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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.

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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?

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I am writing this in part because I’m sort of tired about writing around the subject.

So no one knows what the hell Microsoft is planning to with its mobile platform. What is known is it has been split off from the desktop version of Windows 10 into a branch called feature2. Microsoft has said Mobile will be reintegrated into the main Windows branch known as OneCore sometime in the future. But most Windows watchers think this is cover for the fact mobile is now retired.

So as of right now no one knows anything and all guesses point to the exit.

It is the end of the line or (if you’re a half full type) the next point in the Windows Mobile journey.

SO how did we get here?

Well in hindsight we have been living with Windows Phone being dead for awhile. I mean if you want the list of what went wrong you have prime choices. There is the obvious app gap where without (insert app) Windows Phone was doomed. The lack of hardware maker/carrier support. There is the Nokia deal and the effect it had on the platform (good and bad). Microsoft’s internal strife. Microsoft’s deciding to bet on Cloud and not so much on mobile. The debacle that was Silverlight and XNA’s deprecation. The Nokia deal. The chaotic nature of the Entertainment and Devices group. Windows Phone’s hardware requirements. Android. The Microsoft KIN.

Take your pick.

No one thing derailed Windows Phone; all of it did.

Windows Phone was born at the wrong time in so many ways. And it came right at the moment where things at Microsoft were coming to a head.

I wonder if people remember Windows Mobile 6.5 or even the mobile landscape back then. I mean for everyone else on earth the iPhone was the first smartphone; and its emergence rocked everyone. The big players had to scramble to respond. And a lot of the early ones were lipstick jobs pushing touch layers on top of phones not necessarily designed for them.

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In hindsight iOS and later Android were the sign of things to come and the mobile market before it was this weird period before it.

I mean in hindsight any damn body could explain and solve Microsoft’s problems with Windows Phone. Because we are talking after the fact. We are also talking from the perspective of fans who want this to work.

I mean in every post mortem about Phone no one discusses what Android did right in pushing out on the stage. We don’t discuss the fact Android exists largely because Google didn’t want Microsoft keeping it out of mobile. Or the fact Android basically copied the what both Windows Mobile and Symbian offered but for free so a phone maker could do what they did for those platforms to Android.

In retrospect Microsoft should’ve been looser in terms of requirements. They should’ve had an enterprise angle in addition to the consumer one. They should have aggressively added features to keep parity with Android and iOS. And yes they should have treated Android like the natural threat it was.

I mean let’s go further down and talk about Nokia and Lumia.

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Nokia was the platform’s greatest boon and its biggest issue. Stephen Elop had to CONVINCE former CEO Steve Ballmer to do the deal. It was a deal in which Espoo received money to keep them afloat because Nokia was not in the best shape. It was a Hail Mary pass for both; and to Nokia’s credit they were in much more than Microsoft.

And we got Lumias, but we also lost Samsung and HTC because the deal looked like it was exclusive. I mean the deal soured relations between Samsung and Microsoft until very recently.

And speaking about Lumia, it was great for the low end but it faced serious headwinds with high end devices. Nokia was applying the same flood the market strategy but it didn’t work. Also The 7 billion dollar hardware deal was a waste of money because Microsoft is not a hardware company.

(Also Microsoft did not need the hardware just the designers and HERE because the company was expanding into services).

Now Microsoft’s sins are plentiful.

At some point the company had to see the writing on the wall. Mobile was and is the future mass computing platform and having no presence is death sentence. Microsoft’s responses have either been half hearted or so early they retreat before the market is there or just starting.

Mobile never seemed core to Microsoft.

The precursor to Windows Phone was Windows CE; an ARM based platform loosely based on Windows. CE was run by the Entertainment and Devices group; the group behind Zune and Xbox. Windows Mobile existed in the shadow of big Windows and running on pre-iPhone mobile devices. It was tucked away and sold to phone makers to skin and resale as their own device.

So when Windows Phone came along it jettison CE and in particular the ability for phone makers to skin the OS. This did-incentivized some partners. It also made Android look like a more agreeable platform.

And then there is the app gap; which now includes Microsoft as much as any other app maker. At this point I don’t what there is to say. Microsoft never did the all in thing that happened with the Cloud on mobile. In fact mobile has only entered into the core of Windows after a change in CEO and head of Windows.

