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The Universal app platform is our future platform–Terry Myerson

On Thursday morning in Shenzhen, China Microsoft held their second Windows Hardware Engineering Community event (WinHEC). At this event a number of new hardware initiatives were announced; but the one everyone is still discussing is Windows 10 for ARM chips with x86 emulation.

For those that don’t know this is “full” Windows running on mobile processors with the ability to run legacy x86 programs; things like iTunes and Chrome. This is in addition to the newer mobile apps built on top of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP).

The new ARM news brings up a lot of interesting topics and questions with one being the future of universal Windows platform.

What is UWP

The Universal Windows Platform is simply the developer platform for making software for Windows. It makes use of a number of different languages such as XAML, C, C#, win JS, and .NET. UWP based applications can run across all device screens running Windows; so they can be used on mobile, PC, Xbox, HoloLens, and Internet of Things (IoT headless) devices. UWP apps are usually touch enabled or are built for things other than the classical PC. UWP apps are different from .exe x86 programs because they were designed to be sandboxed away from the underlying bits of a device and restricted in how they can change functionality.

If you want a real overview of the history of UWP please read Peter Bright’s article on Ars Technica.

While Microsoft executives and program managers have stated UWP was the future of Windows development many still wondered. For one the platform lacked features found in older developer platforms like WPF. Second was Microsoft’s recent history of creating then retiring platforms in haphazard manners. Third has been the need to maintain x86 for legacy support.

UWP vs x86

The big issue facing UWP (amongst other) is x86. For the purpose of this post x86 is the current set of technologies to make programs; also it implies these programs can only run on Intel chips.

x86 has been the main platform for Windows for the better part of three decades. Most applications people use is based on it. However x86 development has waned over time. X86 is a mature platform, but it has limitations. For one x86 has no app model. Second it has security issues in the form of programs having no set limitations. Three, X86 is quite power hungry. For not designed for the mobile world.

Going forward: Wither x86 or UWP?

So which wins: x86 or UWP?

Well after the most recent WinHEC x86 and UWP will coexist but UWP will supplant x86 over time.

 

One of the better aspects of technology writing is searching for concept interfaces and fake user interfaces. The following images are from Microsoft and may or may not show up in future Windows’ releases.

continuum_desktop

The above image is (guessing) a design study for the Start menu and desktop. Given the way the Start Menu looks this may be a study looking for Windows 10 Mobile.

neon_suspect2

Design study (again guessing) for Windows 10 Mobile. Notice the Tile sizes; looks like a refinement.

neon_suspect4

More Windows Mobile designs. Looks like Aero fans will be entertained. Interesting looking mail and messaging icons.

neon_suspect3

More Start Screen designs.

neon_suspect1

 

Last image is a look at the Start Menu on a PC. In a few concepts Microsoft has experimented with the Taskbar; adding features that make it work more like the MacOS launcher and making work when PC is in tablet mode.

And that’s it for now folks.

Before reading the article posted today on Windows Central I have to admit I was nonplused by what was coming down the pike for Windows. The fact is Windows as an OS needs a make over but can’t get one because legacy keeps it afloat while drowning it.

And I know a lot of people need and require software built on top of x86 but it does prevent things moving forward.

Then Neon happened and my inner UI nerd fainted.

 

neon

image: New Creation

 

Metro 2.0

According to Zac Bowden at Windows Central and Cassim Kefti at Numerama Neon is the codename for the next interface update to Windows 10. Kefti says internally Neon is being described as “Metro 2.0” in reference to the UI introduced with Windows Phone. Windows Central describes it as a streamlining of various efforts to bring level of coherency throughout the system. Neon also looks to add new animations and transitions to Windows 10. Neon also appears to be an effort to integrate new UI elements for augmented and virtual reality headsets. The timeline for the changes according to both articles seems to be Redstone 3, the update planned for 2017.

Neon

So what do I think? Honestly I am hyped by the news nd the possibilities. The news follows reporting from ZDNet about x86 emulation running on ARM for Windows Mobile. The emulation news was preceded by new mobile features coming with Windows’ next update. All this adds up to interesting times ahead for Windows mobile users and enthusiasts.

Now that was the hope. Here is the wants and needs.

First, there needs to be a visual update to both the Start Screen of Windows mobile and the start menu/tablet mode on Windows 10. I include them together because those are the public facing parts of the OS and the ones users use when mobile or without a keyboard. Windows 10 is fine for tablets but can always use improvements.

Second more features for Live Tiles and the lock screen. Neon is the perfect opportunity for features like Interactive Tiles or anything that moves the Tile metaphor forward. Also the Lock screen has been there sitting waiting to be unleashed; maybe the work of Microsoft’s Arrow Launcher could help.

Last, seamless integration of mixed reality into the platform. Windows has merged touch with the mouse and keyboard and no it was not easy. Hopefully they learned from those growing pains.

