audio sensors and motion-sensing technology can track 48 points of movement from the human body, as well as recognize faces and voices. Those "natural user interface" capabilities have potential far beyond gaming with possible applications in health care, education, security and machine learning.

For Microsoft, which suffers from the industry perception that it isn't especially innovative, Kinect is a technology breakthrough and proof that the software giant can still develop cool stuff.

8. The Kin No One Admits To Having

Kinect was successful. The Kin, not so much. The Kin smartphone was Microsoft's first effort at mobile hardware and its first self-branded device. But Microsoft discontinued production of the product in June just two months after its much ballyhooed launch. The company never disclosed sales numbers for the Kin, but speculation was that they were pretty dismal.

9. Reversal Of Fortune

In May Apple's market capitalization surpassed Microsoft's for the first time, making the iPhone and iPad marketer the world's most valuable information technology company. That trend continued through the year: Late last month Apple's market cap reached $283 billion while Microsoft's stood at $215 billion.

For its fiscal 2010 ended June 30 Microsoft recorded total revenue of $62.5 billion. For its fiscal 2010 ended September 25 Apple racked up sales of $65.2 billion.

When Steve Ballmer took over as Microsoft CEO in 2000 the company's market cap was $556 billion and Apple's was $15.6 billion. The reversal of fortunes is ironic given that in 1997 Microsoft helped a struggling Apple with a $150 million investment.

10. Microsoft And Linux

Last month Novell agreed to be acquired by Attachmate for $2.2 billion. Along with that sale was a mysterious side deal to sell a boat-load of patents (reportedly 892 altogether) to CPTN Holdings, a consortium of technology companies organized by long-time Novell rival Microsoft.

Novell, which owns the SUSE Linux distribution of the open-source operating system, wouldn't disclose details about those patents. But a good guess is that Linux technology was part of the deal. Microsoft and Novell struck a technology marketing and licensing alliance in 2006 under which they share some intellectual property.

Microsoft has always had a rocky relationship with Linux. The company has long maintained that technology in Linux violates Microsoft patents and has threatened to resort to legal action. Last year it resolved one such lawsuit against the Dutch manufacturer of the popular TomTom GPS device. The question now is how this latest development is going to affect the Microsoft-Linux dynamic. We see a Top 10 story for 2011 developing…