(I did not intend to make a three post series, I apologize.)
The future of Microsoft’s maligned Windows RT (Windows recompiled for ARM chips) is not death as many a blogger or desktop hardliner hopes, but a merger with Windows Phone. We do not know what that means but I am certain it means an OS unlike the one running on Lumias or Surface devices.
In the last two posts I described the issues facing Windows and Windows RT; in particular Chrome OS. I pointed out Chrome OS as a representation of where I think computer use is heading: appliance like, light computing with an emphasis on the Web. I know I left out web apps, the iPad, and possibly a million different things but I hope I got across my point…..
Computing is changing and so should Windows.
So in this third act I want to talk about what a new Windows needs to survive and how Windows RT’s successor could fit that bill.
If I were to define the areas where Microsoft needs to change the Client OS is in simplicity of design, use, and maintenance. Windows has become a lot more user friendly but it will need to become a maintenance free zone quick. Windows will also need to learn to hide some of its complexity from all but the most diehard. And me writing that and them doing it would make every last power user tattoo a Linux Penguin on the side of their face.
There is already pushback from Windows users who feel the platform has gone too far from its roots. I think the mere idea of a further simplified OS would cause a riot. And that is where ARM based Windows comes in.
Well that and a rethought Internet Explorer.
Despite many PC partners abandoning or forgoing Windows RT I think the news of Intel getting into the ARM chip business could change their minds. That and Microsoft giving it away free. Right now Android and Chrome are offered at no cost to OEMs to use and build devices. Imagine Microsoft offering lets call it WinR for free for use on devices.
Now WinR will run on Phones but also tablets and like Windows RT, conceivably Netbook like devices. Now all this would entail WinR can build on the slow growth of Windows Phone and the WinRT run time (the app layer) is fleshed out to developer expectations. WinR could experiment with delivering an easy to use experience where regular Windows would need to maintain compatibility for legacy programs.
I think if Microsoft is to succeed however they will need to rely on the browser. Back in the late nineties and early 00’s Internet Explorer was a cross platform browser. It ran on Macs, in fact it was the native Mac client. These days Firefox and Chrome are the only two cross-platform browsers with additional presence in mobile. Microsoft will need to expand Internet Explorer and make it operate like many other modern browsers as a sort of mini operating system.
Internet Explorer has come a long way from the days of IE6 but if Microsoft wants to push its platform forward it needs to push its browser forward. The blueprints are there in Microsoft Research projects like MashupOS and Gazelle. The two projects revolve around how to handle complex, rich web applications without being a drain. The other part of the equation is the Windows Run Time supports Java Script and HTML. Additionally aim this at Chrome OS app developers, if its all HTML why leave it in the confines of one browser?
So imagine a web browser built on Microsoft’s Chakra engine but built to handle web apps and intensive websites. Imagine it supporting extensions but all of it built less like a bowser and more like an OS. You could pin a web site to the Start screen and it would act like an app and not a website. A browser like this could help Windows tablets and phones with their app issues. Now the IE team added things like Read Mode to the touch browser in Windows 8.1. I love it but they need to add more niceties.
Beyond all that I think Microsoft either needs to make it free or throw it in as a freebie when OEMs buy Windows licenses. Let them use WinR as a low cost tablet or as a “OfficeBook” in place of Chromebooks.
In looking ahead, I think Chromebooks will be a major headache for Windows because OEMs are turning to it as an alternative. Chrome OS now partially resembles the PCs of old with enough OSX features to add polish. Additionally they hit what I think is the price point many would impulse buy on PC.
They look and operate close enough to a computer as to support most computer users’ needs. A WinR based device; with its better handling and longer battery life could compete with the Chomebook and the iPad.
Microsoft needs to eat its own in order to remake its consumer offerings, so let it begin on RT.