Honestly it’s early days and I will be revisiting this topic in future.

So I’ve been off; away from tech writing but still glued to technology. And while I have not been posting about the latest rumblings around it, I do have opinions which I now present to you. Apologies for the bad sentence structures beforehand.

 

Cook’s Apple

It’s hard to remember how positively received Tim Cook was as Apple’s CEO. His leadership was a major change of pace from the days of Steve Jobs. I’m reminded of those days again because now the chorus has changed. I’ve noticed in some of my reading around Apple a serious discontent on the part of longtime Mac users as well as professional Mac users feeling uncertain about it’s future.

The introduction of the latest MacBook Pro line has led to a bit of a social media backlash; with some seriously thinking of switching platforms or simply holding onto older Macs longer. To be honest to have such discussions being out there is weird giving the nature of Apple. Or maybe not.

Apple is no longer the company Steve Jobs founded in the seventies. It is not the company built on the back of the Apple II or Lisa. It is the Apple that he rebuilt in the late 1990s and whose fortunes can be tied back to the iPod and forward to iOS. This new Apple needs to maintain the iOS train while getting to the next big thing; unfortunately MacOS isn’t that and only exists until iOS can at least replace Mac laptops.

 

Beyond Mobile

Given how much disruption is supposed to be an underlying part of technology, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone asked what will disrupt mobile. In fact it’s hard to really look past mobile to any emerging or potential trend.

I mean tablets, smartwatches, and virtual reality have all been tied to mobile. Smartwatches are literally just there to be phone extensions. Media dongles like the Chromecast exist to extend the phone’s reach to your TV.

So what exists beyond mobile or is mobile so big we haven’t reached the edge yet?

 

Nadella’s Windows

This is something I will revisit later, but I want to start here. Satya Nadella’s time as head of Microsoft has been interesting to watch. He became CEO after what was largely a dark period for the company; maybe not in terms of profit, but in direction. Microsoft failed to successfully modernized its mobile efforts with Windows Phone and made missteps with developers. It made some moves to successfully move the company forward (Azure) and has seen success in the cloud while stumbling in the consumer market.

Much of the failings of the last decade were pinned to former chief Steve Ballmer who three years ago decided to retire and hand the reins to then Cloud head Nadella.

Now I’m not going to bore you with the overview; tl;dr of it is Nadella has been credited with a renaissance at Microsoft with new products and a rejuvenated workforce. For me the focus is on where Microsoft is going with Windows under Nadella.

Before recent reports; much of the news around Windows was about both the decline in the PC market and the innovation around Microsoft hardware. It’s weird but the PC’s decline has lead to a sort of resurgence. However for Nadella and Microsoft Windows and especially it’s mobile half are what keeps tongues wagging. And we may have an answer next year.

 

So………

Microsoft has this thing called the Universal Windows Platform. It is essentially software that allows programs to run across the types of devices that run Windows 10. The UWP acts like a container which means the programs can’t reach out and make drastic changes that users may have to go in and fix if something goes wrong with an application. The platform is essentially what you get when downloading an app on a mobile phone or a tablet.

Okay so here is the thing with the UWP, some people do not like it. They feel it’s this infringement on their use of a PC. Some developers feel like it is a step to wall off the PC gaming garden.

This is BULLSHIT

The Universal Platform at its basest nature, is about modernizing application development. Windows over its 30 plus years has accumulated clogs of coding languages, tools, and workarounds for running software; but not a modern one.

Think of those times your PC ran slow or you thought you deleted a program or game and it’s still there in the system; this is the stuff some like to call good thing.

The second part of the UWP is to make it easier on USERS. Easy installs, quick up and runtimes, safely contained, and most importantly easily deleted without issue. I mean when was the last time you went to a site to download an application?  Most don’t, and if you do how do you know that site is legit? Bitch about the Windows store, but it’s vetted.

Now the third reason is simple; the PC as you and I knows it needs to DIE.

The PC market is fast becoming a niche but also long in the tooth. User expectation for devices has changed. Most people work within the browser screen or off a mobile phone. The legacy and past have forced Microsoft to maintain a status quo that now hinders. The development model needed changing to be competitive; to make PCs strong.

So suck it up kiddies cause change is coming.

In a few short hours Microsoft’s latest Surface devices, the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book, will go on sale. The release of the devices coincides with the release of HALO 5: Guardians and its first flagship store in Manhattan, New York. The devices got decent reviews. The Surface Book, a 13.5 inch laptop with detachable screen, was the surprise of Microsoft’s recent Windows 10 devices event.

It is amazing that four years ago the Surface line was revealed in a surprise event in Hollywood. Then there was the Surface lineup came in both ARM (Surface RT) and Intel (Surface Pro) models. Over the years the line has faced challenges with a $900 million write down of the Surface RT devices; along with grumblings from PC makers upset with Microsoft getting into hardware. Reviewers liked the devices but felt Windows RT and Windows 8 held them back. Analysts looked at the devices as a diversion for the software company and urged them to quit.

