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By | Dominic Connor 12th November 2015 18:05

MS Future Decoded conference, or The Empire Strikes Back

Advertising oddness and what MS really wants you to know

Microsoft wants to rid itself of the image as the default option of lazy corporate IT professionals (like me), even though that is still the core business of the horde of partner, customers and devs it brought to Excel.

But as we hear from our round tables, less growth is coming from that direction, so the Biz day pushed startups as well as cool customers. “Cool” is something that MS now understands it needs to win back.

The Biz day, led by Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s Chief Storytelling Officer (yes, that’s a real job) whizzed through some aspirational customers like Virgin, Innocent, Arsenal and er, the Ministry of Defence, pushing customer (or terrorist) focused business through tech.

Dark Satanic mills

And did Satya Nadella build data centres upon England’s green and pleasant land ? Yes he did and for many reasons. Many customers flatly refuse to have data where the US government can so easily get its grubby paws on it and the big win was getting the UK Ministry of Defence as a major customer.

It’s dawned on Mike Stone, CIO of the MoD, that their procurement process is not fit for purpose. Current systems take five years just to agree the contracts, so they’re becoming agile and breaking up silos that led to having separate systems that couldn’t talk to each other by design, as vendors had the IPR.

As a tech journo I’ve seen more awful tech ads than any five people reading this and Risual are the leaders in ad oddness. Biz leaders were treated to this video, which apparently makes them MS partner of the year.

Almost all the money spent in Microsoft’s ecosystem doesn’t go to Microsoft, whose partners were supposed to make their money from adding value not shipping disks. Now they have no other option, which has led to so much pain that some were writing the sector off.

However the expo was stuffed with the partners who’re doing very nicely out of using Office 365 as a gateway drug to Azure.

Nadella had the new Office versions at the centre of his pitch; his audience had worked out that pushing it to biz at the top means developers are going to have to write solutions to make it more useful.

To prove that MS is marginally less evil than you might think, they also did a big splash about helping blind people and how they’re helping kids to learn to code, but because MS understands its audience, made sure there was a robot making cocktails running throughout the show.

The training partners like Firebrand were unsurprisingly doing well out of Azure training, which is mixed news for IT pros. The days of making a living from mastering tools that manage servers locally have a lot more yesterdays than tomorrows.

The good(ish) part of this is MS pushing grey hybrid clouds rather than the pure white fluffy ones from Amazon and Google, the idea being to move bits to the Cloud stepwise rather than junking your infrastructure overnight (yes I know about your SQL Server 6.5 in a cupboard).

The Biz day conference was well attended, but after the first three hours (or so it felt) of Lord Coe’s oozing of how wonderful he is and how sport is a force for good, rather than drug abuse, fraud and bribery, the end keynote thinned out rapidly.

The Internet of Cows

The developer day showed that MS is a firm in transition. Gone are the days when MS seemed to wish developers would just go away and buy a phone, so we didn’t get Nadella but instead Scott Guthrie, who I’m told is “our favourite Microsoft EVP”. He felt that the sex life of cows is the best way to push their Internet of Things offerings.

Allegedly a tech day, the big pitches were to show what cool stuff you could bang out quickly if you drank the MS Kool Aid. Adding functionality to Office continued from the day before and we got a lot more of the attempt to make us stop thinking that MS development was like teenagers watching our dads dance at a wedding.

So Power BI was used to knock up the sort of cool graphs and real-time reports that the modern BOFH uses to impress management; we had image recognition, and wearables telling us to exercise less whilst of course using a huge pile of compute resource that MS will happily sell you on the cloud.

It’s a cunning plan, whose next step is to make a play for the Internet of things which generate a lot of data as Kevin Ashton tried to make us lazy corporate developers realize that the IoT he invented is more than smart toothbrushes and doors that thank us for using them.

Apparently we’re stupid as well as lazy and need Artificial Intelligence to actually sport patterns and Chris Bishop demonstrated why we need Azure to do our thinking by showing us how Azure ML et al will spot patterns, oddities and actionable correlations in our data.

Oh yes, this happens to use a lot of compute power of the kind you get in Azure. What a surprise. Sadly the details of how you actually do this are apparently a secret, since as journalists we weren’t allowed in the tech education sessions.

As a Reg reader you need to hit a balance in the way you help the technical direction go. If it moves too quickly or jumps to pure clouds, you can find yourself out in the rain, but move too slowly and your skills will be too ancient to help you get along, so waving a bit of next-gen analytics can be a good move.

The square root of NOT

Even Azure doesn’t have enough power for the heaviest jobs, so to to finish off Bryan Cox, our favourite particle physicist, popped up to explain quantum computing, which required hardly any university maths. Along with him was Krysta Svore, who showed how MS is developing a mutant Visual Studio for QC programming. I’m looking forward to MS service packs for the insecure laws of physics. ®

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