It’s hard for a company of Microsoft’s size to stay relevant, let alone turning itself around. It somehow became the biggest company in the world, and that’s impressive. However, what this article talks about is not how this company is run but a much smaller topic. Giving them full credit of running the company so well does not mean I cannot complain about the little things that drive me crazy. Watching them to become more successful is painful to an old fan like myself. Microsoft use to be the Windows and Office company. Nowadays it’s more successful with Azure and Office365. For an old fan, it’s like seeing your divorced wife selling your engagement ring for something more practical. You can definitely understand it given the circumstances, but it still breaks your heart.
This article will not get into the historical reasons like anti-trust issues, office politics, history of the smart phone era or else it will never end. Let’s just talk about Windows.
Right OS, Wrong Device, Wrong Audience.
Windows RT was great. It had the best tablet UI, edge gesture, fluidity and price. Apps that run on it consumes very little resource, and they are often very smooth and pleasant to use. However, it was on the wrong device. All the device that Windows RT run on was pitched as or literally was a PC. Wait… What? A PC? Weren’t they all tablets? Oh yes, they were tablets for sure, but they were all 16:9. The way the devices were built and the OS/apps were designed force the user to use it in landscape mode. How is this a big deal? It’s not, but it’s one of the thousand pain points of that kind of device. It was trying to be the new Windows, but it simply can’t since it and legacy Windows solve different problems. It was trying to compete with iPad, but it failed to acquire developers support. (Most people with C# skills are not mobile developers, and most mobile developers have no real incentives to move to Microsoft’s development stack) The development story was to build two of the same apps. One for tablet UI, the other for phones. Windows RT was technically great, but it failed nonetheless.
Wrong OS, Wrong Device, Wrong Audience
Microsoft’s next move was Windows 10. It’s complicated, to say the least, to categorize Windows 10. It’s trying to be even more, which is not good. Microsoft tries to build one OS for everything just for the sake of not copying Apple. This is not very clever because it’s like knowingly walking the wrong path. Apple has proven that the right way to build OSes for multiple devices is to build a common kernel and a common API layer. The shell layer should and will be different because people are not using these devices the same way. The app model should also be different because different devices are managed differently. Desktop app should be more powerful because they are managed by people who are using them to get work done. The users know what they are doing. Phone and tablet apps should be more strictly because there is no way for a user to fix or hack a device that’s made of a flab of glass and three buttons. Smart Watch apps should be more limited because no one will want to see the same level of complexity as its phone/desktop app counterpart.
What did Windows 10 do? It tried to be desktop, tablet and phone all together. In desktop mode, it’s the desktop OS that it really is. In tablet mode, it simply maximizes every window. On the phone, granted it doesn’t have the desktop component in it, it still tries to get the developers to build the same app to run on all three devices.
At the time, Microsoft was trying to push the whole creator focus on all their devices and software. Two of the updates were literally called “The Creator’s Update”, and they basically built all the Surface Pen and Surface Dial features for that audience. It was a huge push. Windows 10 integrated Paint3D, Print3D, View3D, Mix Reality, Photo Remix for creating and editing contents. Surface department finally found meaning in making a pen. Surface Pro was the device that they want artists and students to use. Surface Book’s whole compromised design was to put a semi-usable discrete GPU for 3D modeling, but it compromised both the CPU and the GPU to be underpowered. Surface Studio is also built for creators, but they spent so much on the screen that they had to cut corner in the specs to make the price tag even acceptable.
Microsoft never had any success with creators’ market. They are more gear towards the enterprise market which they ignored for so long. As a result, they cut all the effort going into the creators’ focus and went back to the enterprise market. All the 3D related apps stopped receiving features. Although it’s sad that they are not evolving Photo Remix, it was such a great looking video editing app.
