2013 may have been one of the busiest years in the history of Microsoft. It released a ton of new products, made news on a number of fronts and generally had a much bigger profile in the tech industry than it has in recent times.
Now that the year is about over, we decided to take a look back at what we think were the top 10 news items for the past 12 months. There was a lot to choose from and it's likely that your top 10 list might differ from ours. Feel free to debate and discuss our list in the news comments.
10. Microsoft loses SkyDrive trademark battle
While Microsoft has been using SkyDrive as the name for its cloud storage service for some time, the UK pay TV provider BSkyB filed a lawsuit against the company in 2011, claiming that the "SkyDrive" label violated its trademarks. While some people might wonder if anyone would be confused about the name of a online file storage service compared to the title of a television company, a UK judge agreed with BSkyB and ruled in June that the use of "SkyDrive" would in fact be detrimental to the previous Sky trademark
Microsoft at first said it would appeal the ruling but in July it was announced that the two companies had agreed on a settlement. As part of the deal, Microsoft agreed to change the name of SkyDrive to something else. As of this writing, the company has yet to reveal just what will take the place of SkyDrive.
9. Zune Marketplace and Microsoft Points discontinued
While Microsoft stopped selling the Zune media player in 2011, the company continued to keep the Zune Marketplace going for the remaining owners of the device. That ended this year as Microsoft announced that Zune owners would no longer be able to purchase or rent content from the Zune Marketplace. The company also announced that support for Zune players and the PC client would end in February 2014. This was basically the final stake in the coffin for the Zune brand.
Microsoft also shut down Microsoft Points around the same time as the Zune Marketplace was closing. The confusing way to purchase music, movies, TV shows, and games on that storefront as well as Xbox Live was finally done away with in favor of real currency. People who still have Microsoft Points gift cards can still use them on Xbox Live; they are now simply being converted to the local coin of their respective countries.
8. Windows Phone gains ground
The launch of Windows Phone 8 in November 2012 was the beginning of a resurgence for Microsoft's smartphone OS in 2013. By all accounts, Windows Phone is now the third biggest mobile ecosystem in the world, taking over after the fall of BlackBerry. A recent report shows that the five biggest countries in Europe have seen the use of Windows Phone capture over 10 percent of the smartphone market.
The number of apps that are available for Windows Phone users has also increased to over 200,000, and many popular apps like Instagram, Vine, and more are now being developed for the OS. Microsoft has also been busy since the launch of Windows Phone 8, releasing three major updates that have added new features. However, there is general agreement that Microsoft still has a lot to do before Windows Phone becomes as popular for both app developers and consumers as iOS and Android: 2014 could be a key year for the future of the OS.
7. "One Microsoft" reorganization announced
For most of its existence, Microsoft has been a company that has sold software products. That has certainly changes in the past few years and the company has pushed the line that it now wants to be a "devices and services" company. In July, plans were revealed for a major reorganization of the company, under the "One Microsoft" label, that is designed to propel that "devices and services" vision over the next several years.
Among the changes was a new Devices division, currently headed up by Julie Larson-Green, that handles products like the Surface tablet and the Xbox game console. Terry Myerson is now leading an operating system division, which is working on all of Microsoft's OS projects, including Windows and Windows Phone. Qi Lu is the leader for Microsoft's online services like Bing and Satya Nadella is currently in charge of cloud services at the company.
Will this change really make a difference, especially since Microsoft will soon have a new CEO that may have his or her own ideas? Time will tell but the fact that Microsoft is making this move at all shows that the company knows that the status quo will not be successful in the long run.
6. Office 2013/Office 365 Home Premium launched
The Office division is one of the biggest revenue generators for Microsoft and in early January the company released the latest version, Office 2013. At the same time, Microsoft also launched Office 365 Home Premium, the first consumer version of its cloud-based office subscription service. In September, Microsoft said it had signed up over two million subscribers to the $99 a year service, which offers versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint for up to five devices.
Microsoft has also been extremely busy in signing up large new businesses and governments to use the enterprise version of Office 365 in the past year. At the same time, it has campaigned against businesses using Google's free Google Docs, and even brought in comedian Rob Schneider to help sell Microsoft's point that Google's solution won't work as well as Office 365.
We are still awaiting word on when we will get full Modern UI based versions of Office. While Microsoft demoed a Modern version of Excel at BUILD 2013 this year, the company is not expected to debut the touch-friendly Office update until sometime in 2014.
