One of the most difficult challenges that Microsoft faces in offering its own products is ensuring that they can co-exist with those of its partners. Microsoft obviously wants its offerings to be commercially successful, and to be genuinely useful and valued by its customers - but it can sometimes be difficult to do so without treading on the toes of other companies that have built their success around its products and services.
Microsoft has been walking that fine line with many of its products, including its Surface devices, which many naysayers and doom-mongers predicted would bring about the end of Windows PCs from its hardware partners. Clearly, that hasn't happened - and today, Windows 10 can be found on an astonishing array of devices - but there is still the potential for Microsoft to endanger its hardware ecosystem if it doesn't tread carefully in launching and improving its products.
Tony Pepper, CEO of data security and cloud solutions provider Egress, voiced similar concerns regarding Microsoft's Office 365 platform. Speaking with Computing, Pepper said that Microsoft is doing a very good job in "plugging the gaps" in its Office 365 offering, adding that the company has "really stepped up [its] game over the past five years." But he warned that as the tech giant adds more functionality to its productivity platform, it may be endangering smaller companies that have established their businesses filling in those gaps.
Many startups, he said, focus on a specific niche, and there are many examples of companies that have launched with products that neatly dovetail with functionality gaps in Microsoft's products, including Office. He continued:
But Microsoft has really put [a] flashlight on that now. They're doing lots of things, and traditionally you'd follow that up with: yes, but they're doing them badly. But that's not the case any more. They're doing lots of things and they're doing them very well.
It's all about supporting applications. They're playing in the datacentre business, so the likes of UKFast, SkyScape, and other independents are thinking ‘how do we compete with Microsoft at a hosting level?' There's a threat there. If you look at the applications they host within that, Office 365 has completely changed everyone's world.
Pepper said that Microsoft has improved its products to a huge degree, including email, cloud storage, and its core productivity applications, bringing them together in its increasingly capable Office 365 suite. "If technology businesses aren't looking at Microsoft and the Office 365 platform as the biggest threat, they're kidding themselves," he added.
The challenges work both ways, of course. While Microsoft doesn't want to crush its partner ecosystem - potentially stifling third-party tools that can add further value to its own products - start-ups and other small companies also need to be prepared for that threat, exploring fresh opportunities to innovate and develop new products.