Microsoft has always had its eyes on the future. Bill Gates was well known for making predictions on the future of computing (even wrote a book on it). In fact Microsoft has maintained a section of the company that works on thinking about the future.

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For the last decade, starting in 2006, Microsoft has made a series of videos that show a vision of the future. For most people who follow such things the series was made famous in 2009. This past week a new video came out that once again put out a Microsoft colored vision of the world in 5-10 years.

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Now some have criticized the Productivity Future Vision (PFV) videos for the fact they didn’t reflect products that Microsoft was working on. Critics wondered why the software giant would focus on making science fiction while Apple and Google made reality. For Microsoft the answer has been about creating a conversation by providing a glimpse on things Microsoft is working on.

This year’s video is interesting because much of what’s on screen now reflects products Microsoft makes. The video’s focus also seems to coincide with the new focus the idea of the ubiquity of experience and mobility that’s been the focus of Nadella’s tenure.

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For me the PFV is a vision of computing and of Microsoft that I want the company to strive for. The idea of computing being this thing that travels cross devices where you walk in, log on and use a device and everything is there; and when you go your stuff just goes with you.

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Productivity Future Vision (link)

(You just don’t know how much this video has me like a kid on Christmas day)

images: Microsoft

Okay Microsoft comes out with a new Productivity Future video and I admittedly want to go to there.

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The new video for me is a little different from past ones because much of what’s shown now represents real world products. Almost everything in this video corresponded to a product available now or soon to be out. So what does the future hold for the Surface? Thinner bezels, screens, and new form factors.

The evolution of Windows, a revolution for Microsoft Hardware

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The next update to Windows will bring a new look but the same focus on getting things done. Cortana’s update brings new capabilities through the new personal assistant software.

The Surface lineup is expanding with the new Surface Courier, Surface Hub Home, and Surface 5.

Surface Courier, the tablet transformed

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The Surface Courier brings new flexibility to the tablet form factor. Use the device folded and it’s a 8 inch device or open it and use the 11 inch screen to get more work done. For those looking for a more traditional form factor, the Surface 5 refreshes the entry level Surface device for students, business, and customers.

The new Surface Pen is now Universal, use it with other Windows tablets, the iPad Pro 3 and compatible Android tablets. Try the new stone charger for faster charging of the pen.

The Surface Hub Home is a new all in one that brings the power of the Surface Hub to the All in One device. Aimed at the education market, Hub Home works seamlessly with other Windows devices.

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Building on the HoloLens, the Microsoft HoloPad brings Holograms further into the home and office. HoloPad allows for the power of Holograms to be used by people without strapping on a Lens. The 3d of HoloPad lets users interact with computers in a whole new way.

Coming soon the next evolution in digital White boarding for the office and home; MagicWall and Surface Hub.

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* this is a work of fiction; I have no bloody clue what Microsoft is doing.

images: Microsoft

I ended up in this conversation around how Metro or un-Metro Windows 10 is. The conversation grew into a larger talk on tools and designers and the how and why Microsoft’s developer team abandoned the designer tool market.

It was all illuminating but I came away thinking 1) It is time for the Windows design team to talk about where Metro is going; 2) It’s time Microsoft brought in and promoted designer/creative developers for the ecosystem; 3) We get too bogged down in history.

I mean I like discussion the history of products and initiatives but there needs to be an endpoint. At some point the goal should be taking what you learned and moving forward. And that seems to be the opposite of what I see.

Maybe it’s me but lately the Windows user base bitches too much. We get into these petty squabbles and rehash who did what to whom and how bad. And the bitching is never ending.

Windows 8 was a problem cause it was too touch friendly. Windows 10 is now not mobile or touch friendly enough. Metro was too Fisher Price; now Microsoft is abandoning Metro and thus is made of fail.

Let me be honest as much as I like having discussions I am tired of having to swim through the current of bitching and moaning that makes up most of it. Show me how you think it can be fixed and don’t stand there like a snot nosed tween when you do it. That’s all that I ask.

I never read Moon Knight as a kid. I remember an in comic add I saw of him once, thought it was bad ass, but never picked up the book. The character has been around since 1975 and has over the years had a number of books under the name. Moon Knight has been in the Avengers but I never really sat down and read a book he stared in until now.

