Countdown: Microsoft's big 2015

IDG News Service | Dec 14, 2015

Blair Hanley Frank counts down some of the biggest news and announcements from Microsoft in 2015.

2015 is coming to a close, and looking back, it has been a huge year for Microsoft. I’m here to count down the top 5 stories that made this year one of the company’s biggest on record.

Number 5: Microsoft executives made public appearances this year at a bunch of events that they never would have attended before. Satya Nadella talked on stage with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff at Dreamforce, and other high-level Microsoft executives have appeared at major events hosted by the likes of VMware, Apple and Box.

Microsoft hasn’t given up competing with those companies – far from it. But actually partnering with its competitors is a titanic shift for Microsoft, and shows a humbler side of a company that wouldn’t be caught dead doing exactly that just a few short years ago.

Number 4: One of Microsoft’s biggest hardware announcements this year was the introduction of two premium portable computers: the Surface Pro 4 tablet and Surface Book laptop. The former was pretty expected — it’s a follow-up to Microsoft’s wildly popular Surface Pro 3 that improves incrementally on its predecessor.

The Surface Book, meanwhile, is Microsoft’s first laptop. It combines the power of a more traditional laptop with the ability to detach its touchscreen and use it as a tablet. It’s definitely cool, but it’s not clear yet whether that will lead to widespread interest beyond Microsoft’s die-hard fans.

Number 3: Microsoft bought a lot of companies this year to build up key parts of its business, including teams behind apps like Wunderlist and Sunrise Calendar. Acquisitions are a pretty dry business, but these deals show a Microsoft that’s hungry to augment its capabilities with the help of outside companies that have proven solutions.

We’re already seeing the beginnings of how they’ll play out: Microsoft announced earlier this year that it would be shutting down Sunrise Calendar and rolling its capabilities into Outlook.

Number 2: Putting on a pair of glasses and seeing digital objects alongside those in the real world has typically been the stuff of science fiction. But Microsoft shocked the world earlier this year when it unveiled the HoloLens, a pair of augmented-reality goggles that let users experience exactly that.

The HoloLens’s field of view is relatively small, but the device’s capabilities are still incredibly cool. HoloLens packs a ton of technology into a tiny package, and it pays off with some really amazing visuals.

Right now, developers can apply to buy a HoloLens development kit early next year, though it’s not clear when it will be sold to mere mortals.

Finally, the biggest news story from Microsoft in 2015 is…Windows 10. While it was technically announced last year, this was the year we finally got to see Windows 10 in full, with features like Cortana coming to the desktop and Microsoft’s new Edge browser. There’s also the new Windows Universal App Platform that lets developers build one app that works across Windows 10 Phones, tablets, computers,

Since it launched in July, Windows 10 has seen massive adoption. Not everybody likes everything about it – and Microsoft has made its share of missteps, both before and after the operating system’s launch. But overall, it has been very positively received.

2015’s blockbuster year of news adds up to a lot of potential for Microsoft heading into 2016. Next year is when we get to see if all of the company’s big bets will start paying off. Will Windows 10 be as popular as everyone expects? Will HoloLens be the way of the future, or a futuristic flop? Stay tuned.