I once did a post about the reasons why Microsoft made the Surface. I think I broke it into two parts. I had a conversation tonight that has brought me back to thinking about the Surface, Microsoft and its hardware partners and the future in light of Windows 10.

I’m not going to recount how we got to the point where Microsoft came to do a branded device; or how its OEM partners adopted new systems (mainly Google’s) before and after the Surface launch. That would be too long and it is also moot, both things happened. Now all is left is to understand what it means.

At this point I don’t see Microsoft ending the Surface line. For Microsoft it has entered into hardware in many ways out of necessity; this is especially true in mobile. The Surface line and brand brings a level Apple-like awareness to Windows PCs; it’s a computing brand in the broad market sense where many of its partners aren’t. I don’t think the Surface or even Lumia means Microsoft doesn’t still depend on its partner model. It does mean, I think, a recognition of the model’s limit in the face of a changing consumer market.

For Microsoft’s partners the last few years has seen them twist and turn themselves trying to understand and compete in a market that has switched away from desktop computing. In the wake of the iPad, almost every hardware vendor experienced some form of the tablet bends; experimenting with various OSes, rushing out tablets of varying qualities, or just getting out altogether. Their traditional partner, Microsoft, didn’t have an answer off the bat, then created hardware, which made their eyes wander over to Google. So now in addition to Windows the Dells, HPs, and Lenovos of the world offer tablets and pcs running various software. This gives them options but it also means split attentions.

Now both Microsoft and its partners are preparing for the launch of Windows 10. Windows 10 will be a lot of things but one thing it won’t be is a return to glory days of desktop (those days are gone). It also won’t turn back the moves made with Windows 8 (WinRT is here to stay). 10 will make it easier for people who were scared off by the Start screen and mobile touches of 8. Recent pricing changes for Windows also mean a possible increase in low cost Windows devices. Unless something changes I don’t think OEMs will ramp down production of Chromebooks for Windows; they seem to have been successful in markets like education. For Microsoft new software now likely means new hardware; the Surface line has, at least, now appears to make money after the one time write off. I do think both parties will take this time to build compelling hardware as I believe both Microsoft and the OEMs see value in the partner model.

In some ways the push into mobile has made the PC market stretch and grow. The relationship between software makers and hardware vendors is probably realistic. The tablet apocalypse has come, fizzled, and been slowly integrated into the PC side of the Force. The PC market (which I forgot to say was in decline ) has seen small growth. So in the end everything has changed, yet remained the same.

As it get closer to release there is a sense of trepidation hovering over Windows 10. There is a sense that no matter what Microsoft does, Windows is destined for irrelevancy; swept away by nimbler competitors. It’s been a subject widely discussed by analysts, pundits, and of course the fan horde. For the latter its been a weird time. A lot of Windows enthusiasts have been feeling as if they are being penalized for picking Windows. Some feel let down because it seems like Windows is constantly in waiting mode for features, apps, or devices. Some even think Microsoft is more invested in Android or iOS than its own.

It does not help matters when almost everything you read is about Windows being irrelevant, dying, too late, or someplace in between. It has become a joke to say each new release of Windows or Windows Phone is a make or break moment. There is only so many variations on lists of things Microsoft can/could/should/better do to make it relevant.

At some point I wish we could all decide if Windows is irrelevant, on what level, and how to resolve it.

Because honestly this shit has become tiresome.

At this point in time you have to have to ask what could Microsoft do to make Windows relevant or if not relevant to make its mobile futures healthy. The driving force is no longer a PC (or Mac); it is a phone or a tablet. And in this world Microsoft’s platform is a minor player in the truest sense. In fact more excitement and traction has been garnered by the company when it made an application for the iPad than it ever had with Windows 8.

Windows 10, the supposed savior of the OS, has only really gotten attention because it is focused on creating something that will make traditional desktop and laptop users comfortable. The plans for mobile around Windows are a mystery but many feel the strong possibility that it will be weak. It seems like every time I hear about mobile I feel like Microsoft will have to pull off a miracle just to get a good score from the Verge.

It seems like nothing Microsoft can do or even will do can fix the stagnation that has crept into Windows. I wonder if we have now entered the post-Windows era. Have we now come to the point where Windows is not a credible or wanted option for consumers? It seems like pushing Windows to compete with systems like iOS and Android is a Sisyphean task the software giant should close down to save money. Maybe Microsoft knows this and its why they are focusing so much on services. A tacit admittance and acceptance of this reality. Office won’t launch a tablet or mobile version of its suite until Windows 10 launches.

