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Last week Microsoft announced a number of new features for the next Windows update and in time I will get to them; but right now I want to the public reveal of Project Neon.

Fluent Design System

Starting with the Fall Creator’s Update Microsoft will be shifting Windows away from the flat, minimalist world of Metro to the third dimension known as the Fluent Design System (FDS).

Fluent Design is an expansion on some of the ideas Microsoft started playing with in Metro, but it is also is the opposite of it. FDS caries on the ideas of the use of colors and for apps to be digitally native, but it’s not the strongly flat thing Metro was. FDS is also not as stringent as the guidelines for Metro was. FDS still draws inspiration from the same sources as Metro did but the world FDS is built for is far different.

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Designed for the Surface and Mixed Reality

One of the interesting things I learned about Fluent Design is it was partly designed around the fact Microsoft makes hardware. The obvious one was HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality headset. FDS takes clear inspiration from the device with a focus on depth and materials and scale. But I think one of the other sources is the Surface.

Put bluntly Fluent Design is about creating appealing software and experiences that will make Windows devices desirable. The Surface team has been pushing the hardware envelope but the software has largely languished. FDS potentially fixes that.

Right now FDS will not be a one and done affair, but instead release as a series of waves. Wave 1 is already out with a number of applications using aspects in their apps.

So this is the end of part one. I’m going to post up a series of various images showing the future of Fluent Design soon.

I feel very conflicted about this year’s Build conference. Build is the annual developer conference covering Azure and Windows. This year Microsoft unveiled an ambitious goal for itself along with a new design language; but I’m a bit sour about it.

The fact Microsoft is embracing iOS and Android is not the problem it is the lack of resolution for its own mobile platform. It is clear Microsoft is done with Windows 10 Mobile but it won’t come forward and make the formal statement. It has moved Mobile to a separate branch and the new features from the upcoming Fall Creator’s Update are not planned to appear.

The fact that Microsoft is shifting focus and changing tactics is one thing; not communicating the change is another. I mean at this point the people left using Windows Mobile in the company’s Insider program are wasting their time because their input is irrelevant. And that is a real disappointment.

And I like that Microsoft is embracing all platforms, but I don’t know how to feel about the fact they treat a set of users like non-entities. And it is made all the worse because Microsoft acts like they are doing all these users a favor.

 

So for me I am only left with questions.

 

Like does the new design language come to small devices?

 

Is Microsoft working on a new type of mobile device; and if so who will trust Microsoft to actually buy it?

The title is self explanatory; everybody and I mean every YouTube/Twitter/Reddit commentator and every pundit hates Windows 10 S. The newest edition of Windows is a locked down variant of the operating system aimed at education and ChromeOS. 10 S restricts the downloading of applications to the Windows Store; so no Steam, iTunes, or Chrome.

I get why there is animosity.

Windows users expect to be able to download or do damn near anything to a PC. There are a number of programs that will never (or likely never) to come to the Windows Store. And many see any attempt by Microsoft to move toward a stronger app model as creating a walled garden.

And while I sympathize, I want to call bullshit a bit.

For a long time Windows has been the frontier for good and ill. Its open nature allows for a wide range of applications and devices. It allows a lot of people to find devices to meet their needs and more importantly price points. It also means that there is a wide gamut of things that can go wrong. That same open space has made Windows an attractive target for hackers and crackers (criminal hackers). That reputation for vulnerability made the case for moving to other platforms like mac OS or Linux or now ChromeOS.

Then there is the semi-hypocrisy of parasitic platforms. The programs or services that live on Windows but also live to take you off. I put iTunes and Chrome down as prime examples. They exist solely to bring you in and move you onto their respective platforms.

Honestly the walled garden thing is a bit moot in a mobile world. People protesting that Windows shouldn’t have more locked down platform are spitting into the wind that is the billion dollar smartphone market or the growing presence that is Chromebooks. Also a number of these critics highlight services that are inherently locked down or looking to have walled gardens of their own (Steam/Valve).

From my armchair I look at Windows 10 S and I’m intrigued.

Microsoft bungled some of the messaging around it; and honestly I think they should’ve named it something other than 10 S because its open to ridicule and to differentiate it from Windows 10. Windows 10 S is a sort of update to Windows RT (an ARM based version of Windows) except you can upgrade S to full Windows. It is more secure, faster, and a little lighter. More importantly it operates like Windows. It has Windowing and works with peripherals.

Windows 10 S isn’t for the vast amount of people complaining about it. Also Windows 10 Pro is not going anywhere. 10 S is about making a product that can compete with Chromebooks and a changing market.

