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4/12/2014
09:06 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Microsoft's 5 Next Tests

Microsoft made progress during the past few weeks but still has important things to prove. For starters, think Start screen and wearables.

Windows 8.1 Update 1: 10 Key Changes
Windows 8.1 Update 1: 10 Key Changes
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Microsoft has earned a lot of praise this month and for good reason: The company faced tough questions in the first half of April and answered most of them with aplomb.

Some feared Microsoft had missed the chance to cash in on iOS's success, for example, but Office apps for the iPad quickly leapt to the top of the App Store charts. At Build, the company also introduced new Azure and Visual Studio features aimed squarely at iOS developers, including those who don't develop for Windows.

[Why are so many people still using Windows XP? Read Windows XP Holdouts: 6 Top Excuses.]

Microsoft additionally made most Windows licenses free for OEMs, finally showing some spunk after manufacturers spent much of 2013 touting Android and Chrome over Windows. It also released the Windows 8.1 update to appease disenchanted desktop users, throwing in a sneak peak of a future Start menu for good measure. And that's not to mention Cortana and the rest of Windows Phone 8.1, Universal Windows Apps, or the 40-plus other features added to Azure.

It's been a good month for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella but his company still has much to prove, particularly among consumers.
It's been a good month for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella but his company still has much to prove, particularly among consumers.

But good as the last few weeks have been for Microsoft, they aren't a panacea for all the company's challenges. Many of its remaining uphill battles involve consumer products, which is perhaps unsurprising, given that critics say the company should focus more resources on enterprise products. Where does Microsoft still need to prove itself? Here are six pressing questions.

1. Will the Modern UI ever be popular?
At Build, Nadella made clear that Microsoft is dedicated to Modern-style apps. But whereas the original version of Windows 8 tethered Modern apps to the tiled Start screen, the new Windows 8.1 update severs the cord. The Start screen is still there, but if users want to, they can run Modern apps without ever leaving the desktop. The Live Tile-infused Start menu that Microsoft OS chief Terry Myerson showed at Build only reinforces this concept.

Although it's a smart move, this change is a radical departure from Microsoft's earlier strategy. The company's initial determination to familiarize users with the Start screen was so strong that a boot-to-desktop mode wasn't even included. Yes, the recent update includes a few tweaks to make the Start screen more usable on non-touch machines, but one wonders, given Microsoft's backpedaling, if the Start screen will ever be popular on non-tablet devices, or if future Windows desktop PCs might even drop the Start screen while keeping Modern apps.

In a screenshot from Microsoft Research's now-removed video, Live Tiles can show deeper content, such as an email inbox, and even launch desktop applications.
In a screenshot from Microsoft Research's now-removed video, Live Tiles can show deeper content, such as an email inbox, and even launch desktop applications.

Although these questions won't be answered immediately, Microsoft appears to have inadvertently leaked some of the Live Tile concepts that could show up in future Windows releases. Microsoft Research posted a video in which Human-Computer Interaction Group researcher Jiawei Gui demonstrates Live Tiles that allow users to drill down into app contents without launching into full-screen mode. If the user clicks on the Email app, for example, she can view her inbox from within the Tile. Gui also showed off a new Desktop Tile that displays all running desktop software and even allows users to launch these titles from within the Live Tile. "You can do everything on the Start screen now," Gui said.

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley was the first to spot the video, which Microsoft subsequently took down, but not before a Twitter user could upload the footage.

2. Will the Surface line ever appeal to the mainstream?
Following the introduction of new models and price cuts to the original generation, Microsoft's Surface tablets are selling better. However, as of earlier this year, it was still losing money. Tablet OEMs now get Windows 8.1 licenses for free, which takes pressure off the Surface line to be a standard-bearer -- but if Microsoft doesn't intend to create superlative devices, why continue to invest so many resources in the first place?

For mobile professionals and others who value two-in-one convenience, tablets like the Surface and Surface Pro have a place. But to appeal to mainstream users, many of whom use PCs and tablets separately, Microsoft needs more.

Developments such as Universal Windows Apps could help Windows tablets, which still boast fewer apps than iPads or Android tablets. Microsoft tried with the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 to tailor the devices around the company's

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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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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/17/2014 | 10:50:42 AM
Re: About the XBoxOne
"If MS could work on this device they could conceiably get a windows machine in the front of every classroom, boardroom and office in the US."

That might be true. Apple TV has become more popular among schools and libraries because the product is easy to use and "cheap enough," even if it isn't the absolute cheapest. It's easy to mirror content from an iPad to a television, and I've talked to teachers (and a few businesses, but not as many) that use it for presentations. The device can obviously do more, but the benefit of simpler presentations seems to have sold a lot of people. I've seen many presenters fumble with an uncooperative projector, so I can see why this lone function might sway people.

Ecosystem limitations and UI differences aside, Xbox One offers Apple TV's benefits and more-- but without the attractive cost. Seems like there's room for Microsoft to produce two Xbox devices-- a souped-up one for console gamers and a cheaper option for general media users.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/17/2014 | 10:43:03 AM
Re: start screen
I think you're probably right that Microsoft expected much higher Win 8 adoption, and much less backlash from users.

