Microsoft as Innovative Underdog?

I once said that it would be a cold day in Hell if Microsoft actually started innovating.  Well, it’s getting chilly.  Microsoft has been behind in a number of respects over the past few years, but it’s responding in force nowadays.  The company is actually putting out a bevy of cool new stuff that I never would have thought they could do a few years ago.  Let’s go:

Phones: Windows Phone 8 is the latest iteration of a line of (frankly) unimpressive set of releases for phones – but each release has gotten better in big leaps.  I’m an iPhone user, but I have to say that Phone 8 is getting very close to a smooth, intuitive phone OS.

Cloud: SkyDrive is a serious contender for cloud storage, and Windows Azure is a compelling application environment for hosting your own apps  on Microsoft’s servers.  I’m not as impressed at the “cloudification” of some of their Enterprise applications, but the next version of Office and Outlook online look absolutely awesome.

Hardware Platforms: Surface actually shows promise as a tablet platform – and they are appealing to Windows diehards by including a great keyboard as a tablet cover.  The problem with it all is that they are splitting Windows into two platforms (RT, which runs on low power ARM chips, and Windows 8, which runs on Intel CPUs).  Not good to do that.

OS: Windows 8 seems like Windows 7 with a new skin – but it’s far more than that.  With every release since Vista, Microsoft has continued to refine the speed and utility of one of their core products.  The risk there is that Windows 7 is becoming the new XP – corporate clients will stick with 7 for years to come.  This will affect their profits long term.

Honestly, I’m starting to get impressed with them.  I know they are fighting for their financial lives in the shadow of Apple and Google, but barring any Ballmer-related goofs, they’ll live.