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Windows next: So what?

Mary Branscombe | Sept. 19, 2014
Speaking as someone who likes Windows 8 and whose touch PC you can take away when you pry it from my cold dead fingers, I'm surprisingly unexcited about the next version of Windows.

Speaking as someone who likes Windows 8 and whose touch PC you can take away when you pry it from my cold dead fingers, I'm surprisingly unexcited about the next version of Windows.

Partly that's because Windows, like everything else at Microsoft, is shifting from big bang releases every few years to continuous updates and new features. We've seen that with Internet Explorer 11 getting WebGL gradually, and it's what the Mission Control team in Windows is there for.

According to this recent job advert, the plan is to "fundamentally change the way Windows is shipping" (especially for drivers, but also for OS features). "Online services are shipping every week," the ad points out; "why not client software? What would it take to modify the Windows start menu on every Windows user machine in less than a week?"

If I can have changes every week, a new Windows version is much like a service pack.

But my lack of excitement is also because the leaks we've seen do not show an ambitious-looking OS; it looks like the acceptable compromise for businesses. At this stage, all we've seen are leaks and thinking about the rapid improvements in the Windows 8 experience from the slightly clunky developer preview to the much sleeker Consumer Preview, so a lot could change before final release. But the first information Microsoft will reveal is targeted at enterprises. and that says something about what to expect from Windows next: It's the upgrade path from Windows 7 for businesses.

Slow and steady

The PC isn't dead. Both Lenovo and Dell say they're selling more PCs than ever, and that's more than just XP upgrades would account for. Businesses are still buying PCs — just less often, and they're not the only things they buy. When you look at the whole device market, as Microsoft itself pointed out at its partner conference, Windows is just 14% of the opportunity.

When CEO Satya Nadella cleverly pivoted the question about Windows Phone's ability to scale into a discussion of cross platform potential recently, it was clear Microsoft still has huge ambitions (Microsoft icons on every screen means billions and billions of users). But despite his reclaiming the idea that Microsoft is about platforms, it's far from clear how big those ambitions are for Windows itself, in any of its device forms.

It's ludicrous to say that Microsoft services and apps are better on other platforms than they are on Windows; ask anyone who uses Outlook on a Mac, or would like to use OneNote for Business on a Mac. Despite lots of hard work, there are only a few outliers — like OneNote for Android having pen support when OneNote on Windows phone doesn't even let you draw with your finger — that put Microsoft's own platforms in second place for its apps today.

 

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