Who’s the new cool kid on the block? Why it’s Microsoft!

Much of the hot news in tech today is coming from a very unlikely source. Microsoft, that long time purveyor of traditional computing software, has started to act like the new cool kid on the block, reshaping its product offering and building anticipation for major releases in the second half of 2012.

The path has already been mapped out for the launch of Windows 8 on the 26th of October. That product will of course soon be joined by the Surface tablet which is expected to launch in time for the key Christmas shopping period.

Not content to rest on those laurels however, the Washington State based company has begun a tidy up of its cast of supporting characters too.

A flock diary dates and announcements, some large, some small, caught my attention this week.

Tuesday –the news hits that the iconic e-mail service Hotmail is to be phased out in favour of the new look Outlook.com.

Wednesday – locally MSN New Zealand, one of the most profitable portals in the country introduces the Mi9 corporate brand from Australia and holds a launch party for the Microsoft Media Network, a new advertising platform with extensive reach.

Thursday – to celebrate 30 years of hardware production, Microsoft Hardware showcases a range of new mouse and keyboard products designed to work with Windows 8 at the Hilton in Auckland.

Friday – and it’s an invitation to meet Dr Nitin Paranjape at Microsoft’s Viaduct headquarters for a preview of the upcoming Office 2013.

Happily (for Microsoft) much of their news this year has been met with positive sentiment from the media.  Previews of the Surface have been generally warm and anticipation is building for a device that can handle Windows 8’s dual promise of touch screen consumption and keyboard led productivity. (article continues below)

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Photo: Images of  the Wedge Mouse and Wedge Keyboard with non “Surface” tablets

Outlook.com has also been relatively well received; a million people rushed to get their version of the  joe.bloggs@outlook.com e-mail address in the first 6 hours.  That’s a small proportion of the 350m hotmail users worldwide but good reviews (particularly about the lightweight user interface) should draw more in.

The hardware preview on Wednesday also held a couple of pleasant surprises.  A cynic might ask why Microsoft would trumpet a new mouse and keyboard as it prepares to launch a touch screen device and a touch screen focused OS. However that question was answered by Asia Pacific manager Jamieson Yu who showed how well a range of Android and Windows 8 tablets worked with the addition of the new range of keyboard and mouse combinations. As mentioned previously, one of the main features of Win 8 will be it’s ability to switch from the light (Aero?) browsing mode to serious data entry mode for programs like Excel and Word. That’s where the keyboard and mouse will come in handy.

The wedge keyboard, while designed to be thrown in your laptop as a spare keyboard, has a high quality brushed metal finish on the underside and an innovative cover that folds into a tablet stand. It’s very desirable.  The Wedge Mouse takes the understated styling’s of the arc touch mouse to the extreme and delivers what looks like half a mouse.  It may work with Android and Windows based tabs but sadly my iPad rejected its Bluetooth advances.

On the whole, this reinvention or reconditioning of Microsoft is most welcome. It does look as though a number of factors (competition from Apple, the “new” computing landscape of tablet and smartphone productivity and more) have focused their attention on the most important thing in business; delivering products your target audience want to buy.