You know at this point as a fan I a amazed there are still Windows phones out there. Just like I am always amazed at how outside the gadget bubble real people liked their Windows Phones.

But I also look back and see a lot of missteps. The Nokia deal was bad because Microsoft wasn’t committed to pushing Windows Phone as a platform. And the deal caused rifts between Microsoft and other OEMs who could’ve pushed the platform in ways Nokia couldn’t. Also at some point the Lumia hardware became more important than the software and honestly the community got toxic.

In the end what happened, happened.  Now all that can be done is to move forward.

 

 

So I want to talk about Windows Cloud and what it means; but I want to start by talking about Microsoft’s loss of trust amongst Windows enthusiasts.

Microsoft is a software company. The bulk of its money comes from enterprise. Things like Azure, SQL, and SharePoint have way more impact on their bottom line than say Windows. In fact I would argue that Microsoft is far more comfortable and competent when it comes to services than it is on delighting the person PC buying at BestBuy.

Microsoft’s consumer facing products are a mixed bag; for every Xbox there is a Zune, or a Kin. Windows is their biggest consumer facing product but there are times when one wonders if its a stone throw away from mothballs.

Right now many are disillusioned with the company for a myriad of things that revolve around consumer. And a lot of it revolves around commitment.

Commitment to mobile (beyond making iOS and Android apps).

Commitment to gaming (in terms of first party and exclusive games)

And overall commitment to Windows as Microsoft’s platform.

Enthusiasm is waning because the feeling many, including myself, have is Microsoft has quit.

After a period in which it shifted to Windows Phone , premiered Windows 8 and RT, started the Surface line, and pushed out the Xbox One they seem to have hit a rut. Now don’t get me wrong there have been hits, but also failures. Microsoft’s failure to gain traction in mobile has seen them buy Nokia’s hardware unit, they take a write off because they weren’t going to turn into a phone maker. The Xbox One trails the PlayStation 4.

So now Redmond is scrambling and scraping initiatives that leave users and enthusiasts wondering if Microsoft’s product are worth the time. If Microsoft won’t invest in its platform why should anyone else? Microsoft of late acts like it wants to be an app maker for iOS and Android and not do anything with the mobile platform it owns.

And this raises questions for Windows Cloud.

How committed will Microsoft be with it?

In a period in which Microsoft is running silent in regards to the future of Windows Mobile you have to wonder. Will Cloud have the firm backing of Redmond or is it another flash in the pan.

 

 

So on May 2, Microsoft will be holding an education focused event. The rumor is the event will cover Windows 10 Cloud and a new computing device from Redmond.

Now the device will NOT be an update to the Surface Pro or Surface Book.

It will also not be the long rumored Phone.

Many are taking cues from an early DigiTimes rumor saying Redmond will be premiering a Surface clamshell device. That rumor said this device would sell for $1,000 and be positioned as an entry model. Given past devices there is debate on whether this PC will be a straight up laptop or something like the Lenovo Yoga (folds into a tablet).

This is just my take on what may go down beginning with the software.

Windows Cloud

Windows 10 Cloud is a new version of Windows in the vein of Home or Business. Microsoft has not been public about Cloud; it hasn’t stated its existence and what we know comes from leaked information. What we do know is Cloud is a fairly locked down version of Windows 10 that only runs software coming from the Windows Store. Also for a price, a user can upgrade the system to full Windows.

On paper Windows Cloud resembles Windows RT; the early ARM based version of Windows 8 that ran only WINRT based apps. Now that where that comparison ends because Cloud can run apps in the modern Windows store that includes x86 applications and apps built on UWP (the updated version of WINRT). Also those apps run in windowed mode which RT did in a limited fashion. So beyond that we don’t know much about Cloud. It’s a locked down variant of Windows.

The thing with Cloud is its widely considered to be a competitor to Google’s ChromeOS. ChromeOS is an OS based of the Chrome browser; the apps you run are web apps and some Android apps (depending on the device). Unlike MacOS and Windows Chrome is a lightweight system; like a mobile OS. Google does most of the maintenance and updating without user input. ChromeOS and Chromebooks basically offer what most of us do with computers now; the browser. While ChromeOS has had some traction in the consumer market it has had serious success in education.

