"You're getting scroogled!" screamed a slide during Microsoft's chief operating officer Kevin Turner's speech at the vendor's recent Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), a jibe met with laughter and applause from the 16,000-strong crowd of partners.
It is perhaps unlikely that any firm would assemble an army of its partners together in order to tell them anything other than that they have bet on the best business, with the strongest leadership and the most-advanced technology, but Microsoft seemed to made a big deal of picking on its rivals at the Houston event.
During his lively address Turner was keen to highlight rival Google's recent bad press around user privacy. He gleefully berated the online giant for allegedly passing on users' email content data to advertisers, hastening to add that privacy is at the top of Microsoft's agenda.
But Google was just the start when it came to competitive ribbing during WPC, with the software giant squaring up to a handful of other rivals throughout the week-long event too.
Devices - Microsoft vs Apple
If Microsoft's marketing and strategic talk is anything to go by, the vendor is now a devices and services company, not a software firm. In its 2013 fiscal year, Microsoft launched its Windows Phone 8 as well as two tablet devices - the consumer-focused Surface RT and the Surface Pro, which is aimed at commercial customers.
During the event, Microsoft unveiled plans to take its tablets out to market via the channel. Just a handful of resellers will initially get to sell the device. While UK resellers were pleased to finally be allowed to get their hands on the tablets, some grumbled at the pilot scheme the vendor is planning, claiming it was unfair to those not included.
While a cautious approach is apparently set to be employed in its devices channel strategy, it seems the firm does not lack confidence when measuring up the technology against that of its rivals.
"Surface is hands down more productive than an iPad. Windows 8 tablets [are] the best for business," insisted chief marketing officer Tami Reller in her keynote speech.
Shortly afterwards she unveiled a new Surface advert which mocked the iPad, much to the amusement of the crowd.
In the smartphone arena, operations chief Turner weighed in, saying: "Put the Nokia Lumia 925 next to an iPhone and you won't want the iPhone!" which was met with whooping and applause from the audience.
Even chief executive Steve Ballmer quipped: "Windows Phone 8, I'll just tell you, there's no phone in the market better today than Windows Phone. I say that with all the objectivity of the CEO of Microsoft. It's unbelievable how objective I am on the topic!"
Cloud - Microsoft vs Google
Microsoft still seems keen to fuel the cloud hype, with the topic forming a huge part of its messaging during the conference. Cloud, along with social enterprise, mobility and big data all formed part of the firm's strategy for this fiscal year.
Microsoft UK hailed 122 per cent annual growth in its cloud-based Azure platform, while its Office 365 business more than tripled over the same period.
The vendor claimed it was the only firm to offer a true hybrid approach, and its UK technology leader Akrigg said he had a "moral duty" to lure Google Apps customers onto Office 365 instead.
"[We are] competing and winning against Google. I care about customers deeply and I do not believe that our customers should suffer anymore," he said.
Reseller Softcat's solutions director Sam Routledge said that Microsoft's approach to the cloud sets it aside from other rivals' approaches.
"Three years ago, Ballmer said ‘we're in for the cloud' and the message this year was that they have improved the cloud but that where Microsoft is going to win is in hybrid. That is something I absolutely agree with," he said.
"The world is not going to go there overnight, however much anyone wants it to. It will be piece by piece and over time. Most companies will get most of the way there.
"It is nice to see that in response to feedback, Microsoft is not just pushing everyone down [the cloud-only] route. We are in mixed mode and that will be the way for the next five or 10 years. Customers want hybrid."
Virtualisation - Microsoft vs VMware
James Akrigg, Microsoft UK's head of technology, told a roomful of UK delegates: "I speak to partners throughout the year and when I ask ‘why do you still provide VMware to your customers?', I hear, ‘we give [customers] what they ask for.' I have not met a single customer who asked to pay more for technology, have less capability and have a very, very uncertain future."
News reports quoting IDC figures claim Microsoft has upped its game in the virtualisation space in the past four years - reportedly growing its share of the server virtualisation market from 20.3 per cent in 2008 to 27.6 per cent in 2012. Although VMware remains the dominant market leader, its 2012 share of 56.8 per cent was down from 65.4 per cent four years ago.
And it seems the favourable figures have fired up Microsoft, as its server tools boss Takeshi Numoto said that, although the virtualisation giant has had a lead in the market for a while, Microsoft's Hyper-V offering is now ready to "put the heat on" its rival's offering.
He told CRN that VMware has taken advantage of having the market to itself for a while, but that now Microsoft's products are more mature and less expensive.
Richard Gibbons, software manager at reseller Bechtle - which works with both vendors - said that although Microsoft is late to the game, it is not always the early entrants that have the last laugh.
"VMware does have [market dominance]; it is a little bit like how everyone calls vacuum cleaners ‘Hoovers' - they say VMware when they mean virtualisation.Historically, Microsoft has always been in that [market-leading] position, but in the old days Novell, for example, came first [to the word-processing market] and was good. Microsoft was late but eventually made a very strong competitive product and now others are pretty much by the wayside. It is likely that will happen with virtualisation too."
Major restructure announcement rounds off WPC
The four themes of Microsoft's strategy for FY14 were cloud, mobility, big data and social enterprise, and on the final day of the conference, chief executive Steve Ballmer sealed the deal by announcing a "far-reaching" company realignment to incorporate these trends into the vendor's so-called One Microsoft vision.
In a 2,700-word email sent to all of the tech giant's staff, Ballmer reiterated that the strategy will focus wholly on creating a "family of devices and services" for both consumers and businesses, and insisted the entire firm will follow this mantra, and not separate, divisional goals.
The restructure sees staff organised by function rather than specialism and the company will be structured into engineering, marketing, business development, evangelism, advanced strategy and research, finance, legal and human resources divisions. Microsoft Dynamics is to remain as a standalone unit.
"This is a big undertaking," said Ballmer. "It touches nearly every piece of what we do and how we work. It changes our org structure, the way we collaborate, how we allocate resources, how we best empower our engineers and how we market."
Twelve leaders were unveiled for each of these newly defined divisions, while it was announced that Office boss Kurt DelBene is to leave the company. Ballmer added that he wants the firm to become more nimble, communicative, collaborative, decisive and motivated.
"Process-wise, each major initiative of the company (product or high-value scenario) will have a team that spans groups to ensure we succeed against our goals. Our strategy will drive what initiatives we agree and commit to at my staff meetings," he said.
"Culturally, our core values do not change, but how we express them and act day to day must evolve so we work together to win."
CEO claims the firm is set to make 'bold acquisitions in the very near feature'
Global spend on datacentre tech will slow to 1.6 per cent in 2019
Traditional outsourcing increases 40 per cent year on year in Q3
MSP execs hoping to make splash in cybersecurity training pond with new business