So if you are not familiar with Marc Spector, Moon Knight he is basically crazy Batman. Okay longer story Marc Spector was the son of a rabbi that grew up to become a mercenary that died and returned to life as the avatar of an Egyptian moon god with multiple personalities and an infinite bank account.

Again bat-shit crazy Batman except his symbol is the crescent moon.

A character like this can be handled well or really badly. He is a Batman like character and a poor writer can turn him into a cardboard cut-out Bruce Wayne real quick. Luckily Mr. Spector has Warren Ellis on duty for words and Declan Shalvey on pencils.

The version of Moon Knight presented in what was a six issue mini-series encapsulates what makes the character tick but in a format that what you do when dealing with tricky characters.

Each issue seems to highlight an aspect of Moon Knight’s fractured personality and that is also carried over to design of Mr. Spector himself. In a move I don’t think I’ve seen often Moon Knight gets two costumes. The first which we see in the issue one is an all-white suit complete with a vest and matching mask. When wearing the suit Spector is called Mr. Knight and is a consultant with the NYPD on weird cases. It is weird sight of white breaking up the police grey reality.

The second costume is a variation on the all-white suit people know. This is seem in the second issue and in issues where the Moon Knight deals with more superhero-y stuff.

As a collected work, Moon Knight works because Warren Ellis keeps each issue tight. Except for the last issue there isn’t a lot linking the stories. Most of the issues can be seen as stand-alone tales. There is a TV show quality in the best sense; each story concludes and you want to immediately read the next. Ellis is helped by Declan Shalvey’s artwork and design. Shalvey handles each story deftly from street level violence to psychedelic trips. Shalvey’s work on this book should be seen for how he handles the white outline of the Moon Knight alone.

One thing I think that helps frame this series is that Warren Ellis incorporates the crazy. As a character the Moon Knight is known for his mental instability (like I said many call him crazy Batman). Ellis makes use of this and also the more supernatural elements of Marc Spector’s origin as an avatar for the Egyptian god Khonshu.

Okay let me try to end this quick by describing my favorite bits. Issue five, Scarlett, makes me think Moon Knight should be a candidate for a Netflix show; the floor the floor action is beautiful and brutal. Issue six, Spectre, is interesting because it takes a random throwaway line in issue one and creates this interesting character study. My other highlight is issue two which is a nice short work of ultraviolence.

So Moon Knight is like Batman; when you see either of them you go the other way.

Is Toyo Harada the mutant villain that Marvel is missing? Or did he just take Magneto’s spirit animal?

I sometimes lament the passing of the villain. I mean when was the last time you read a book in which the villain was being villainous and not pleading for us to like them? It is not like I hate understanding the bad guy perspective but Lord I miss a proper villain.

In some ways Toyo Harada is both a proper villain and the thing I have issue with when reading a superhero comic. Harada, the villain of the reimagined Harbinger series (Valiant Comics), is the headliner of the new title Imperium.

Written by Joshua Dysart and drawn by Doug Braithwaite, Imperium is the story of Toyo Harada’s continued crusade to take over the world by any means necessary.

Before I go in I need to explain that Imperium takes place after two previous books: Harbinger and Harbinger Wars. Harbinger was the tale of powerful psychic Peter Stancheck and his battle with Harada who through his Harbinger Foundation was basically trying to rule the world. Imagine the X-Men except Xavier and Magneto were one person and Cyclops, Wolverine, and Storm had to fight him.

The Harbinger series ended (Spoiler) with Harada defeated and the world finding out he was a super villain. Imperium begins from this.

It’s hard not to find the world Dysart has set up intriguing. In his hand the first issue illustrates the complexity of who Harada is by the world he creates around him. Here is this man that wants to create this better world and can show this through the power of his mind. The problem is he is also prepared to lay waist to a large number of human beings to make it happen. The contrast in the vision he gives Darpan (one of his Harbinger faithful) that we see in the beginning highlights his inner heroic narrative but also a level of manipulation that undermines him.

Harada in issue one is a man in charge of a cult that has had its faith shook and he is resulting to brainwashing to keep them in line. The violence carried out later in the book contrasts with the peaceful future from earlier. It is a testament to Braithwaite’s talent that both are well rendered.

