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Microsoft: 5 Smart and 5 Dumb Moves the Company Made in 2011

Love it or hate it, Microsoft is a company that brings out strong emotions in just about every IT professional.

With 2011 over, it is time for our picks of some of smartest moves this powerful software company made this year - and some of the moves we'd say were not so bright.

[READ: From Anonymous to Hackerazzi: The year in security mischief-making]

Five Smart Things:

1. Going radical with Windows 8

If Microsoft wants Windows to remain a consumer favorite it has to break lose of the one thing that has been both its biggest strength and biggest weakness: backwards compatibility of aging Windows software. While it's amazing that that users can still run 16-bit Windows apps developed for Windows 3.1 on their Windows 7 machines, the need to support this decrepit population of old Windows apps has also strangled Windows ability to remake itself.

With Windows 8, Windows 7 apps will remain compatible on Intel-based PCs, but a whole new crop will be

created for the new Metro-style UI. The trade-off in asking people to ditch their ancient software is that Windows 8 apps promise to be much less-expensive -- more in line with smartphone app prices than traditional fat client prices.

Its an interesting choice for Microsoft to make its next operating system geared for tablets and able to stretch up to the PC, rather than using Apple's model and lumping the tablet with the smartphone. The client is undergoing a radical change as part of the move to cloud computing, and its smart that Microsoft is willing to let Windows change, too.

2. Taking down botnets

In 2011, Microsoft continued on its spam fighting mission by taking down Botnets. By petitioning U.S. courts to shut down Internet domains, Microsoft was able to put the squeeze on the Kelihos and Rustock botnets just as it had hampered the Waledac in 2010.

3. Buying Skype

At $8.5 billion, Microsoft's buy of Skype was one of the largest acquisitions in the software industry this year. While it remains a little mysterious as to why Microsoft wanted Skype when it already had Lync, Skype gives Microsoft instant access to a broad base of consumers eager to IM, chat, and videoconference across their work PCs, game consoles and smartphones. During the acquisition press conference, Steve Ballmer promised that Skype would continue to be supported on all devices, Windows and otherwise. Shortly before the deal closed the Skype team wanted to prove that this would be so. It feverishly addressed the biggest complaint against it -- a lack of support for video calls on most Android devices.

Over the summer, Skype added video support to a slew of Android devices including Motorola Android models and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Skype may help teach Microsoft why there are benefits in a software company being platform agnostic. Then again, Microsoft gained about 50 communication patents with Skype, so it could also help Microsoft in its battle to tax the emerging Android/Linux-based smartphone market.

4. Everything to do with Kinect

Altough Kinect technically launched in 2010 (November), Microsoft did everything right with it in 2011 including encouraging Kinect hacks by releasing an SDK for non-commercial uses, and supporting 10 Kinect startups. Kinect has made Microsoft cool again to a whole new generation of gamers and young technology users.

5. Championing HTML5

2011 was the year that Microsoft finally recognized that the "built it here" attitude was a poor choice for everyone - particularly its developers -- when it comes to Internet applications. Microsoft's backing of HTML5 started as a whisper and grew to full-throated cry by the time Microsoft demonstrated Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 at its BUILD conference. Silverlight isn't completely dead although it is sickly. Silverlight/.Net are now being re-labeled as enterprise Web development tools. Meanwhile, Microsoft has even released its first HTML5 app for Bing, an app that brings Bing's search functions to Android and iPhone.

Dumb moves

OK now that we've looked at the smart moves, here are five dumb ones:

1. Android protection racket

Running a Mafia-like Android patent protection scheme never creates goodwill in the market place, and often invites government oversight and giant fines. Now it's true that at least some of Microsoft's patent licenses involving Android were also broad cross-patent license agreements with long-time hardware partners (like Samsung). But by suing Barnes & Noble, Microsoft's plans are being exposed. Those plans indicate that Microsoft is trying to force all makers of Android devices to pay it relatively exorbitant fees.

Interestingly, this year, Microsoft was finally released from eight and a half years of government oversight after losing its epic antitrust case to the Department of Justice. As the Barnes and Noble lawsuit escalates, the bookseller is calling for another round of government oversight over Microsoft.

2. Windows 8 secure boot controversy

Microsoft again inflamed open source advocates when it told Windows 8 hardware makers that they would be required to implement the next-generation boot specification in its "secure" mode. That spec is known as the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface. When UEFI is in secure mode, it uses PKI to prevent users from loading operating systems and drivers onto a device. In other words, it could prevent device owners from installing Linux.

While the spec allows UEFI secure boot to be turned off, Microsoft wasn't requiring hardware makers to implement the off button. The open source community grew inflamed - to the verge of petitions and threatened lawsuits. Microsoft should know by now that angering open source developers is not the best way to get developers interested in writing for Windows.

3. Windows-colored glasses in the cloud

Be it Microsoft's cloud or its latest, greater browser, Microsoft remains abysmally slow in recognizing non-Windows platforms. Interestingly, Microsoft executives have actually been making campaign promises about cloud apps working on any device and on any operating system. For instance, in a recent Webcast, Microsoft's Brad Anderson, said, "Every service we build on the cloud can run on every device." He then pointed to Windows Intune as the example. Intune is Microsoft's managed software distribution and security monitoring service released in early 2011 and upgraded in November.

Anderson said that Intune "enables users to work on any device" and that if Microsoft is going to be able to "deliver" on the cloud, it can't just be for Windows but "has to be any device and that's our strategy." But Windows Intune currently only supports Windows -- and only Windows PCs running XP, Vista and Windows 7, not even Windows Phone 7.

4. Sloth-like speed towards tablets

The world isn't waiting until Windows 8 to buy tablets. Despite touch support in Windows 7 and a 10-month old partnership with mobile hardware maker Nokia, Microsoft is still a near no-show in the tablet market. Forrester has even gone so far as to say that by the time Windows 8 arrives, Microsoft will have relinquished the market to others, including price/performance/feature expectations. Worse still, tablet sales have cannibalized netbooks and that hurt has already been reflected in Microsoft's financials, which have been otherwise stellar in 2011.

5. Missteps with Office 365

Microsoft doesn't really want users to stop buying its highly profitable Office suite and move to the cloud, but with Google Apps adoption growing at alarming rates, it had to do something. In 2011, Microsoft released an upgraded version of its Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) and dubbed it Office 365. However, Office 365 rolled out with less than a perfect set of features (beta testers had complained about limitations in importing contacts for shared global address lists, and the requirement to use the complicated PowerShell to perform tasks they felt should be simple).

Office 365 also had its share of outages and was sorely lacking in features compared to its on-premises Office suite. It also didn't match many of Google Apps' most popular features, such as simultaneous co-editing in word processing documents. Office 365 also requires local licensed copies of the apps for features such as co-editing. Microsoft is trumpeting the success of Office 365 adoption - and features like Lync are helping it win customers - but as long as the cloud version is treated like an unloved stepchild, Microsoft is leaving the door open for rival Google.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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