Mumbai: Having spent 27 years with the company, Jean-Philippe Courtois has seen the $70 billion Microsoft Corp. evolve from a software developer to one that’s involved in gaming, entertainment and cloud services. As president of Microsoft International, Courtois leads global sales, marketing and services, covering 115 subsidiaries in more than 240 countries outside the US and Canada. His achievements include being a co-chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Digital Divide Initiative Task Force, and being named one of Tech’s Top 25 by The Wall Street Journal Europe this year.
He spoke to Mint about Microsoft’s direction in emerging countries including India and shared his perspective on the future of desktops and notebooks in a world that is more excited about tablet PCs and smartphones. Edited excerpts:
Are PCs a dying breed? The excitement over tablet PCs and smartphones seems to suggest so.
Microsoft is moving from a PC world to a PC-plus world, which is the augmented world that people live in today with many smaller devices. We have many other screens and form factors like smartphones and tablet PCs to connect, but the PC is certainly not dead. In fact, it’s growing, and studies suggest the numbers will touch two billion by 2014. Phones and tablet PCs are primarily consumption devices, and not typically used for creation of content. It’s here that we need PCs. Hence, it’s going to be a device-centric world since all of us will use multiple devices.
Road ahead: Courtois says the company is determined to provide cloud services to every person on the planet. By Hemant Mishra/Mint
Meanwhile, we are also making Office 365 available on smartphones and tablet PCs so that users can use their device at homes and in offices too.
You appear bullish on your cloud strategy. But is it any different from that of vendors such as Amazon, Google or VWWare?
We offer companies, both private (owned and operated by companies) and public, cloud (hosted by Microsoft) services. We advocate a “hybrid” strategy, especially for large enterprises so that they can benefit from having full control of their data, security, and comply with regulatory needs of their respective countries, while providing select services on a public cloud (example, Office 365). We are determined to provide cloud services to every person on the planet. It’s a very bold statement that I’m making, but our founder Bill Gates made a similar prediction when he said he envisioned a PC in every home. We are getting there in some countries.
But don’t these cloud offerings cannibalize the sales of your company’s other offline products such as the Windows operating system which account for a major portion of your revenue?
We started the cloud journey at least 10 years ago (example: Hotmail, which is now called Windows Live) and reached more than a billion people on the planet. For the last five years, we have been moving our enterprise offerings to the cloud. Today, with Office 365, we can sell a suite of services such as basic email services, collaboration tools even to people in stores, and reach out to many more users who were not buying Microsoft technologies. It’s an additional revenue stream for us.
What about the mobile space? Some analysts maintain you will find it difficult to make a dent in the smartphone market, which is dominated by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android phones…
We are here for a long run in the mobile space. A month back, we announced a partnership with Nokia and other partners, including HTC and Samsung. Mobility is happening everywhere including India. But the share of smartphones in India is less than 15%, while globally it’s a little over 25%, which means that the mobile market has not been exploited. Users are looking out for another mobile ecosystem (distinct from Android and the iPhone). They got a glimpse of that from Nokia (referring to the recent launch of Nokia’s Lumia phones, which run on Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system, and were introduced in India this week). There will be many more such phones soon.
You are also betting big on the gaming and entertainment segments. Tell us about your plans.
We have been running a gaming and entertainment business for nearly a decade. We are number one in the US, and a few other countries in Europe and Asia in the gaming space, and soon hope to become numero uno worldwide too.
It’s result of a combination of hardware innovation and building a gaming community using the cloud service on the phone, the Kinect (Microsoft’s motion-sensing input device for the Xbox 360 console), the Xbox 360 and even the personal computer. We also announced some important content partnerships with entertainment companies in the US and Europe to bring entertainment on gaming devices.
Our vision is to allow users to search for content like movies, music and songs with your voice or using gestures on the Kinect and sync that with your TV screen, phone, PC or any other device. Along with new gaming titles, which will be introduced in the coming months, we also hope to help businesses to innovate using Kinect sensors, and capabilities of buddy and gesture recognition for applications in sectors like healthcare and education.
How is your search engine Bing performing? Has the tie-up with Yahoo helped increase mindshare?
We are extremely focused on the US markets and have increased our marketshare to 30%. We are moving Bing to a few more countries like the UK, France and Germany. We are making a big bet in the mobile space. We want to make Bing more than just search, to be the key intelligence engine behind the phone, get people to navigate and present information in a meaningful way. We have tough competition but it’s a market which is asking for competition. We look forward to invest more in that space because we know we can bring a lot to the table.
How would you sum up the broad trend for the future?
There are one billion PCs, two billion TVs and five billion phones, and the numbers will only grow as the “Internet of Things” concept gathers momentum. (This envisages physical objects being integrated into the information network, and interacting “smartly” with business processes to deliver services.) Most people own all three, but there is a set of people that does not own a single device. Over time, devices will reach these people too. With cloud services, you can have the scale to solve India’s economic problems.