Microsoft Build 2018, Microsoft’s developer conference, kicked off today in Seattle with a keynote from its CEO, Satya Nadella. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Nadella’s keynote was that he didn’t mention Microsoft Windows, Office or Outlook until he was over an hour into the almost 2 hour speech.
Instead, Nadella talked mainly about how Microsoft is going more online and offering all sorts of different application and operating system integrations. This is fascinating since Microsoft has made its money primarily by insuring its software—Windows–essentially runs the world-or at least the business world. And for years, Microsoft devoted its energies to sustaining that business model and protecting it markets.
Starting with Nadella’s ascendancy into the CEO chair, however, Microsoft started to change. Despite the fact that Windows was its biggest driver of income, Microsoft began offering hardware, improving and advancing its Surface Pro tablets and laptops. It began focusing on Azure, its cloud computing platform. It even gave smart phones a shot—even though it didn’t work, it was interesting Microsoft took a risk.
After stressing Microsoft’s commitment to privacy, Nadella talked at some length today about Microsoft’s commitment to AI, saying Microsoft was committed to commoditizing artificial intelligence and getting it into the hands of everyone. (Since AI depends on big data, such a goal seems a bit inconsistent with the whole notion of a strong commitment to privacy). Nadella stressed several times Microsoft’s commitment to the cloud and how its shift in that direction would empower organizations to be able to do all sorts of things with AI. When you think about the combination of all the data in the Microsoft cloud with AI, you get a sense of what a powerful tool a Microsoft AI program tool could be.
Nadella also talked about integrations that Microsoft is planning with the IoT, specifically with drones, camera and augmented and virtual reality tools (facilitated by Microsoft’s Holo Lens). Nadella focused not so much on these tools as recreational devices but as sound, practical business tools to do such things as repair equipment, spot problems and keep track of maintenance. There were several demonstrations how these integrations might work even to the point of showing how the tools could be combined with a physical meeting of people to collaborate and solve problems.
One of the more intriguing demonstrations, by the way, was one involving an integration between Microsoft’s voice assistant, Cortana and Amazon’s assistant, Alexa. While the demo was a bit light hearted, it was emblematic of the commitment of these two giants to work together in recognition of the potential power and user benefit of their platforms collaborating. This seemed to back up Nadella’s claim that Microsoft wants to intergrate and play nice with others for the benefit of its customers. Microsoft seems to get the power of collaborating when that collaboration does not effect the areas where it competes with another provider: Cortana is primarily a business tool, Alexa a tool for more personal use. Why not make them work together?
In short, Nadelle presented an approach based upon an ever broadening range of applications without so much emphasis on makes the hardware or which operating systems is being used. By focusing on the web and cloud, aggravating incompatibilities begin to disappear and the focus become the user and user interface. (Remember how hard it was to get MS word to work on Apple devices? How galling was that particularly given that it seemed to be pride and arrogance of Microsoft and Apple that stood in the way of customer usability). This “demoting” of windows as Mary Jo Foley has called it is ironic since it was in essence Microsoft’s predominance as an operating system which led to uniform operations irrespective of hardware in the first place.
Microsoft in classic, skate where the puck is going style, is offering a new model well before the market says it has to and before it is disrupted. Why can’t big law do the same?
So what does this have to do with lawyers and the legal profession? The easy answer is a lot since most of the legal world still runs on Windows and by offering a more integrated platform, Microsoft will open up lots of tool we can plug into what we already have and are familiar with. But I think what Microsoft has done is something else. Think about it. You have a tried and true product that has made you buckets of money for the longest time. Sure, people legitimately complain about it from time to time but are not so dissatisfied that they are moving yet to another model. So, for lots of reasons, mainly financial, there’s no reason for you to change. Sound a bit like the legal profession?
Microsoft, in classic, skate where the puck is going style, however, has moved ahead of its marginally dissatisfied customer base and is offering a new model well before the market says it has to and before it is disrupted. Why? So it can remain the dominant player and not be forcibily disrupted.
Why is it that so few in big law want to do the same?