Here's a sign that the times are a-changin': Microsoft's stock closed yesterday at its highest in 13 years.
Despite Windows 8 not being the all-consuming success story Microsoft had hoped for, not to mention the company's foundering attempts to move all the more into the mobile market, its stock performance has rarely been better -- and hints at how the real value of one of tech's most resilient companies isn't bound up in the desktop world with which it's most often associated.
As of Wednesday, Microsoft had peaked at $38.94, a high it hasn't hit since July 2000, where it climbed to $39.25. it's not the $60 per share the company was commanding at the height of dot-com fever in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it's still impressive.
It's doubly impressive considering all the company has been through over the last year-plus. It took a near-billion-dollar write-off over the Surface RT -- not a giant amount of money for a company of its size (current market cap: $323 billion), but the RT strategic blunder made for a major black eye on the company's rep. It was a big enough goof that it made our list of the top tech turkeys of 2013.
Microsoft's consumer-facing online division, meaning Bing and its related portal projects, remains poky and uncreative. And so far, Windows 8.1 has lured in more existing Windows 8 users than it has anyone else. Microsoft's experiment with RT will most likely be canned, at least as far as the desktop is concerned; it's possible Windows on ARM will be useful in server applications.
The real success story with Microsoft is increasingly business- and services-oriented. Its server offerings, from SQL Server to Exchange and SharePoint, helped pull in healthy revenues. Windows Azure has gone from being a me-too curiosity to a robustly supported platform, one tied all the more strongly into Windows Server as a whole, even if Azure still has a long way to go against Amazon Web Services. Azure now even runs Oracle's database software directly, another sign of how determined Microsoft is to steer businesses into its cloud.
Even Microsoft's flagship productivity software product for the desktop, Microsoft Office, is being mutated gradually into a service: Office 365. The most recent Web incarnation of that product is still no replacement for the desktop version and lags a bit feature-for-feature against Google Docs, but how far it's come is a good measure of how Microsoft knows the desktop alone won't cut it anymore.
TechCrunch's thesis about the rise of tech stocks, Microsoft included, is that they're signs of how the classic tech companies of old are radically changing their business models to enjoy continued investor interest. Even Yahoo has posted surprising gains this year, if only because of a good deal of heat, noise, and light at the top of the company to supply investors with the feeling that something, anything is going on there.
In the same way, Microsoft's surge might just be a reflection of renewed investor interest in the company now that Steve Ballmer is on the way out. InfoWorld's David Linthicum had some words for Microsoft's next CEO on that note -- that whoever comes next will need to kick Microsoft into at least second place, and make the company lead rather than simply react, years too late, to the trends around it.
This story, "Microsoft's stock high shows the future of the company is in services," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.