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OPINION: I really like this new, daring Microsoft

OPINION: Andy Vandervell shares how he feels Microsoft hit all the right notes in its recent Windows 10 event

Microsoft’s recent history isn’t littered with success. Windows 8 was a panic-fuelled flop. Google and Android have trampled Windows Phone near to death. Sales of PCs have slowed to a crawl. Bing has burnt through billions of dollars with no discernable return. The Xbox One launch betrayed a tone deafness that was only remedied by a series of embarrassing but necessary about turns. Microsoft has lurched from one ‘crisis’ to the next like a punch-drunk boxer. Now it’s standing up straight and paying attention.
Paying attention. That’s just the point, really. Many of the above failures were avoidable had Microsoft simply stopped and listened, but it was too rattled to do so. It tried to force a brave new world on unwilling users with Windows 8. It tried to bluff its way through years of catching up on mobile. It tried to convince Xbox gamers that they ought to be excited about TV instead of… you know, games.

Related: What is HoloLens? Microsoft’s holographic headset explained

But I look at Windows 10 and I see a company actively listening in a way it hasn’t before. We spiked a planned feature on the things Microsoft still needed to fix in Windows 10 because it had already fixed them. It’s not the finished article, obviously, but Microsoft’s new attitude is reflected in the upcoming preview build of Windows 10. It’s listened and acted.

Then comes HoloLens. Microsoft has always innovated. In fact, it’s often been way ahead of its time. Bill Gates was touting tablets when the iPad wasn’t even a sketch on Jony Ive’s drawing board – it even explored smartwatches long before the recent explosion of interest. Go look it up. What it’s lacked is timing and execution.

Will it be different for HoloLens? It’s too early say, but it shows a daring and futuristic vision seldom seen from Microsoft of late. Moreover, Microsoft execs know it. For once we weren’t witnessing feigned enthusiasm for the ‘magical’ new features of a new device. HoloLens isn’t ‘Designed for Humans’ and it isn’t ‘Bigger than bigger’. It doesn’t need marketing pitch. It sells itself.

And this is coming from the most jaded, sceptical TrustedReviewer going. I don’t often put my rants to paper, but rarely does a day pass without me loudly lamenting the shallow and empty ‘innovation’ touted by many tech companies. One of these days I should share what I think of Project Ara, but that’s a story for another time.

This amuses my colleagues endlessly, but I’m right. If it’s called ‘innovation’ then it’s bullshit 90 per cent of the time.

Related: Hands-on with HoloLens: What the pundits are saying

I don’t feel that way about HoloLens. Microsoft had my full attention during its unveiling. The TrustedReviews team is rarely idle during any launch. We’re all busy writing, note taking, analysing, observing, reacting – it’s the nature of online publishing. HoloLens was one of those rare moments when everyone stopped. Everyone was paying attention.

It feels as if Microsoft is heading for a new era of bright new things under Nadella. It still has challenges – all the problems Steve Ballmer failed to tackle haven’t faded away overnight – but Microsoft looks fresh and engaged again. It has a focus and a confidence I haven’t felt since I began in tech journalism. That’s progress.

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