Ballmer pushes 'family of devices' as Microsoft's new mantra

Windows now simply a 'shell,' says CEO

If words mean anything, Microsoft will dramatically expand the number -- and type -- of devices it makes in-house.

In a Thursday memo, CEO Steve Ballmer used the phrase "family of devices" 10 times as he referred to Microsoft's long-expressed strategy of becoming a "devices and services" company.

"Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses," Ballmer stated [emphasis added].

The memo, part of the firm's announcement that it was reshuffling product lines and executives into four new engineering groups and centralizing most of the business decisions previously made by separate fiefdoms, dwelled extensively on hardware.

An entire section of the memo was headlined "Our Family of Devices." No such section was relegated to "services," the second of the two-pronged strategy that in a conference call with financial analysts and reporters Thursday Ballmer said had been under way for more than a year.

At times, Ballmer leaned on the memo during the conference call -- reading from it in places -- and there, too, used the "family of devices" phrase.

But the memo was the clearest expression -- albeit in general terms -- of Microsoft's plans.

"We will design, create and deliver through us and through third parties a complete family of Windows-powered devices," Ballmer said [emphasis added]. "Our family will include a full spectrum of both partner and first-party devices. Our family will include phones, tablets, PCs, 2-in-1s, TV-attached devices and other devices to be imagined and developed."

That syncs with analysts' opinions yesterday that Microsoft's reorganization, particularly the appearance of a Devices and Studios Engineering Group, meant the firm would be more aggressive in designing and selling its own hardware, ranging from a Surface-branded phone and notebook -- probably an ultrabook -- to a diverse line of Surface tablets with several screen sizes, including a smaller 8-in. display.

The analysts interpreted the new group's existence as a more bellicose attitude toward its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners. (In his memo, Ballmer used the word "partner" just twice in the context of OEMs, the same number of times he wrote "first-party" to refer to Microsoft's own hardware efforts.)

During the Q&A portion of the call, Ballmer reiterated Microsoft's strategy. "You will see us invest across a wide range of device types, both first-party and third-party," he said, noting that the range will contain both "the very smallest [and] the very largest devices."

The other point Ballmer made in the memo -- again, in an indirect way -- was that Microsoft will, as some have long suspected, push until Windows and Windows Phone are essentially the same operating system.

"Developers must be able to target all our devices with a common programming model that makes it easy to target more than one device," wrote Ballmer.

Ballmer word cloud
A word cloud based on Ballmer's memo shows the emphasis on "devices" and "family." (Image: Tagxedo.com.)
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