5. New Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 models released
The launch of the original Surface RT tablet in October 2012, followed by the first Surface Pro in February 2013, established that Microsoft was serious about entering the PC hardware space. In September, the company officially announced the new 10.6-inch Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 models. Both went on sale in October and received mostly positive reviews, thanks to their improved hardware and battery performance, along with the new kickstand that sets up in two places. Microsoft also added new accessories for the tablets, including a back-lit Type Cover 2 and a docking station
So far, the sales response to the new Surface models seems to be better than the originals, although there are some people who believe that Microsoft manufactured a smaller amount of units this time around. As they did for the first Surface tablets, Microsoft has yet to comment on just how many of the new Surface tablets have been sold. The company is expected to launch new models in 2014, including one with an LTE wireless antenna and one that might have a smaller 8-inch display.
4. Windows 8.1 launched
Windows 8 launched in October 2012 with its all new Modern UI paired with the familiar desktop. To say that the response to this revamped interface was mixed is putting it mildly. Many users missed access to the Start menu and others felt that the Modern design was too confusing. Rumors began about Microsoft's next update for Windows 8 almost immediately and leaks of what was first called "Windows Blue" started popping up on the Internet earlier in 2013.
In May, Microsoft officially announced that the next update for Windows 8 would be called Windows 8.1 and that it would be a free download for Windows 8 owners. After a public preview was released in June, the final version of Windows 8.1 was launched in October, less than a year after the Windows 8 launch. It offered a number of new features such as larger and smaller Live tiles in the Start screen, a way to run more than two Modern UI apps at the same time and more. Microsoft even added a new Start button to the desktop of Windows 8.1 but decided not to include a full Start menu.
The future of Windows is currently murky, due in part to the "One Microsoft" reorganization. There are rumors that Microsoft will add a full Start menu to a Windows 8.1 update as early as spring 2014 but a major Windows upgrade may not happen until 2015.
3. Microsoft agrees to buy Nokia's smartphone business
When Nokia first announced it was going all in with Windows Phone in 2011, many people thought it was a matter of time before Microsoft bought Nokia. As it turned out, those prognosticators were half-right. In September, Microsoft announced a deal to acquire Nokia's Devices and Services business for just over $7 billion. Basically, Microsoft is buying Nokia's smartphone hardware division, while the Finland-based company still remains with a number of other businesses to run.
The deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2014, means that Microsoft will be making its own Windows Phone devices from now on, while still offering the OS to third parties, which it already does with Windows 8 and Windows RT. Nokia's Lumia smartphones have already generated the vast majority of all sales of Windows Phone devices. Indeed, much of the credit towards the growing user base for the OS can be given to Nokia. It remains to be seen if Microsoft will be able to continue that trend when it takes over Nokia's smartphone business.
2. Xbox One announced and launched
After years of rumors and speculation, Microsoft finally announced their third game console in May 2013. Unlike the original Xbox and the Xbox 360, the Xbox One was marketed as an entertainment set top device from the start, rather than "just" a game console. With its support of streaming video apps and its ability to connect to a cable TV box for expanded television control, not to mention its included Kinect 2.0 sensor, the Xbox One was marketed to be the ultimate entertainment system.
However, there was a very quick, and very loud, backlash against the console from hardcore gamers, who felt Microsoft was forgetting about their audience. Things got even worse when the company announced in June some highly restrictive DRM policies for both the Xbox One itself as well as its games. The Internet reaction was so bad that Microsoft backtracked on those decisions just a few weeks later.
In the end, the Xbox One launched in 13 markets in November and so far the console seems to be doing pretty well. In December, the company said that it had already sold over 2 million units in its first 18 days. The Xbox 360, which went on to sell 80 million consoles (and counting) reached the 2 million sales mark five months after it launched in 2005.
1. CEO Steve Ballmer announces retirement
Microsoft has only had two CEOs, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, during its 38-year history. In August, Ballmer, who has been the leader of Microsoft since 2000, announced his retirement from the CEO role, stating, "There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time." While a controversial figure at times, there's no denying that under Ballmer's leadership, Microsoft continued to be one of the biggest forces in the tech industry.
At the moment, Ballmer is still leading the company while a committee searches for a new CEO. For a while, it looked like Stephen Elop, the former CEO of Nokia and previously a top leader at Microsoft, had the best chance at the top spot. Until just a few weeks ago, many rumors pointed to Ford CEO Alan Mulally as the front runner. Just a few days ago, Microsoft board member John W. Thompson confirmed that the search committee had "focused our energy intensely on a group of about 20 individuals" for the CEO position. However, he also said the committee won't make its final decision until early 2014.
That's our list of top Microsoft events for the year. Did we miss any big news that you think should be in this list? Let us know in the comments below!