Microsoft Windows' Future: 8 Revelations - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Windows' Future: 8 Revelations

From a new Start menu to Cortana to the Internet of Things, Microsoft previewed the future of Windows this week at Build.

Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
Microsoft Office For iPad: 7 Questions Answered
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Rumors have held for months that Microsoft would use Build, its developers' conference, to preview Windows 9. That didn't end up happening, but executive vice president of operating systems Terry Myerson did his best to make sure attendees weren't disappointed.

Noting that customers want Microsoft to be more transparent about its plans, Myerson revealed an unusually forward-looking and wide-ranging Windows roadmap. Official references to Windows 9 might have been missing, but the company spilled the beans on topics that ranged from April 8's Windows 8.1 update to the eventual return of the Start menu to the OS's invasion into the Internet of Things.

What can you expect from Windows? Here are eight changes coming to world's most ubiquitous operating system.

1. The Start menu is coming back.
Myerson noticeably deflated the audience of approximately 5,000 people when he said he wouldn't be introducing the next version of Windows. He clarified, however, that he wanted to share aspects of the company's long-term roadmap -- that is, things that won't be arriving in Tuesday's Windows 8.1 update.

A few minutes later, Myerson provoked the day's loudest applause when he unexpectedly unveiled a Start menu, the absence of which remains a prominent Windows 8.1 criticism. Instantly familiar to Windows 7 users but infused with a healthy dose of the tiled Modern UI, the new Start menu will arrive in a future update, though Microsoft did not offer timing expectations. Myerson didn't delve into any functionality details, and in an interview, a Microsoft rep was quick to say that the Start menu is a work in progress whose appearance and functionality could still change.

The Start Menu's coming back, but Live Tiles aren't going away.
The Start Menu's coming back, but Live Tiles aren't going away.

2. Microsoft is not going to kill the desktop.
When Microsoft released Windows 8 without a boot-to-desktop option, many accused the company of force feeding the Modern UI to users. This criticism led some to speculate that Microsoft might kill off the desktop altogether.

However, Myerson stressed during Build that Microsoft remains committed to the desktop. Based on his presentation, the company seems determined to integrate Modern apps into the desktop experience, but it also appears more receptive to the UI needs of traditional mouse-and-keyboard users.

3. Cortana and personalization will pervade the Windows ecosystem.
At Build, Microsoft introduced Cortana, a digital assistant that will compete with iOS's Siri and Android's Google Now. The app boasts a fairly open model that allows it to interact with a variety of other apps through spoken and typed commands.

Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now.
Cortana, Microsoft's answer to Siri and Google Now.

Microsoft also hopes to position its digital assistant as the market's most personalized, thanks to close integration with Bing and the user's Microsoft

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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
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/4/2014 | 3:00:42 PM
Re: Is this really MS?
The smart moves are interesting. A lot of them involve the cloud, which means Nadella deserves credit at least by proxy, if not directly. But he'd been CEO for fewer than 60 days when the Build keynote started, so some of these moves clearly date back to Ballmer. Now that we're seeing things like Cortana, for example, those people who were pressuring Ballmer to dump Bing (which powers Cortana) seem a bit short-sighted.

But I think it's significant that Windows has undergone several leadership changes since Sinofsky left. Moreover, many of the people closest to Sinofsky have left too. With Myerson running the OS show, it's a completely different leadership team than the one that created Windows 8. In fact, many of the people who worked on 8.1 aren't in the same positions either. I think these changes open up the possibility for some pretty radical re-thinking. No one would be killing off their own "baby" anymore.

As for Xamarin, I think you're right-- whatever the relationship, it's unlikely Microsoft would kill off the iOS and Android support. If Microsoft can get iOS and Android devs to use Visual Studio, I think Nadella would be pretty pleased, even if a lot of them don't open their efforts up to Windows Phone.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/4/2014 | 12:55:13 PM
Re: Windows 8 at the desktop
"Touch UI does have its place, but my opinion, the mouse and keyboard are nice."

Microsoft seems to have learned this lesson. I don't know that the Windows 8.1 Update will satisfy all desktop users-- I played with it for a few minutes at Build, and while it's an improvement, it's not transformational. But Myerson emphasized that the desktop is and will remain a core component of Windows, and I think Microsoft teased the Start menu just to give people some faith that it can restore what desktop users want while also juggling the Modern UI. The implementation nuances will determine ultimate success, but I get the feeling Microsoft knows its challenges, and is getting on the right path. With enterprises, I think as long as Windows 9 is delivers, Microsoft will retain a big chunk of its traditional audience. Consumers are trickier, though, since Microsoft is just now reaching feature parity with mobile rivals, and is still getting its interface right. Build was definitely a step in the right direction, but it didn't make all of Microsoft's problems disappear.
Michael Endler
Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2014 | 4:02:55 PM
Re: MS getting its grove back?
I think they've got a chance at the lower end, definitely. Stephen Elop had a point when he compared budget Android phones (which tend to be not so great) against the new low-cost Nokia models. If the new budget Nokias run Windows Phone 8.1 as well as he suggested, they could have some winners.

The OS itself looks more aesthetically charming and functional than the current version (and it should, long as they've been working on it). I played with it a bit at Build, and it seemed solid. That said, a lot of its appeal involves the personalization features. It's hard to judge those when you're holding a display sample with no access to your personal data.

On a related note, there was a rumor floating around a while back that Cortana will eventually get released for iOS and Android. I couldn't get Microsoft reps to even hint when/if Cortana will extend over to Windows 8.1, so needless to say, there was no talk of this sort of cross-platform strategy. I can see interesting pros and cons either way. Cortana itself seemed to work pretty well, though it confused Berkeley, CA for some other Berkeley on the other side of the country. But considering how noisy the conventional hall was, Cortana did a reasonably good job understanding my questions. At least as good as Siri in that regard, I'd say, though it's hard to say something more holistic from so little exposure to it.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2014 | 3:55:11 PM
MS getting its grove back?
Microsoft finally looks like it is making some smart moves. I hope the company manages to gain some mobile market share. It will be better for customers to have a third horse in the race. 
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