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.

set of code. The new version of Visual Studio automatically adjusts the interface, producing a workable version for each platform. If developers choose, they can tune segments of the code to further tailor a given version of their app to a particular device. One upshot is that, whereas developers must still build separate apps for iOS and Mac OS X, they can develop for Windows and Windows Phone via a single pipeline.

Developers can now create universal apps for Windowssmartphones, tablets, and desktops.
Developers can now create universal apps for Windows
smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

"I think it's enough to quiet the rebellion amongst the diehard Microsoft devs," Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond said in an interview. "We've been getting into a situation where they are not able to defend developing for multiple Microsoft platforms."

But Microsoft also emphasized that its tools can help with cross-platform development, especially for the web. Since Nadella took the reins, Microsoft has stressed that it wants its technology everywhere, not just inside the walled garden of the Windows ecosystem. If that means developers use Visual Studio to target iOS, Android, and Windows Phone concurrently, Microsoft is happy to oblige.

Once a basic universal app is built, developers can tune the UIto match a specific form factor.
Once a basic universal app is built, developers can tune the UI
to match a specific form factor.

The company also demonstrated a way to "broker" legacy apps into newer versions. A company can take an aging business app built for old desktops, re-appropriate portions of the code, and feed them through Microsoft's tools to produce a new Modern-style app. The company positioned this tactic as a way for IT to embrace new approaches, such as touch, while continuing to collect on previous investments.

7. Windows is pursuing new UI inputs.
Windows came to prominence with mice and keyboards, and Microsoft has been trying for more than a year to popularize touch. But at Build, Microsoft execs also emphasized Kinect-based gesture controls, even going so far as to call them "the future." Natural language technologies, which were on display in Cortana, represent another of Microsoft's obvious interests. During a brief preview of touch-first Office apps for the Modern UI, Microsoft reps also discussed the potential for high-precision styluses and similar accessories.

Microsoft has big plans for Kinect technology.
Microsoft has big plans for Kinect technology.

8. Windows will run on devices at all price points.
Microsoft officials pointed out that, whereas some digital assistants are available only on high-end devices (read: Apple's Siri), Cortana will be available across the spectrum once Windows Phone 8.1 launches this spring. They also pointed out that all current Windows Phone 8 devices should run the new OS (a jab at cheap Android models that run old versions of the OS). The point? With most device growth in emerging markets, Microsoft senses an opportunity to deliver a premium experience to budget-minded demographics. This tactic includes not only smartphones, but other devices, as well; McCabe said the Windows 8.1 update reduces the OS's footprint, which should enable it to run on less powerful, less expensive hardware.

Thanks to eliminated license costs, Windows devices should beavailable at a wide range of prices.
Thanks to eliminated license costs, Windows devices should be
available at a wide range of prices.

Microsoft is changing its licensing system to accommodate the new strategies. It will no longer charge for Windows licenses on devices with screens smaller than nine inches, and when the Internet of Things version is ready, it will be free, as well.

Mobile, cloud, and BYOD blur the lines between work and home, forcing IT to envision a new identity and access management strategy. Also in the Future Of Identity issue of InformationWeek: Threats to smart grids are far worse than generally believed, but tools and resources are available to protect them (free registration required).

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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