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.

accounts. Cortana visualizes the data it collects in a virtual "Notebook," which the company says will keep users in control of how the app stores and uses personal data.

Currently, Cortana is only a Windows Phone 8.1 product -- and a beta, at that. But if Microsoft has preached a theme lately, it's been personalized experiences that span devices. The concept was a major talking point in recent Office announcements, for example, and it underscores large parts of the company's OneDrive and Bing strategies. It's likely only a matter of time until Cortana extends to Windows devices and the Xbox.

4. Modern apps will look more like legacy apps and will eventually run in windows on the desktop.
Tuesday's Windows 8.1 update includes a number of tweaks to make Modern apps behave more like legacy titles. The new titles can be pinned to the desktop taskbar, for example, and once they're launched, they can be minimized just like traditional desktop applications. The update also modifies the Start screen to make it friendlier to mouse-and-keyboard users; for example, context menus surface when users right-click Live Tiles. But thanks to the taskbar changes, users can now run Modern apps completely from the desktop, without ever accessing the tiled Start screen.

The Modern UI will soon include right-click context menus.
The Modern UI will soon include right-click context menus.

Eventually, Microsoft will take this effort further by enabling Modern apps to run in windows on the desktop. Microsoft execs told developers this strategy will expose their apps to new users, and in an interview, Microsoft product manager Brad McCabe said the changes challenge the notion that Modern apps are driven exclusively by touch. As was the case with the Start menu, Microsoft would not say when windowed Modern apps might arrive.

5. Windows is coming to the Internet of Things.
Processors are smaller and more powerful than ever, which means they can be placed in almost anything. Microsoft demonstrated this point with a giant piano -- played via stomping feet, a la the movie Big -- that runs Windows.

Windows is coming to the Internet of Things.
Windows is coming to the Internet of Things.

What's the point of such a device? Right now, mostly to show off. But CEO Satya Nadella, echoing remarks he made last week when introducing the Office suite for iPads, said new form factors will emerge that challenge how we define computers. These devices, perhaps even pianos, will collect data about their users and environments, allowing us to quantify virtually everything, and to extract new insights via big data technologies.

In his few appearances as CEO, Satya Nadella has preachedthe potential of data-driven personalization.
In his few appearances as CEO, Satya Nadella has preached
the potential of data-driven personalization.

Microsoft is hardly the only company harboring this interest. Cisco has been evangelizing many of the same talking points for the last year, Intel dedicated its CES presence largely to the Internet of Things, and Apple and Google have shown interest in translating their operating systems from conventional computing devices to "things" such as cars and clothing accessories. But with Nadella at the helm, Microsoft appears ready to ramp up this agenda.

A Build attendee tests out Microsoft's Windows-powered piano.
A Build attendee tests out Microsoft's Windows-powered piano.

6. Universal apps are finally here.
Since launching Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in 2012, Microsoft has worked to unify the code across its various platforms. With enough unification, or so the running commentary has gone, developers would be able to write a single app and deploy it across the entire Windows ecosystem, from phones to PCs.

At Build, Microsoft announced that these benefits are no longer theoretical. Thanks to new tools, developers can now target any device type with a single

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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.
User Rank: Ninja
4/4/2014 | 2:51:13 PM
Is this really MS?
Wow, one smart move after another here! It almost sounds like too much of a change in their fundamental approach to... everything, to really be the Microsoft we have all come to know and tolerate over the last few years.

Very encouraged! Except that now it *really* sounds like they have a perfect place to fit in Xamarin. I am still hoping they don't buy Xamarin and absorb it. Although, it is starting to sound like maybe if they did, they wouldn't kill off the ability to develop for Android and iOS, but maybe absorb it in to Visual Studio. That might be workable.
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.
User Rank: Strategist
4/4/2014 | 12:38:44 PM
Windows 8 at the desktop
Windows 8 is a Desktop productivity killer. Navigating and performing what used to be easy, now is buried.  I am hoping that they will make it freindly again with the new release.  The bread and butter is the corporate desktop, and our fortune 500 company will be holding fast to Windows 7 until MS comes up with something better than Windows 8. Right now, no support for it at all.  

If Windows 9 is desktop freindly, MS may have a chance.  I am not sure what corporate will do if 9 is not friendly.  People are not going to want to relearn something new, but want something familiar, and easy to use.  The Touch UI is not suited to the office suite, sharpoint, and other productivity applications and tools.  Touch UI does have its place, but my opinion, the mouse and keyboard are nice.
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. 
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2014 | 2:49:26 PM
Great Article
Once of the most informative MS Windows articles I've read all year.  Thanks for the worthwhile read.
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