As for leaving users in the cold... It was Sinofsky's teams that made the most radical decisions and produced the roughest version of the OS. At least at a leadership level, those teams have been largely disassembled. Myerson leads the OS efforts now, but he wasn't part of the team that removed the Start button and menu, or decided users should boot only to the Start screen, or who let the OS ship with such lousy first-party apps, and so on.

Myerson made the comment about the desktop only a couple weeks ago. My interpretation at the time was that he basically meant, "Look, the people who were running Windows the last few years were confusing. Let me be clear: We are not killing the desktop."

He didn't make the point about previous Windows leaders quite this bluntly-- but the point about the desktop was pretty unambiguous. I don't think we can second guess Myerson by pointing to decisions Sinofsky made a few years ago, under a different CEO and different operating structure, and when Myerson wasn't even part of the team. Also, Myerson went out of his way to address the issue. It was a keynote-- so no on was harassing him with questions, or putting pressure on him to say something he didn't want to say. It was scripted, part of the plan. The Ballmer-Sinofsky Microsoft botched Windows 8's release, no doubt. The Nadella-Myerson duo carries the burden of fixing some of these problems, but not the responsibility for creating them.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/17/2014 | 10:11:37 AM
Re: start screen
Microsoft is so committeed to the desktop it left desktop users completely out in the cold with Win8?  Microsoft knows a billion people use the desktop every day to get things done yet screwed them royal with Win8.  Even Win8.1Update1 still doesn't correct the massive pain inflicted by Microsoft so that Win7 is still the choice for most desktop users.  So to what end did Microsoft take this approach?  My guess is they thought a billion users would switch all at once to the modern UI putting great sums of money in their pocket.  They guessed wrong and now lick their wounds.  iOS and Android to well without a "desktop" but these are mobile touch OSs.  Eventually Microsoft will need to admit one OS is not for everything and Win9 will do that.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/16/2014 | 7:06:46 PM
Re: start screen
Hmm, while I see where you're coming from, I don't think Microsoft will ditch the desktop in Windows 9. Most if not all of its application efforts might involve Modern/Win RT apps, but as Windows 8.1 Update shows (and as the future addition of windowed Modern apps solidifies), Modern apps and the desktop aren't mutually exclusive. Terry Myerson went out of his way at Build to emphasize that Microsoft is committed to the desktop and knows that over 1 billion people use and like it. He runs their OSes now, so if anyone's able to speak authoritatively on this topic, it's him. Unless his plans include facing off with a bunch of pissed off customers in a few years, I don't think he would have offered this reassurance if the desktop were in jeopardy.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 10:48:34 PM
Re: Optimistic
Very good examples - Novell and Lotus all lost the big business due to a wrong decision from the beginning. For MS, I will sit back and keep my fingers crossed. MS is not the same as before, especially when Mr.Gates is still in charge. Its future growth depends on its agility and ability of innovation. But the good thing is that, Windows OS is still dominating. But MS cannot afford lose any further footprint.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 5:43:27 PM
Re: start screen

I'll admit its just a guess  Win8 is actually a "hybrid".  The Win8 updates are a temporatary measure to stay in the game. Win9 will have a "unified" user interface more likely totally based on Metro otherwise its still just Win7/8.  Think in terms of all applications operating in Metro mode from the Start/Metro screen. Done right Metro can work across the board for either touch or non-touch devices without the schizophrenic behavior of involving desktop mode. 

anon0909414853
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anon0909414853,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/14/2014 | 5:37:00 PM
About the XBoxOne
You are absolutely right!  They need a simple machine that requires a smaller Kinect and can be not much bigger than an Apple TV.  I am not sure if that is possible but it would be FANTASTIC!.  I would like to network my tv's together.  I would like to join them to a domain in my school district and run Power Points off of them,  It would be nice if they communicated with surface devices or any tablets so we can use big TV's during presentations and trainings.  I can get almost an 80" TV for half the cost of a smart board.  If MS could work on this device they could conceiably get a windows machine in the front of every classroom, boardroom and office in the US.
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 5:32:36 PM
Re: Optimistic
Novell was the number one work group network vendor but refused to support native IP insisting IPX was the better route meanwhile Microsoft took OS2's networking ability from IBM creating Lan Manager which suported IP.  By the time Novell added IP the contest was over.   WordPerfect incrediblely decided NOT to support Windows and so did Lotus.  Again, by the time these companies offered a Windows version both Word and Excel dominated well before Office came to market.  I don't think Microsofts fate is to disappear as these examples show how well Microsoft can catch up but there's something different about Microsoft this time around that makes me less confident because of the mistakes with Win8 and Xbox1, something the old Microsoft would never have done.
petey
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petey,
User Rank: Strategist
4/14/2014 | 4:58:49 PM
Re: Optimistic
I'm not sure what pre-WWW means, specifically. But you get some points for an attempted mock. No disrespect to Facebook but let's see if it's still around in 20 years. Microsoft has been around for awhile like them or hate them. My opinion is they are beginning to make some interesting moves, and it should be fascinating to watch them over the next 5 yrs. office on iPad has to be one of their most interesting moves but I like their cloud offerings too
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 4:45:25 PM
Re: start screen
I would like to know how you know that. That would be one of the worst moves MS could make.

Why did they put out 8.1 then? Just to pacify people?  I don't think so.

 

 
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