I mean what did Microsoft think it could do against the iPad?

Apparently build up a small hardware business that, on the heels of the Surface Pro 3, became a small billion dollar enterprise for Microsoft and a brand.

With the Pro 4 and Book the Surface team is refining their product and moving into new fields. Now the question becomes what next.

In the immediate future I think the next Surface device will be a refresh of the base, entry level Surface. Last year the Surface 3 was announced midway into 2015 as the successor to the Surface Arm based tablets. The Surface 3 updated the entry level model to reflect the Pro 3 and created something that was closer to the iPad. The Surface 4 could be similar to the Pro 4 with the removal of the Windows logo and reduced bezels. My hope is the Surface team also take cues from the Surface Book’s thin and lightweight design. I also hope if there is a Surface 4 is coming that the focus is on creating a thin device and redesigning the tablet with a new design.

Another immediate future device is the next version of the Surface Book. Taking in the early reviews, I imagine a Book 2 will work on reducing the screen wobbling along with improving the hinge mechanism. I also expect the Book 2 to improve battery life for the tablet half which currently runs only for 3 hours. Of course the Book 2 will be thinner and they reduce the hinge size to close the  gap.

Beyond the obvious updates, what’s in store for the Surface brand?

At the beginning of its life Surface was about priming the pump for the PC market; it was about being a standard bearer. That hasn’t changed. But one of the other aspects to Surface is about rethinking device categories, and this is where I think the next devices will come from.

In my mind I see Microsoft working on either a variation of the mini PC or an All in One.

The All in One I see mainly as something that works for both Windows Mobile devices and as a possible alternative to the Surface Dock. Now for those that don’t know newer Windows Mobile devices such as the upcoming Lumia 950 and 950 XL have backed in something called Continuum. Continuum is Microsoft’s way of transitioning Windows devices between various modes. This means on tablets and PCs running Windows 10 can switch between the desktop and tablet, and on phones provide a PC like experience. Now Continuum for phones can be done both wireless and through devices like the $99 dollar Display dock built for the 950s. So imagine a device that allows a user to walk up with their Lumia or Surface and send their screen to an All in One in their house. Something that is similar to the large screen Surface Hub but built for your desk or or office.

Now the second device I think may be in the mind of the Surface team is a mini PC. Now this is a black horse largely due to a device like this would really step on their hardware partners toes. But imagine a thin and light box that was co-designed by the Xbox team that was built with that Surface fit and finish.

Or maybe we may finally see that Surface Mini (now that Panos has outed it in a Wired article).

So the folks over at Windows Central have a countdown clock, and we have 7 hours 2 minutes and 27 seconds until Microsoft reveals its latest versions of Surfaces and Lumias in New York City. I’m glad Microsoft is doing the event on the East coast, but it’s really early in the morning.

I think most of us can already guess what Microsoft will show off in a few hours. There will be a new Surface Pro model, two new Lumias, and peripherals. The next iteration of Microsoft’s wearable, the Band, is also widely expected to be on hand.

Microsoft is expected to unveil the Lumia 950 and 950 XL. Both phones have flagship specs with the larger model supposedly coming with support for inking. Both models will be encased polycarbonate plastic and include wireless charging. Both Lumia models are also expected to be sold across carriers except for Verizon; however both 950/950XL work on both CDMA and other bands.

MSFT_Event_October6_2015image: Microsoft

The Surface brand will be the star of the show with the possibility of multiple devices. Of course many expect to see an updated Pro model. The Surface Pro 4 is expected to be a modest revision with the biggest update being under the hood. The Pro 4 is rumored to be packing Intel’s new Skylake processor. There are also rumors of another Surface device that is at least 14 inches. One story reported by WinBeta is that it is a 12 inch Surface model which can switch the screen to be 13 inches like Intel’s North Cape concept. Another rumor posted by Paul Thurrott says this potential device is a 2-in-1 with a foldable keyboard making this Pro model Microsoft’s first laptop.

Early rumors indicated a new model Xbox would be announced but that was squashed by Xbox chief Phil Spencer. However many believe the Xbox Slim is still in the works. Microsoft is still rumored to show off the second iteration of Microsoft Band which should improve on the first model. Band 2 is rumored to be a more curved model to better fit the wrist and improved sensors.

I am hoping Microsoft may show off a Surface 4 model for those of us who like portability. Also new versions of the Surface Pen and TouchCover. However I think the biggest news will be around applications. Recent rumors have announced the possibility of Google finally creating apps for Windows 10.

If you want to watch the event it will be available online HERE.

Also know various tech sites will be doing liveblogs:

Windows Central

The Verge

Thurrott.com