Windows 8 apps

As far as Mondays go, Microsoft has had a pretty busy one. Between rumors of an imminent restructuring, more changes to Windows 8, and some minor — but significant — additions to its cloud product, the company is starting off June with news that means as much to its short-term future as it does to its long-term one. Let’s take a look at what went down.

The Microsoft of the future: All about devices and services? 

With operating systems, game consoles, cloud software, and productivity suites, Microsoft is trying its hands as a lot of different markets right now, and according to one rumor, it could be on the verge of restructuring them. According to AllThingD, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is considering reframing Microsoft as a “devices and services” company centered around products like Windows Surface, Microsoft Office, and its Azure services platform.

The Microsoft CEO left the opening keynote spot a year ago, but he reeturned for a cameo to talk about Windows Phone 8.

Ballmer spelled out some of this vision in his shareholder letter last fall: “This is a significant shift, both in what we do and how we see ourselves — as a devices and services company. It impacts how we run the company, how we develop new experiences, and how we take products to market for both consumers and businesses,” he wrote.

For investors, the move is probably a bit overdue. One of Microsoft’s more significant ongoing problems over the past few years is that while Steve Ballmer has had one vision for the company, that vision hasn’t jibed with Microsoft’s investors, who are impatient with what they’ve seen as Microsoft’s sluggish growth. Still, Microsoft’s stock has been on an uptick over the past few months, so perhaps investors like what they see after all.

Azure: Microsoft is stepping up its cloud game against Amazon

While Microsoft’s cloud plans don’t get quite as much press as its hardware efforts, Windows Azure, its cloud service competitor to Amazon Web Services (AWS), is a telling look into the future of the company.

At its TechEd IT event in New Orleans today, Microsoft announced it will start offering Azure services on a by-minute basis, giving companies more flexibility  to shift their usage with variable workloads. More, Microsoft says there won’t be a minimum buy-in for the service, nor will it bill users if their usage is under five minutes. While these changes seem tiny, they’re still a differentiator for Azure — and differentiators are exactly what Microsoft needs.

Windows 8.1: Bigger, better, and more business-friendly

windows-8.1Windows 8.1 may be full of tweaks to existing features, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t also come with some notable new ones as well. Microsoft announced some more of these today: First, Windows 8.1 will feature Internet tethering, which will let people turn their broadband-ready PCs into mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

On a related note, Microsoft also announced that Windows 8.1 will come with native support for Miracast wireless displays. An open alternative to Apple’s Air Play, Miracast allows owners of compatible devices to beam content to supported displays. While there aren’t too many devices that offer the functionality so far (only 100 or so, by last count) Miracast is the type of thing that’s bound to get more commonplace as more companies like Microsoft put their weight behind it.

Rounding out the latest set of Windows 8.1 feature reveals are NFC tap-to-pair printing, improved IT controls, security improvements, and  the ability to print directly to WiFi-enabled printers.

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