Chromebooks are an interesting phenomena because they reduce computing down to the thing many use their PC for; getting online. It is easy to overlook how much work has moved from dedicated programs to web applications. Yes people still used programs that are downloaded but most people use the web. It also moves the PC form factor closer to mobile devices. Windows as it exists now can’t effectively compete with an OS built around being lightweight, fast, and mobile. But a more stripped down version could.

The other change that I think influenced Windows 10 S development is mobile. We live in a mobile age; a time in which the “personal computer” is the one in your pocket. The fact that more work and tasks are done is being done on mobile devices changes how the PC is used. The PC is just another point in someone’s platform.

I think Windows 10 S marks the first real shift in modernizing the platform.

I don’t about everyone else but I’ve felt Windows has been in need of a change for awhile. Something that went beyond branding. The strengths of Windows as a platform have eroded in the face of competition. Mobile has replaced the PC and the PC has become more about the browser. Computing is moving away from the hobbyist stage of DIY to an appliance. A new set of users are growing up with a much different view of what a computer is and how it should behave. Windows needs to be better on performance and security; it needs to modernize how apps are built on its platform. Windows and its users need to be brought into the 21st century (kicking and screaming if need be).

Windows is missing out on it and will continue if it doesn’t change.

 

 

In the past 48 hours I have done a lot of thinking about the Microsoft Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S. I have also read a few opinion pieces and watched video hands on. There is a lot of opinions about the device and how it fits within the Windows ecosystem; about how it changes or doesn’t changes things.

So I thought I put in my 2 cents.

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The Surface Laptop on first glance looks like a matchup of the Surface Book’s screen and a Surface Type Cover. The Laptop’s profile and body has these angles that work to hide the lower half given the allusion its just a screen and keyboard. The colored versions only come with middle tier models; that may upset some. The lack of USB Type-C or the Thunderbolt connector of the same shape will be one the major dings facing the Surface Laptop. The argument being these things are the future (even though it is not the case now).

The Surface Laptop’s profile when open really reminds me of the profile of the Surface Pro. The device’s screen is incredibly clear. You know it’s a good, crisp screen if it works well on camera. In terms of the Surface family the Laptop is quite conservative. It doesn’t fit into the tablet PC mode of the Pro or Book, but it does fit the name Surface. The colors chosen for the Surface Laptop are a good balance; they aren’t too bold to be considered toy-like but aren’t so muted as to be barely there. As interesting as it would be to see this notebook as one those 2-in-1 devices that flips, it’s intriguing to see the Surface team’s take on the clamshell design. It sort of like watching a comedian in a dramatic role; they are following the script but bringing another perspective.

For example the last few years has seen a number of thin and light designs for PC laptops that have pushed the boundaries. From Lenovo’s Yoga and its jeweled hinge to Dell’s XPS 13 and its near bezel-less screen to Hewlett-Packard’s svelte Specter. PCs have been getting better designs across the board. The Surface Laptop isn’t as flashy. The laptop’s most daring features is the Alcantara layer sitting on top the keyboard and the fact it runs Windows 10 S. Of course there are innovations such as putting the SSD on the same motherboard as the Intel chip, but where Surface excels at is in eliciting a response. With Surface Microsoft built a brand; they built something that works on an emotional plane. I mean for me the Surface devices have been coveted items. There is something to buying a device built for the software it runs. Inherent in buying a Surface device is buying into the design; into the notion of a tablet that can replace your laptop.  Its buying a device from people you think give a damn about you loving what they made.

The Surface Laptop is a desirable object; I want but I can’t afford it and its quirks I gladly try to fit in my computer usage.

There are some issues. Like I wished Microsoft would have made a fan less Core M version. I know there are power freaks out there, but I’m all about no fans. Secondly I was thinking the device would be smaller. Like 10-11 inches. Lastly I’m surprised there was no talk of an LTTE model. The USB thing to me is not a big deal and this running Windows 10 S isn’t a hurdle either. Actually the other thing is I wish colors were available for all models.

And that’s about it. Hopefully I will get a hands on (aka playing with the demo model at a Best Buy).

Today Microsoft unveiled a device so controversial and divisive it has split the Windows community….and it was a laptop.

It was a laptop running a new version of Windows; without the next big peripheral or any of the surprise twists of previous devices.

The Surface Laptop may be the most controversial thing to come out of Redmond and here is why.

Simple and Clean

With the Surface Laptop, the Surface team did something they have never done before; they made a device without a hook. They didn’t make the Laptop a second version of the Surface Book or a new take on the Surface Pro. The Surface Laptop is not a hybrid Tablet PC; it is just what the name implies (a LAPTOP).  In doing so Microsoft has divided Windows enthusiasts and Surface diehards.

