The best corporations tell themselves stories that are persistent and unyielding. They’re filled with twists and turns, but they move inexorably ahead toward a faraway goal.
I believe that Microsoft’s (MSFT) story has morphed into a tale of incremental improvements. Yes, the giant still marches the face of the earth slaying foes, but his steps have gotten heavy. His shoulders are sore and his eyes have drooped.
We must hoist up to him a 5-Hour Energy the size of an oil drum. We must drink with him to some spectacular new future where Microsoft takes a moonshot and succeeds; one where the company is rechristened as the greatest technology company on the face of the planet.
Here are 50 paths I’d love to see the company explore; 50 ways Microsoft might build revenue, delight customers and begin telling itself (and the world) a fresher, more fascinating story. Particularly radical ideas are in bold:
- Invest in lip-reading technology that could rival Siri and be used to compose emails and other text in a corporate setting.
- Build a spherical (omni-screen) gaming system; a ball-shaped 360-degree, ceiling-mounted pull-down screen that works in conjunction with two projectors and immerses the player in his or her gaming environment.
- Build the world’s first high-powered mobile IDE for developers with a cloud-based subscription model running on virtual machines.
- Build a flying Bluetooth-controlled camera that can take photos of it’s owner based on the location of his or her phone. The device could constantly record (similar to a head-mounted camera), and it would follow or travel in front of the owner in the air.
- Buy spotify to take on Apple (AAPL) as the king in mobile music. Partner with radio news apps (i.e. Stitcher) to cut into Apple’s stranglehold on the podcast market.
- Develop smart glasses, or, at the very least be aggressively developing apps for Google’s hardware.
- Develop apps for the iWatch with an emphasis on integration with Outlook.
- Make Outlook web-based, and expand its social networking, content delivery and calendar functionality.
- Integrate voice commands into all desktop applications. There’s the potential to use a freemium model for this service (10 free minutes a month, for example).
- Explore how to integrate gaming with live television. For example, Jeopardy viewers could be competing directly with the contestants on TV. Or Madden fans could be competing nationwide as they attempt to call plays in live games before they’re run. The most accurate play-callers would win.
- Embed Kinect in laptops and monitors to integrate gestures with core Microsoft software.
- Aggressively pursue Bloomberg’s audience in the financial data space. It’s time that world-class financial data get pumped out over the web — not on proprietary terminals. Investors have deep pockets (just check out Michael Bloomberg’s net worth).
- Push all of Microsoft’s flagship applications onto the cloud. If you don’t catch up with Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, you’re going to lose serious revenue.
- Consider buying Adobe to deepen your stranglehold on development software. Adobe also has a nice cloud-based software-delivery system (though, eventually, programs like Photoshop will be running in the cloud, not on local machines).
- Re-imagine Excel as a web tool that can publish beautiful embeddable reports on the web with the click of a button. Currently you can make nice charts, but users should be able to make online, interactive data tables and charts just as easily. Excel’s data should be beautiful and highly interactive, even if you’re not a programmer.
- Buy Basecamp, Trello or another up-and-coming software collaboration site, then port that usability into TFS. Or at least give TFS a serious re-design that makes it faster to roll-out and test software.
- Expand virtual box services for software testing. Testing is extremely difficult now that developers have to support so many devices (tablets, desktops, phones, TVs, watches, glasses, etc.). The only – ONLY – way this is going to be doable is with virtual test environments. Developers will pay serious cash for serious emulators.
- Build a “business marketplace” where corporations can easily outsource things like testing, and integrate it with TFS (or the next iteration of TFS).
- Integrate Kinect and voice-to-text with smart glasses to destroy the smartphone.
- Build a Roku competitor that ships free with Microsoft computers. Make a deal to deliver premium sports content over the network. Any Roku competitor should be extremely easy to control with a laptop, tablet or phone, and it should allow users to run apps on the screen (especially social apps) while also watching TV.
- Make Word, PowerPoint and SharePoint themes much easier to install, and then create an online marketplace for buying/selling them.
- Build a theme marketplace for Microsoft’s OS, phones, tablets and Xbox.
- Buy Fitbit and integrate it into Microsoft’s cross-platform operating systems.
- Invest more in help documentation and tutorials to make coding on Microsoft’s platforms easier. Common functionality in Surface apps, for instance, should have drag-and-drop interfaces and very extensive code libraries.
- Stop being afraid to make a true Surface/laptop combo that ingrates touch screen with standard inputs.
- Create a simple interface for controlling drones. Allow consumers and small businesses to purchase and schedule drone usage time through a national network of Microsoft-branded drones.
- Capture and store user data across devices (phone, mobile and tablet), then feed that data back to users so they can see their activities over time and look for ways to increase their productivity.
- Release free, ad-supported mobile phones.
- Rollout Stackoverflow-style forums that are integrated with Microsoft’s core apps.
- Rollout an aggressive venture capital program to fund start-ups (and grab an equity stake in the process).
- Create a marketplace for resume templates in Word.
- Create a marketplace for code plugins.
- Develop easy-to-install circuits for home electrical appliances, and release apps to control them.
- Build a social network into windows 9, something that provides optionally shareable data on a user’s computer activity. This would be great for social and professional purposes (i.e. Microsoft-certified “Time in Application”). There’s so much activity that we do on our computers that’s never quantified or analyzed.
- Build a freemium-model API for voice-to-text services so programmers can integrate Siri-style services into Surface and xBox apps (and maybe some of them will even pursue programming conversational robots).
- Develop a holographic TV that works using Pepper’s Ghost. Theoretically, this could be done if video broadcasts shot two layers of film: background and foreground. For example, if a station were broadcasting a football game, the field would be sent as one layer (the background for Pepper’s Ghost), and the foreground layer would contain the 3D players.
- Improve Windows Phones so they can guess what you’re doing all day. It would work by asking you what you’re doing when it’s not sure. Each activity would leave a signature based on time of day, geo-location and movements. Then, this information could be sent back to users for analysis.
- Award grants for app development. The apps would then be exclusively developed for Windows for a predetermined amount of time.
- Build the worlds first mainstream 3D printer.
- Integrate face-time messages/recordings in Outlook.
- Create a premium newsletter feature (ala ConstantContact) that’s integrated in Outlook and allows users to broadcast messages to thousands.
- Rethink email. Static text emails should be a thing of the past. We need embedded polls, to-do lists, videos, text-to-voice readers that let you listen to emails on the go, etc. The messages would automatically downgrade for text devices (similar to responsive web design).
- Buy Dropbox to take SkyDrive mainstream.
- Integrate second screens in laptops or Surface keyboards that show metadata on open apps, alerts and/or give you the ability to quickly switch between open applications.
- Use SkyDrive to make publishing to the web easy for anyone. A Word doc that’s on SkyDrive should be elegant on any device (think of Amazon’s Reader, which can be used across platforms).
- Make an easy way for users to do repetitive tasks on a computer. In essence, the OS should have a “record button” I could use to teach my computer how to do a task or series of tasks.
- Build “Application Analytics” that run on the OS level and allow corporations to identify where employees are spending their time and how they can improve efficiency.
- Develop a smart-screen or smart-glass augmented reality gaming system that attaches to the wearer’s head and can integrate with the real world by overlaying opponents in your actual environment.
- Add NFC to future Microsoft phones.
- Create a secure payment-processing platform for Bitcoin.
Got any additional ideas for Microsoft?
Please add them to the comment section below, and I’ll repost them.