People argue that Microsoft is an enterprise company; that its biggest and most important customer is companies. All of that is true, but consumers are also important. Any platform that is healthy needs a varied audience. It also needs to be in the places their customers go. Ignoring the consumer market or paying it lip service will almost certainly mean Windows speeds up it ascension to the Server room. It also means Windows becomes a less attractive place for information workers who WILL BYOD the IT department to death.

I was watching an interview between Mark Minasi, tech author and columnist, and Mark Russinovich, CTO of Microsoft Azure on cloud computing. It was an interesting conversation and I was reminded of it recently with the release a new service bundle by Microsoft. Now in the conversation, Minasi brought up an interesting point about services and the Cloud. he suggested that Amazon with its already dominant cloud service, AWS, could be enhanced by marrying it to its consumer focused service Amazon Prime. Minasi asked Russinovich if Microsoft is thinking about something along these lines. It was an interesting suggestion; marrying cloud, essentially back end, services with consumer offerings. And while Russinovich had no response then; it appear Redmond sees a benefit to such a thing.

The Work and Play Bundle combines Office365 Home, Xbox Live, Xbox Music, and Skype into one bundle for $199 and last for 12 months. Its available  only through the physical Microsoft Stores; so the bundle will be US and Canada only. Its also not as full featured as some may hope; but it is a possible start to a future where Microsoft essentially develops a Prime service. It is interesting to note while Xbox Music is on tap Xbox Video isn’t. Also I’ve heard a few people wanting to have the bundle be more of a mix and match. As of now its limited availability will make the Work and Play bundle more of an experiment than full blown service.

image: Neowin

Windows10_UniversalStore

Windows 10 is bringing changes large and small to the Windows platform; and one key change involves the Store. Introduced in Windows 8, the Windows Store was a place for users to get applications much like the App Store or Google Play. There was and is a lot of questions that Microsoft faced when creating the store beyond consumer applications and it involved the enterprise.

Many enterprises and businesses, while adopting mobile devices, don’t handle iPads and Nexus phones like an individual would. There are certain restrictions employed or specialized apps that are aimed at a specific company. And these needs were not being met by the consumer focus of the Windows store. Functions like device management were light and didn’t include certain services like Active Directory or were not uniform across devices. Side loading applications was also an issue. If a company wanted to use or run an app it had to go through the app store. It made it hard to make a case for Windows devices and especially Windows tablets.

All this will be undergoing a change for Windows 10. During this year’s TechEd Europe conference Senior Vice President, SVP, Mike Niehaus detailed the changes coming for enterprises. The biggest takeaway from the presentation is the Windows Store’s next iteration will be about pushing flexibility. Not only is the Store expanding to take ID beyond the Microsoft Account it’s also becoming optional. Enterprises can also create their own stores or portals making it easier to fit modern apps into the enterprises using the Windows Stack. Additionally Microsoft is making it easier for businesses to do more with app deployment and tracking, This includes things like bulk app buying and the ability to monitor who gets what and how.

The talk did not cover the consumer story but it did show off things regular users will see. For one the Windows 10 will bring a new look for the Store. When Redmond started talking about the idea of One Core it talked about a uniform platform; one of these places was a unified store. The image above illustrates that Windows 10 will combine the various app stores across Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox into one. The Store seems to be expanding to offer some things like music and video directly from the Store instead of Xbox Music and Video; it also appears that PC games and desktop software will also be downloadable.

//channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/Europe/2014/WIN-B334/player

It’s not all wine and roses though, recent reports have Microsoft retiring the sales terms for developers starting in 2015. Right now a developer on Windows developing for tablets (Metro applications) gives up 30% to Microsoft. This is similar to how much Apple takes for apps in their marketplace. However if you a reached a certain level of users Microsoft’s take goes down to 20. In the new year Microsoft gets read of the drop. It’s a sad change in pace but the 20 percent was not across the board.

All in all Windows 10 looks to be a lot more than a simple update.

image: Microsoft

Microsoft-Band_Exploded

It all happened very fast. The rumors may have circulated for almost a year or more, but the actual hardware came faster than anyone thought it would. Like most events of note I watched it go down in a series of messages on Twitter. First it was Brad Sams on Neowin and Tom Warren from the Verge both talking about a site for a Microsoft Band going live along with the Microsoft Health app showing up across the App stores for Windows Phone, Google Play, and the App Store. Next came the profile on the Verge that revealed Microsoft’s entry into the smart wearables category; the Microsoft Band.

The Band is a simple device when compared to smart watches running Android Wear or the soon to launch Apple watch. It is a thick, black strap packed full of sensors for monitoring your steps, heart rate, and even your sleep patterns. It has a thin rectangular screen that shows the time and allows access to GPS, messages, Twitter, Facebook, and Starbucks (cause you know you want that Latte). The Band tracks your health and your steps and enters a crowded market with companies like FitBit and Jawbone. Unlike many wearables, the Band is cross platform out of the box.It works with not only Windows but iOS and Android. The device runs $199 before tax and as of now is being sold only in the US. In its first hours of life it sold out at both the online and physical Microsoft Stores.