While I like the story anyone coming in may find your reading enhanced by checking out the previous Harbinger series for context.

I think for me Imperium’s first issue worked because it was the perfect start for a series with enough action and set up to make you want to come back for #2.

Today I read an interesting retrospective by Paul Thurrott on Windows Phone. It was part of a series of articles he writes on past Microsoft technologies with occasional comparisons to current events.

The article on Windows Phone was interesting because it talk about the fact that with Windows 10 Microsoft was closing the door on Windows Phone and on what made it special. It is an interesting read but it left me wondering if Microsoft was really closing the door on Windows Phone as it was and if that wasn’t entirely a bad thing.

Five years ago Microsoft made a break from it’s then mobile OS Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7 Series. They shifted their thinking away from delivering software that Phone makers would re-skin and put on various hardware to a consistent interface and underlying hardware platform aimed at consumers and not enterprise. The move brought design into focus for Microsoft in ways it never had and brought kudos and awards.

But it hasn’t been the success Redmond was hoping for.

Five years later the vision put out for Windows Phone has had to exist in a less than friendly market. It’s innovative thinking around applications and notifications were love by critics but not widely adapted by app makers. The designers had to move quickly to make the platform work in a market where it was a distant third player and thus some things were tossed. Add to that Windows Phone’s merger into the larger Windows ecosystem (beginning with the move to the NT kernel in Windows Phone 8) brought more changes.

Some of the changes were sad. The need to keep partners and increase traction meant hardware requirements became optional. The next billion users meant an increase in affordable phones and less flagship devices. The dearth of app developer support meant things like Hubs and other initiatives went largely untouched.  And user expectation has meant the strong Metro design language has had to concede to things like hamburger menus.

And to be honest with Windows 10 what Thurrott describes as backing away is true; many of the elements that marked Metro and Windows Phone are gone to one degree or another. the Panorama and Pivot controls which define the typical app no longer is the representative design.

And yet we are talking about Windows Phone at year 5. And after five years it is time in my opinion to move on. As much as I liked Windows Phone and Metro I always thought they were a step toward something else. And while I would’ve loved to see user generated Hubs and an anti-app model I also wanted to see a Metro that allowed for a UI developers could stretch and brand their own way. I also think Windows Phone wasn’t perfect if the goal was to create something that could run on tablets as well as phones.

For me after four or five years an interface can and should be re-examined. What was fine in the beginning may no longer work. Unlike iOS and Android Windows Phone couldn’t bend developers to add features or influence the influencers. Users did not flock and it’s hard to know if it was the uniqueness of Metro, the lack o certain apps, or both that kept them away.

With Windows 10 Microsoft is merging Windows Phone and Windows RT (tablet OS) to create a new mobile offering. This means the things Windows Phone was about in its beginning no longer apply. And that could ultimately be bad or it could be good. We will know in another five years.

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Occasionally I want to do posts on Microsoft’s design teams when information pops up. I had planned to do this big opus about Microsoft and the evolution of design as part of the company but I don’t have enough to do it justice or enough sources to satisfy the OCD gods.

 

So I’ll say this…..

 

Microsoft over the last 4 or 5 years has slowly been building up its design capabilities to enhance its products. The most recent trend started with its Entertainment and Devices Group which created its own incubation and design group, Pioneer Studios. Pioneer and some other elements were absorbed into the mother ship and now form the nucleus for Microsoft OS design group headed by Windows Phone alum/co-creator Albert Shum.

 

This week the big news is Adobe’s Michael Gough to be Corporate VP of the Applications and Services Group under former Windows chief Julie Larson-Green. Similar to his work at Adobe, Gough will be working on user experience design and branding on services such as OneDrive, Office, and MSN. Gough also may work on inking experiences something he’s familiar with as the public face for Adobe’s Stylus and drawing apps for the iPad.

 

In other news the big Windows 10 event not only unveiled HaloLens but it also was the day the OS design team cut the ribbon on its new digs (location classified). The event was celebrated on Twitter by the Windows Phone design team, the official Microsoft Design account, and numerous members of the OS group. The space will bring together the design teams working on Windows (desktop/tablet/phone), Xbox, and now Windows Holographic.

images: Microsoft and GD USA

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