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Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Nadella's Windows 9 And Device Plans, Explained

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says his company is "streamlining" Windows into a converged OS, and "right-sizing" its device efforts. But what does this really mean?

device on which it's running, and automatically load the appropriate UI. PC users will get a desktop, which will come complete with a revamped Start menu, and is rumored to sport a somewhat flatter, more modern aesthetic. The tiled Start screen will be disabled by default, though users will be able to run Modern apps in floating windows on the desktop, just like they can with legacy apps. Tablet and smartphones users, on the other hand, will get a new version of the Start screen, but not a desktop. Hybrid devices, such as the Surface, will switch between UIs based on whether they're attached to accessories, such as a docking station or keyboard. "One Windows" is more about below-the-hood unification than a single interaction model that spans all devices.

Nadella's plan to unify engineering extends to the company's evolving hardware agenda. Under former CEO Steve Ballmer, "devices" played a headline role in the company's strategy, prompting many critics to blast Microsoft's putative "Apple envy." Leading up to this week's earnings call, Nadella distanced himself from this stance, stating that devices have a role within the company, but must serve his overarching "mobile-first, cloud-first" rubric.

"Mobility for us goes beyond just devices," he said during Tuesday's earnings call. "While we're certainly focused on building great phones and tablets, we think of mobility more expansively."

This more expansive definition includes cross-platform cloud services, as well as management tools for not only Windows devices, but also iOS and Android products. To Nadella, "mobile" means moving digital experiences with the user, and presenting them in the context that fits the device and moment. This "mobility" also includes the IT professionals who must oversee mobile devices and the data they carry, but who must also respect user privacy. All of this "mobile" utility is enabled via the cloud, hence Nadella's "mobile-first, cloud-first" focus.

An alleged screenshot from a leaked build of Windows 'Threshold' shows the revamped Start menu. (Source:
An alleged screenshot from a leaked build of Windows "Threshold" shows the revamped Start menu. (Source:

If you didn't notice, this wide definition of "mobile" doesn't particularly demand that Microsoft make a lot of devices. CFO Amy Hood alluded to this during the earnings call, stating that the company is working to "right-size" the Nokia acquisition. Stephen Elop, the former Nokia CEO who now oversees Microsoft's device efforts, used the same language in the letter he sent employees to announce the layoffs. Some investors still question whether Microsoft needs to make its own hardware, and in the last few weeks, company execs have clearly stressed that though device efforts will continue, they'll operate in a more modest context.

"We're not in hardware for hardware's sake," Nadella said during the earnings call. "Going forward, all devices will be created with the explicit purpose to light up our digital work and life experiences."

What does this mean? "At times we'll develop new categories like we did with Surface," said Nadella. "And we will responsibly make the market for Windows Phone."

Nadella's implication that the Surface is a success might seem like a stretch, but in a way, he has a point. A few years ago, few Windows OEMs produced devices that could compete aesthetically with Apple's catalogue. Thanks to Microsoft's prodding and Intel's upcoming Broadwell chips, the next round of premium Windows devices will be as sleek, light and stylish as many of the products currently coming out of Cupertino.

It remains to be seen how next-gen Windows software and hardware actually deliver, of course, but the point remains: With the Surface line, and particularly the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft encouraged its partners to raise the bar.

Still, manufacturing partners' investment in Windows brings up the trickiness of the Nokia situation. Late in Ballmer's tenure, Microsoft's relationship with OEMs often appeared strained. Execs from many partners publicly criticized Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Today, in contrast, Microsoft and device manufacturers appear largely on the same page. This raises a question: If OEM relations are better, why doesn't Microsoft leave the costly task of manufacturing smartphones to its partners?

There are several reasons. For one thing, Nokia accounts for an inordinate number of Windows Phone devices sold, so even if other manufacturers are willing to play, Microsoft needed someone to do heavy lifting. Windows and Windows Phone still have to compete with Android and Chrome OS for its partners' loyalty, after all.

But more importantly, at least according to Nadella, Microsoft needs devices that showcase what its cloud services can do. If Microsoft-made Lumias can truly "light up" the user experience, the company will gain not only more Windows Phone users, but also attract more cross-platform attention.

What does it mean to "light up"? Nadella offered several examples. "We believe productivity experiences will go beyond individual applications to deliver ambient intelligence that spans applications," he said at one point, noting that thanks to Cortana, Windows Phone 8.1 is uniquely positioned to demonstrate this idea.

He also noted that the Surface Pro 3's lauded digital note-taking experience required that "developers [pull] together one vision to write code that resides in the firmware in the Surface Pro 3's pen ... the Windows shell, and in OneNote."

"This is not about just Word or Excel on your phone," Nadella summarized. "It is about thinking about Cortana, and Office Lens, and those kinds of scenarios in compelling ways."

What about Xbox? Microsoft initially positioned the Xbox One as a portal to all media. Since then, Sony's PlayStation 4 has posted better sales, albeit with wider availability, and Microsoft has scaled back its efforts to focus more on gaming.

"It’s important for us to have a core that is thriving. It's equally important to place smart, bold bets in other areas where we have the ability to add value and have impact," Nadella said Tuesday. "That's what we're doing with Xbox."

