6 signs Microsoft has got its mojo back

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Two star hires and a well-reviewed phone-and-tablet OS do not necessarily remake a company, but they do ease the perception — prevalent in recent years — that Microsoft is on its last legs.

There appears to be a big change in that perception compared to last year when there were public calls, based on Microsoft’s sluggish stock performance,  for CEO Steve Ballmer to step down. Several attendees at this week’s Structure: Data 2012 conference seemed newly bullish on Microsoft’s prospects. Here are six reasons why:

1: Embrace of Hadoop

Even hard-core Microsoft skeptics are impressed with the company’s new found Hadoop love.  Since October, the company’s worked with Hortonworks to make Hadoop work well with Windows — sacrificing its own Dryad big data framework in the process.  Hadoop is already available in beta on Microsoft Windows Azure. (Azure also won a big customer in Movideo which is moving its online video archives to the Microsoft platform.)

2: Works better with others

Kay Young, CEO of Mortar Data, a New York-based startup, said he’s seen a big change in Microsoft’s behavior towards other companies and that has softened his previous perception of the company. “I came up hating Microsoft and hating the fact that I had to use Internet Explorer but things have changed,” he said. “I wonder how much Ballmer has to do with that.”

Microsoft has been reaching out to help startups beyond Seattle, hosting events and seminars for startups at its New England Research and Development (NERD) center in Cambridge, Mass., for example.

3: High-profile hires

Bringing aboard a highly respected technologist like former Yahoo chief scientist Raghu Ramakrishnan and the re-hiring of  James Whitaker, who had left for Google, are two signs that Microsoft can attract top talent.  It seemed for a while that there was a one-way flow of talent out of Redmond.

4: Strong Windows 8

Even Microsoft haters admit that Windows 8 looks like a for-real OS for tablets, phones and desktops. Windows 8’s inclusion of Hyper-V also will give Microsoft a much stronger story in desktop virtualization, and Hyper-V in general is more powerful on the server side.  “We’ve seen people with multi-hypervisor strategies who walked away from Hyper-V adding it back in,” said Dave Asprey, VP of cloud security for Trend Micro, another Structure: Data attendee.

5: Consumer credibility

Xbox and now Kinect have become the focal points in many homes, giving Microsoft some much needed heft in the hot consumer technology market.  The company’s sweetheart deal with Nokia on mobile phones could very well give Windows a much-needed boost in mobile.  “I think Nokia might save them there,” Asprey said.

The new Windows Phone interface is more intuitive, more what a phone interface should be than the iPhone’s iOS, said Dave Ryan,  CTO of General Dynamics Information Technology,  another Structure: Data attendee. Of course, Microsoft has a lot of ground to make up in htis market where it lags far behind iPhone and Android.

6: Stock price

A recovering share price can cover a lot of flaws and Microsoft stock has done better of late trading at about $32 per share,  up 20 percent on the year. Nasdaq is up 16 percent for the same period. People don’t call for a CEO’s head if the stock is heading in the right direction.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Microsoft Sweden

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