Between late last night and during the event I read a lot of responses questioning Microsoft. In particular there were questions as to why Microsoft was playing it safe by making a simple notebook. They made the argument that the device was 1) not creating a new category (the reason for the Surface brand) or 2) truly designed for student needs. A lot of the arguments dealt with the fact that the Surface Laptop cannot be used as a tablet; the tasks associated with education, such as inking, are not workable. Another issue was price. Given the focus on education there was an expectation this new Surface would be fairly inexpensive. Many (including myself) were expecting some replacement to the Surface 3 or a device that folded like Lenovo’s Yoga  device line. So the price considered was at least $400 below the $999 entry fee for the Surface Laptop.

Beyond expectations the other issue was Windows 10 S.

The New RT

Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS and a sort of updated version of the ARM based Windows RT. Like RT, S is a stripped down version of Windows allowing it to be a little faster and secure. However unlike its predecessor Windows 10 S allows users to upgrade to full Windows; however this will cost users $49. Windows 10 S comes shipped on the new Surface Laptop which adds to the controversy.

At $999 some question the reason to “hobble” the new PC with a restricted OS. Windows 10 S is locked down to apps within the Store remember. So no Steam, iTunes, or Chrome. For many this is a non starter. Also to unlock it and move to Windows 10 Pro you have to pay, which is a hard pill considering the history of Windows.

So you have a laptop people wanted to do more, cost less, and run full Windows.

They got nothing they expected.

Unless they were the many who wanted Microsoft to build a regular, old laptop. One without hinges or detachable keyboards. Also there are a number of people talking up how secure Windows 10 S is.

I think the Laptop is controversial because it highlights the issues Microsoft faces in moving Windows into a more competitive position. Much like the Apple MacBook signaled a change for the Mac; the Surface Laptop is signaling change for Windows. Between the two, Windows 10 S is showing where the platform wants to go. Microsoft is ready to move away from .exe and legacy and toward a new application model based on UWP (Universal Windows Platform). This is about simplifying Windows to make it work for a consumer market altered by mobile devices. Users no longer use PCs as their sole computing device; and the one they use has changed how they view software. On the PC most people work through their browser and maybe a few programs. We are approaching the end of the PC Wild West.

And this maybe the first step

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This was going to be my preview and predictions for today’s Microsoft event but the Walking Cat, Microsoft watcher/leaker/Ghost in the Machine, had other ideas.

So we now know what the rumored Surface Laptop will look like. And right now it looks like a well built 13.5 inch laptop coming in multiple colors (Grey, Burgundy, Blue, and Gold). This post will be littered with images. Spec wise the machine weighs 2.76lbs is 14.47mm thin at the back, 9.9mm thin at the front. And the laptop will have a screen with 3.4 million pixels according to the Walking Cat. From view Microsoft has chosen to not use USB Type-C or the Thunderbolt variant and looks to maintain its proprietary charging cord/port. So far reaction is mixed with many wondering why the laptop isn’t on the Type C bandwagon (best guess is for the education market).

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I’m surprised the laptop is not smaller. A smaller screen means this could have been used in early grades such as Kindergarten. And the lack of Type C will be met with head scratches; but the device is looking quite desirable.

So before I go too far into the hardware I did want to preview the event.

Tomorrow in New York Microsoft will be unveiling the laptop but it will also be showing off Windows 10 S aka Cloud. This version of Windows will locked down and limit use to the browser and to applications inside the Windows Store.

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I think the major focus of tomorrow will be about education and how Windows can work for educators and students. Services like Office 365 and Intune for Education will be on display along with applications like OneNote and Minecraft for Education to show the company’s breath and their ability to compete with Google’s ChromeOS.

And while the big reveal is out, the bigger story will be how Microsoft sells its newest SKU. Chromebooks have made a dent in education and the larger computing market. For Microsoft today is about making the case that they have something of use to education.

It will be interesting.

images: Walking Cat (@h0x0d)

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So it has now come to the point where Microsoft’s silence on Mobile has become this cancerous spot affecting coverage around Windows.

Did it have to go this way? No.

To recap: On Thursday, Microsoft released its earnings for the quarter and the phone sales were null. So the  last nail was pushed into the coffin of Windows Phone (with weird glee by some Windows watchers).

Anyway, Peter Bright of Ars Technica wrote about the Surface (Redmond’s computer brand) and how the company was repeating the same mistake it did with Nokia Lumia. Basically ignoring momentum  for sake of alienating OEM partners.

 

Bright argued that Microsoft needs to decide if it’s serious about devices because the hemming and hawing dooms the effort. It was a very alarmist peice which was followed by a more reasoned one by Paul Thurrott. Thurrott countered by saying the Surface brand wasn’t in trouble because Windows Phone was doomed from birth (paraphrased to retain content saltiness).

The thing is both are right but that’s beside the point. The point is silent treatment going on is hurting the Windows platform; and from this enthusiast’s slash armchair analyst perch will only cause more problems.