Microsoft has always been first and foremost a software company – the secret's right there in the name, really – and to this day its key products remain software based: Windows, Office, Windows Phone... the list goes on.
But CEO Steve Ballmer has served notice that “a fundamental shift” is taking place within the Microsoft that will see the company increasingly split its focus between both hardware and software down the line.
In a letter to shareholders, Ballmer described his vision of Microsoft as an agile company equally adept at producing class-leading devices as it is at developing the software running on board.
Ballmer said he believed Microsoft's strength was in its ability to be a “devices and services company”, and said this philosophy “impacts how we run the company, how we develop new experiences, and how we take products to market for both consumers and businesses”.
“There will be times when we build specific devices for specific purposes, as we have chosen to do with Xbox and the recently announced Microsoft Surface,” he went on to say. “In all our work with partners and on our own devices, we will focus relentlessly on delivering delightful, seamless experiences across hardware, software and services. This means as we, with our partners, develop new Windows devices we’ll build in services people want.”
Sounds just peachy, except that those partners don't seem to share the enthusiasm. And if, as has been rumoured, Microsoft intends to extend this “fundamental shift” in approach to the smartphone market by releasing an own-brand Windows Phone, you can't see its relationship with any of its WinPho partners – especially its bond with special friend Nokia – continuing undamaged.
Ballmer's comments are the latest example of a slightly worrying habit of changing the message to suit those hearing it. He has given Nokia preferred partner status on Windows Phone, only to name HTC's rival 8X the flagship device for the platform, while squeezing a good word in for Samsung at regular interviews.
Similarly, it's already a couple of years behind Apple on getting its tablet OS aspirations off the ground, yet has already hamstrung its partners' efforts to close the gap for Windows-based tablets by showing off its own Surface tablet at the earliest possible opportunity.
And besides, wasn't it just a couple of years ago that Ballmer was telling everyone willing to listen (and most of us who weren't too) that Microsoft was going “all-in on the cloud”. Easy for him to say – half the time it sounds like his head is already there.