Wrong OS, Right Device, Right Audience
Windows 10 S was Terry Myerson’s last struggle. The only way it differs from Windows 10 is that it has a lock that prevents users from installing software from outside of the Store. That’s definitely the right idea…[pause for dramatic effect]…FOR A TABLET! Like I said before, users on the desktop know what they are doing, or at least their IT does. Otherwise they would’ve been using an iPad. Of course, Windows 10 S exist just to promote the Store, but the Store is not of any high quality. Microsoft may argue that what Windows 10 S provides is the layer of manageability for enterprise and education markets, but enterprise devices already are manageable because Windows 10 Enterprise is made for that.
Along with Windows 10 S, came the Surface Laptop. It was beautiful and well received. The specs were right, and aspect ratio is still great today. The first thing every user did after they got theirs? Turning off Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S was simply wrong. It targets all users as it’s audients, but we all need real software to run on it. It then pivoted itself to target education market, but their devices are already well managed. However, these are still the right audience because that layer of manageability should be built into Windows 10 as a feature (and it’s already there long before Windows 10 S came to light) for normal users if they don’t want malware to overtake their computer. The ease of management should be built into Windows 10 Enterprise so IT pros can manage the devices more easily. Making it a default feature in a separate SKU is wrong.
Right OS, Right Device, Right Audience, But Microsoft
Windows On ARM. This is one of the few things Terry Myerson did right. Not that Windows On ARM is a successful product by any means, but the implications. Windows is designed to run on Intel X86 architecture. Some may say, what about AMD? No, AMD is doing pretty good these days, but if you know the golden age as WinTel, you know that Windows is optimized for Intel and no one else.
Then why did Microsoft make Windows On ARM? Well, you see, Microsoft these days is all about making friends(partners). Whether this is correct is still unclear, but it’s certainly something both the board and the EU wants to see. Intel is slacking off in their 10 nm offering for 5 years now. They were going to do it in 5th gen, but now we are on 10th gen and it’s only available for low wattage ultra-books. Microsoft making friends with Qualcomm and AMD definitely is a strong incentive for Intel to get their act together. How’s the actual result of WOA? Since its announcement, only a handful of devices were announced and even less released. The best one out there? Surface Pro X. It’s the best device ever. It has everything you’d want from a 2-in-1 and more, but there is always a “but”.
Surface Pro X is great. Windows 10 compiled for ARM runs beautifully. The device is a proven form factor evolved to be even more modern. It targets mobile workers that most of the time are in the browser and the Office suite. It has great battery life, instance on, seamless connectivity and enough performance for that class. It all sounds great right? Microsoft owns Office, Edge and Teams. They should be able to support the form factor they have been pushing for the last three years, right? Well, not really. Microsoft is still not acting as a whole company. Departments still do their own thing and screw each other up. Surface Pro X has launched, but Office is still not 100% native to it. The new Edge is still x86 only, and Microsoft Teams is that way too. How can Microsoft expect developers to target this new platform when apps from themselves don’t even work?
Supporting more silicon is the right direction for Windows to evolve. Surface Pro X is the perfect form factor for this kind of system because both the system and the device are designed for mobility. The target audience is for people who are mostly in the browser and office suite which is perfect because all these programs are owned by Microsoft and can easily be recompiled for this new silicon. However, Microsoft’s inability to support its own platform is classic Microsoft, and it needs to change.
The Future, Windows Core OS, Unknown
The future of Windows is clear at this point. Desktop as a traditional formfactor will not go away in the foreseeable future, but Windows will evolve on new form factors. Windows Core OS use a common kernel but use different shell for different interaction model. This is exactly how Apple do it with all their device types and OS types. This is correct. Hololens runs Windows Core OS and only target enterprise market. It is very successful and till this day still have no competition. Surface Hub run Windows Core OS, it only target enterprise and education market. It is very successful too. Some competition came up, but none of those had even a chance of succeeding. This looks like the correct future. Microsoft also announced Surface Neo that also run Windows Core OS. It will debut holiday 2020. Its future is still unknown. Let’s all wait and see that’s going to happen.