Microsoft: Solid Today, Shaky Tomorrow

On the surface, Redmond's quarter numbers look great, but trouble is lurking down below.

Microsoft's quarterly earnings announcement on Thursday painted a rosy picture of a healthy and vibrant tech company. Revenue from Windows sales jumped 28 percent versus the same quarter a year ago.

And there's little doubt that Windows 7 is a hit. More than 10 percent of all PCs worldwide run Windows 7, which is the fastest-selling operating system in history, Redmond claims. And while Microsoft's third-quarter revenue of $14.5 billion rose a modest 6 percent over the same period a year earlier, profits shot up an impressive 35 percent.

So what's not to like?

Well, for starters, Microsoft's position in the emerging mobile computing market is questionable at best. For large enterprises, Research in Motion's BlackBerry phones still rule, while Apple's iPhone and Google Android-based devices continue to make inroads.

Redmond has stumbled badly in the cell phone arena. Its Windows Mobile 6.x platform is essentially moribund. Know anyone who uses a Windows phone anymore? (Yes, I know they're out there, but their numbers are dwindling fast.) The company recently scrapped its social media-oriented Kin device, which arrived on the mobile scene at least a year too late. And while Microsoft's upcoming Windows Phone 7 software does look promising, devices that run it won't debut for a few more months.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to milk its Windows PC cash cow for all its worth. When it comes to the desktop and laptop market (both business and consumer), Redmond rules with its series of dominant products, including Windows 7 and the latest versions of Office, Exchange, and SharePoint.

But that could quickly change if low-cost laptop and tablet devices running one of Google's mobile operating systems--Android or the upcoming Chrome OS--prove popular for businesses.

Microsoft's PC-centric ways should be a cause for alarm in Redmond. It's no surprise that the company's biggest revenue growth is in its Windows and Windows Live division, while its Online Services and Entertainment and Devices divisions are relatively flat. Microsoft sees its Bing search, Xbox Live, and budding cloud services as areas of growth--but they're not there yet.

Redmond's revenue stream is too desktop-centric for its own good. Despite its Windows-oriented success, the company is a big question mark moving forward.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter http://twitter.com/jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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Jeff Bertolucci

PC World (US online)
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