Microsoft-Band_Cross-Platform

To me the most interesting thing around the Band in its first iteration isn’t the hardware or even the software; most of that will evolve, get slimmer et cetera. What’s interesting is how much the Band and more importantly Microsoft Health is a Platform and Data play. The Band as a device is about digesting health information. Microsoft Health is about taking that information and crunching it to better understand it. In fact I’m surprised no one has talked up the fact Microsoft is talking about licensing the sensor technology and design to other companies. The Band looks to represent moves around Big data instead of high fashion.

Microsoft-Band_Lifestyle_F1

This focus and the device itself will probably disappoint those looking for something like the Moto 360; a smartphone that you put on your wrist. But the Band I think will be an interesting chapter in the future of Microsoft’s Devices and Services.

images: Microsoft

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Last week, Microsoft announced the end of Nokia branded handsets. In a blog posts on the Nokia Conversations blog Senior Vice President Tuula Rytilä talked about the transition from Nokia to Lumia as the brand going forward. She also discussed how Microsoft’s own name would be appearing more prominently on the devices going forward. The blog post also showed off images of how future Lumias would look with Microsoft of the phones.

Rytilä also touched on how Microsoft would handle devices already in market (they’ll be supported) as well as hint to when the first Microsoft Lumias would launch. The changeover had already begun before the post. The various Nokia applications were rebranded and slowly so has the social media accounts. What the post did was to confirm what many already knew; mark the end of Nokia and the beginning of Lumia.

The post marks the end of Nokia as a phone brand and it means Microsoft is now in the driver’s seat as the biggest Windows Phone handset maker. Windows Phones growth has been largely on the back of Nokia and the Lumia line. In almost every way Lumias have become the Windows mobile device to get because of Nokia making betting on Windows Phone. Some would and continue to say that was why the Finnish phone maker ending up selling its hardware business. For me it will be interesting to see how the name change affects sales. The most recent quarter found Microsoft selling 9.3 million units up one million last year. However sales of non-Lumia phones were down. For Redmond there is a concern phones no longer branded as Nokia won’t sale; that many only bought them because of the Nokia. While information was scarce, the VP did discuss the first Lumia branded device. While many are hoping it’ll be a new flagship, I don’t think we will see one until Windows 10.

image: Microsoft

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s New CEO in his 87th week made his first gaffe. He did it in a room he shouldn’t have to a an audience he shouldn’t have and he got burned for it.

Now to set the scene Nadella was at the Grace Hooper Celebration, an event about women in technology. He was part of a keynote session and Q and A hosted by Dr. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd college. Dr. Klawe is also a member of Microsoft’s Board of Directors. Much of the interview was easy going and Nadella handled himself with his usual casual manner. The problem came when he was asked about how women should go about asking for a raise. Nadella’s response was classic Nadella (complex and deep) it was also a bit tone deaf given the audience. Here is the audio (with a tip of the hat to Neowin):

At the end of Nadella’s talk the headlines about Microsoft’s CEO condoning inequality of pay and one article highlighting him as systemic of a system that hinders women’s advancement in the tech industry. At a time when many are discussing the difficulties women face in technology and the need/want to increase girls and young women to choose the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) field; Nadella’s comment would be stripped of any nuance.

To his credit, or at least Redmond PR, he clarified his statement. First on Twitter:

Later he made a definitive statement on the matter in which he agreed wholeheartedly that his statements were,

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong.

Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.

I am pretty sure Mr. Nadella meant no harm in his response and hopefully this was a teaching moment for himself and others. I think that the subject of women in technology is complicated. Not complicated in the larger scope, but on the smaller one. There is a lot of mess going on much of it done by a pack of internet trolls that feel the need to berate women, especially women commenters, who talk about gender issues in field of gaming, computing, and the like. They have created a toxic atmosphere that has many women abandoning social media or retracting their web presence to avoid these fools.

Nadella was again tone deaf in his remarks. What he said sounded to attendees like be good little workers, don’t push and one day you’ll be rewarded by HR. Now he didn’t mean and in his head it probably was clear, but it wasn’t to his audience. Now it also didn’t help that his words were chopped and screwed but that doesn’t matter. The effect was the same. There were a lot of angry people who decided to be heard afterwards.

If I am being honest what he said was a gaffe which he apologized for. It won’t calm those who were incensed and it will just confirm ideals about technology and patriarchy. I just know its hard doing the right thing and harder saying the right  thing and too easy too get it all wrong.

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