Ultimately, Microsoft's Windows and device strategies are still in flux, and still lack the definition and direction of the company's rapidly-growing cloud efforts. But after being handed Ballmer's grander intentions for first-party devices, Nadella is moving toward a more sensible software-hardware balance. That's a good first step -- but Microsoft will face more challenges in coming months, when buyers decide whether next-gen Windows devices are actually more appealing than the ones they've spent the last year mostly ignoring.

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
10/27/2014 | 6:28:42 PM
Re: VB6 programming on Windows 10
VB6 installs and runs on the Windows 10 technical preview.

It looks like VB6 programming is suppported on Windows 10.

User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2014 | 2:31:41 PM
Re: VB6 programming on Windows 9
If there is a beta version of Wiindows 9 made available in September we should find out if VB6 programming is supported.

Hopefully either the VB6 runtime will be included, or it will be installable.

The Visual Basic programming community needs this.

User Rank: Apprentice
7/27/2014 | 7:02:13 AM
VB6 programming on Windows 9
Will Windows 9 include the VB6 runtime to allow Visual Basic 6.0 (VB6) programming ?

And if this is 'One Windows' does that mean the VB6 runtime will be on all versions ?

User Rank: Ninja
7/26/2014 | 3:06:47 PM
Re: What?
MS could always do with Windows what the developers of the X Window System did from the very start and make the UI independent of the underlying system.  Windows apps don't care whether or not there is a start button or any other specific UI feature' all they care about is whether the system supports what they're trying to do.

User Rank: Ninja
7/26/2014 | 2:57:45 PM
So the vicious cycle continues
It appears that Windows 9 will be "Windows 8 done right", just as Windows 7 has been "Vista done right".  Hopefully, Windows 10 will break that cycle, but time will tell.  Just as it did with DOS, MS has fallen into the habit of releasing stable, well-received odd-numbered versions of Windows, while even numbered ones end up with major problems; Windows 95 (Windows 4.0) and Windows NT 4.0 appear to be the only significant exceptions to this rule.

It is helpful that Satya Nadella seems to understand the difference between an OS and a UI, especially that the former can have more than one of the latter; the tendency at MS throughout the history of Windows has been to conflate the two.

User Rank: Ninja
7/25/2014 | 4:25:07 PM
Re: What?
The devil is not in the details, its in the GUI.

Being able to write various logic-ish layers that translate across the platforms is one thing, and quite attainable. It even exists to an extent right now. Its the view layer that is the bugger.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
7/25/2014 | 12:15:47 PM
Re: Common app platform requires a common UI
You're right; that could have been phrased better. It would be more accurate to say that no Start screen will be included by default in the desktop UI-- so no hopping back and forth between interfaces like there is now. Live Tiles (albeit evidently not as touch-centric) will be integrated into the Start menu, though it sounds like users will be able to control what appears, so if there aren't any Modern apps you like, you should be able to largely purge them. The Live Tiles themselves won't be so touch-centric, meanwhile. Most notably, they'll be able to launch into windowed mode, like legacy apps, not just full-screen mode.
User Rank: Strategist
7/25/2014 | 11:38:12 AM
Re: What?
Yes.  It's called consolidation.
User Rank: Apprentice
7/24/2014 | 11:26:17 PM
Re: 'One Windows' a marketing ploy
I think what he has in mind is creating apps accross platforms that share a common visiion. They will have to handle the UI in the best way for the device but their data should be common and they should to the extent possible allow present a common experience. Taking advantage of the the capabilities each platform to make the combination of devices more powerful.

Look at online banking as an example. I  use my phone for most of my online banking but my real computer provides a better experience if I need to review more than a few transactions at a time. My main computer does not have a camera but my phone does. Each device adds to the capabilities of the whole. The interfaces are different but I accomplish actions in a similar way.

What if you could use your home computer for it's large screen, disk space, and computing power to do your day to day heavy computing. And use your tablet to present the work in a meeting and your phone to get making a minor change on the fly. And do it all without the cumbsome pasting and searching for files to email or transfer via another application, each of which works different on each platform.

Facebook has games that can be played on different platforms with a minimal difference in functionallity but I can't even get Outlook to move from one computer to the next without a lot of pain or buying extra software.

True intergration between platforms cannot happen with different teams working towards different goals. If Microsoft can focus their teams toward common goals the results could amazing. However software is all about the next new feature and getting it done as fast as possible. What are the chances of getting anything but glued together cross functionallity?

User Rank: Apprentice
7/24/2014 | 10:51:20 PM
Common app platform requires a common UI
I don't understand why you say "... it's unlikely that touch-oriented Live Tiles will appear by default when Threshold loads on PCs and laptops.", when the screenshot of your article shows exactly that in the new desktop view of Start.

Of course if it has a common app platform, it has to have a common UI to some extent. In order for an app to run on the desktop, every element of the system shell UI that the app can integrate with - tiles, charms/contracts, notifications/notification center, Cortana, etc. - has to exist on the desktop in some compatible form because the integration with those elements are part of the app.
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