In the 20 months since Satya Nadella took over Microsoft, we've seen the company go through a lot of changes. Microsoft has slumped over the last decade and it's doing everything it can to make sure it doesn't fall short over the next ten years.
Part of ensuring a win moving forward is keeping the public interested in what it is doing. That's a challenge Microsoft overcame Tuesday at what we expected would be the Surface Pro 4 event, but turned out to be the Surface Book event.
For the first time in what feels like a long time, Microsoft managed to nail both their presentation and introduce compelling, interesting products to the public.
With last year's Surface Pro 3, Microsoft showed it could make a really great computing device that was an actual success. For lots of us, the Surface Pro 3 was the first non-Xbox piece of Microsoft hardware that really ticked all of the boxes.
By deciding not to target the consumer tablet market — dominated by devices such as the iPad — and instead focusing on the consumer notebook market, albeit with tablet sensibilities, Microsoft created an interesting product category for itself.
The category is so compelling that other competitors have jumped on the bandwagon. Microsoft's original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), who once bristled at the very notion of the Surface product line, are coming out with their own clones of the product. And Apple — a company that hasn't paid serious attention to Microsoft in years— has the Surface Pro in its crosshairs with its upcoming iPad Pro.
Even Google, a company that often acts like Microsoft doesn't exist, is getting into the Surface Pro sandbox with its Pixel C tablet.
I can't honestly remember the last time Microsoft was taking the leadership role in this way.
Based on our early looks, the Surface Book looks like it could be a fantastic Windows laptop. Finally, there's a high-end Windows notebook that can go head-to-head with the MacBook Pro.
Deciding to potentially go against OEM partners who have struggled (and largely failed) to adequately compete in the high-end laptop space is a move that is full of risk and one the old Microsoft would probably not take. But this is the new Microsoft, which realizes that if no one is going to make a kick-ass, high-end Windows laptop, Microsoft has to do it themselves.
Of course, having good products is only half the battle. People have to actually be interested in buying what you are selling.
This is the area where Microsoft is making the most progress. Putting aside the albatross that is the Windows Phone platform, Microsoft is garnering genuine excitement from tech fans and consumers with its latest device strategy.
After a slow start, the Xbox One is really coming into its own. Its HoloLens project might not be as good as its demos, but it is showing that Microsoft is thinking about the future of gaming and entertainment, and that it isn't slowing down.
More importantly, talking to other tech reporters at the event — many who predominately use Apple products (as I do) — I was struck by how genuinely excited we all were by the event.
Now, part of that has to do with the quality of the presentation. Microsoft was in great form Tuesday and its presenters were likable, the sales pitch was sharp and we even got some surprises. Even putting the optics of how the event unfolded aside, it's still a big deal that the public was excited.
A colleague who had written off the event a day prior surprised me by sharing his enthusiasm today. "I could actually see myself using the Surface Book," he said — something I don't think he ever expected to say.
Of course, we'll have to wait for the products themselves to arrive to see how good they are (and how well they sell). But if Microsoft can ride the momentum it has built with the Surface Pro 3 — and sustain that new energy with the Surface Pro 4 — it could continue to win over more fans.
Moreover, Microsoft's broader strategy of being on all platforms really plays to its strengths when showing off its new hardware. Apple, and to a lesser extent, Google, on the other hand, spout a different gospel: For best results, you really need to be all-in on the platform. Yes, you can use a Mac and have an Android phone, but the experience is often better if you stay in one playground.
Microsoft is certainly designed to play well with itself, but whether you use Android, iOS or Windows 10, it wants you on its services. Office 365 on an iPhone works almost as well with your documents as it does on Windows 10.
The elephant in the room
Of course, part of the reason Microsoft can have such a device-agnostic strategy is that it is sorely lacking when it comes to arguably the most important device of all: the phone.
As much as Microsoft is changing perceptions and making headway with consumers on the desktop side, it's still struggling with phones.
Even on Tuesday, the company's dedication to phones seemed to be less about why you would want to use this phone over your iPhone or Android and more about the fact that your phone can basically be a tiny computer that could become another Windows machine in a pinch.
And for a certain audience, that's really cool. But it's not going to get people to dump iOS or Android. And it's not going to sell phones. Having Facebook develop native Facebook, Messenger and Instagram for Windows is great — but I'll bet money that more of those apps will be used on a Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book than will ever get launched on a Windows 10 phone device.
In fact, mobile is the one area where Microsoft seems unsure of what to do. It feels like the company is playing lip service to its own mobile platform, while realizing its best chances of success are actually building on top of the two platforms that won.
But hey, the company spent all that time on Universal Apps, it might as well release some new phones, right?
Looking to the future
For the first time in years, Microsoft finally feels back in the game. The Surface Book has a fantastic design and if it performs on par with its promises, it's a real contender not just for Windows users, but for all users looking for a good laptop.
The Surface Pro 4 continues the great strategy the company executed with the Surface Pro 3, offering a MacBook Air alternative that also has tablet chops.
HoloLens shows Microsoft isn't going to just let Oculus own the conversation about VR.
It's exciting to see a struggling company debut such strong products. It's even more invigorating to see that others are excited, too.
The real key, as always, will be in the execution. In recent years, this has been Microsoft's most difficult task, but under Nadella, that does seem to be changing.
All I know is that I'm writing a glowing Microsoft analysis, something I really didn't expect to be doing this week.