Reviewing Microsoft's 2015 in Wins and Fails

The company had its ups and downs, like every year. Here's the rundown for 2015.

Microsoft 2015 in review
Credit: REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

It was a banner year for Microsoft, a company people were unfavorably comparing to 1980s IBM just two years ago. CEO Satya Nadella has executed on a new "cloud first, mobile first" strategy and has inspired the troops to make it happen in a largely positive direction.

Of course, not everything goes as planned. Some failures were out of the company's hands, while some were definitely its own doing. So, as is tradition around this time of year, we will take a look back at the Epic Wins and Epic Fails for Microsoft in the year 2015.

Epic Win: Windows 10

After the tone-deaf attitude toward consumers killed Windows 8, the new Windows team led by Terry Myerson solicited feedback from users all throughout the Windows 10 development cycle and made changes that had critical mass. The resulting decision to make it a free upgrade did wonders as well, resulting in a purported 140 million downloads in five months. 

Epic Fail: Windows 10

On the flip side, Microsoft has really poisoned the good will generated by Windows 10. Rampant spying, including a keylogger, trying to hide the spying, endless nagging to upgrade, and forced upgrades really soured people on the product. Making it worse, Microsoft has flat out refused to acknowledge these issues the way it acknowledged that it blew it with Windows 8. 

Epic Win: Cloud strategy

Microsoft was late to the cloud due to Steve Ballmer's myopia, but he did reverse course quickly, and Satya Nadella has accelerated things. For its most recent fiscal year, cloud revenue was $8.2 billion, with Azure and Office 365 leading the charge. Microsoft is now the number two cloud provider behind Amazon, but it's a distant number two. Plus, Microsoft's cloud play is primarily in the U.S. I have no doubt it will continue to close the gap with Amazon in 2016. 

Epic Fail: Windows Mobile

In so many ways, Windows Mobile 10 is a spectacular OS and better than both Android and iOS, but it just can't get any traction, nor can it get much app support. It's not surprising, since the market rarely supports more than two platforms for anything. That's why we have Windows and Mac, and Linux desktop just can't get traction despite being technically solid. And with Windows Mobile's chief champion on a one-year sabbatical, would anyone be surprised if Nadella finally just puts WM out of its misery in 2016? 

Epic Win: Surface 4

The first two Surface tablets flopped as hard as Zune and the Kin phone, but like Windows itself, Microsoft got it right on the third try. The fourth iteration of the Surface, armed with a new Intel Skylake-era processor and redesign for better cooling as well as squashing other bugs from Surface 3, have made Microsoft a major contender in the tablet market. 

Epic Fail: Edge browser

Microsoft tried to get itself back in the browser business with Edge, a browser that cleaned out a lot of old code and embraced newer standards. While Edge is better than Internet Explorer 11 in terms of performance, it's not that great, and most people are so settled in to Chrome and Firefox they have no incentive to change. 

Epic Win: HoloLens

I have not talked about this much and need to remedy that in 2016. While all the attention is on Oculus Rift, Microsoft's attempt at an augmented reality headset is earning it raves even though it has not shipped. Microsoft unveiled it in January and has said nothing since, but people won't stop talking about it. That's capturing mindset. 

Epic Fail: Surface notebooks

On the one hand, they look fantastic and should set the bar for what Microsoft's OEMs should aspire to surpass. But all they have done is hurt Microsoft's relationships with OEMs. Plus, while the Surface notebook looks cool, that funky design has its share of problems. All of which begs the question, are you sure you want to be a hardware company, Microsoft? 

Epic Win: Office 2016

I thought they were running out of ways to update a word processor and spreadsheet, but Microsoft pulled it off with Office 2016 and the latest iteration of Office 365. It's built around team collaboration and the "Tell me what you want to do" feature is a great way of asking a natural language question and getting an answer from that confusing Ribbon. Sway, an updated presentation tool, might just put Powerpoint out of work. 

Epic Fail: Project Astoria

Project Astoria was supposed to run Android apps on Windows Phone without a recompile, but it has basically run aground and is considered dead in the water. Project Islandwood, which would run iOS apps on WP phones, is only in "alpha preview" and we probably won't hear anything again until the next Build conference.

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