So Cloud exists because of ChromeOS but what does that mean for May?

Windows Cloud is just one part of Microsoft’s possible education play. I say that in part because most of the leaked info about Cloud doesn’t limit it to devices aimed at schools. There is also a version of Windows aimed at the Education market which no one has said is being merged with Cloud. So in my opinion Cloud if its shown off will be a new initiative around offering lower cost entry devices. The education angle will come in the form of new services and updated applications. Things like OneNote, Word, Sway, and Intune for Education.

 

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Surface Cloudbook

So what about hardware?

Now my personal opinion is there is a 50/’50 chance this event will see no branded Microsoft hardware but PCs from partners. I say this if the event’s focus is on Widows Cloud. But if there is a new Surface device this my idea on what it will be.

Given the focus of the event, past Surface devices, and Windows Cloud I think the device will likely be similar to the Surface 3. It won’t be based off the current Surface Pro as that is too large for kids in Elementary and Middle school. I am going under the assumption that this PC will be positioned as a device that can grow with the child; also work for younger students. So I do think the screen size will be around the 10 inch mark; 11 would be pushing.

Second if we go with the rumor about the clamshell; then this device will look like the Lenovo Yoga Book. This device will be a deviation from what we think of as a Surface device, but not by much. I expect it will use the same aspect ratio use touch, and function like a tablet. The difference will be if the keyboard stays attached. There is a possibility that this may look like a smaller Surface Book. If the keyboard stays attached we could see a new design around a Yoga styled device. I expect a pen will be included. Also if this is an education facing device we may get the first non Magnesium built Surface. Like the Surface 3 this thing will run on a mobile Intel chip (possibly Qualcomm).

 

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Lenovo’s Yogabook a possible guide to Surface Cloudbook

 

My best guess is the May 2 event will focus mostly on Windows Cloud and it’s benefits to education. I’m also guessing Cloud will be a free offering and Cloud devices will be aggressively priced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So this week has been one of the many in which I honestly wonder what Microsoft is doing in mobile.

There has been this growing feeling (on my part) that Microsoft’s retrenchment was a major miscalculation; and one that is just another link in the chain of misery that has followed Windows Phone.

It is as if Microsoft has been hoping if it says nothing and does nothing, Windows Mobile will just die and they can start over (or not).

Microsoft has said in the past it plans to maintain its mobile platform and it has sent out patches and has updated the OS as part of the larger Creator’s update. But the company has also not done anything new for the platform.

There are two concrete truths as I see it. One is Microsoft is concentrating on its successful platform and distancing itself from the unsuccessful one. Two, mobile is to important an environment to be dependent on being a software vendor.

There are parts of Redmond who believe their mobile focus should be on gaining a stronger foothold on iOS and Android. Which is why Office was first available on iOS and why there is DeX optimized version for the Samsung Galaxy S8. I think this is a good idea in half; they need to be on those platforms but not ignore their own.

Microsoft needs a mobile platform; a place to showoff services in a way they simply can’t on the big two systems. No matter how much integration they can get on Android it’ll never be a Microsoft device. I know some like Paul Thurrott think it is time for Microsoft to focus on Android as their platform but that, in my opinion, would be as effective as the retrenchment strategy.

It’s time for Microsoft to stop deluding itself that it can avoid mobile.

If Microsoft’s pullback was to access the future of whatever they think mobile is, they need to share the results.

If they are aiming to get out of the market, go Android or be an ISV, or go a different direction they need to say something. What is occurring now is unprofessional and a disservice to users and developers.

Microsoft’s blunders in mobile, the ones in their control, were avoidable. They weren’t avoided because Microsoft spent crucial years in internecine conflict. Their decision to retrench mobile and focus on the devices they had traction (PC) with has only delayed them and put them further back. Microsoft hasn’t and is not doing the work needed for a come back to the mobile market. They haven’t got a vendor to pick up the low end market where Windows Phone had traction. Companies like BLU or ZTE aren’t there with devices. Also their refocus on enterprises hasn’t gone farther than the NYPD and the HP Elite x3.

Microsoft should have treated mobile in the same way it has treated  Azure and the cloud; as the future of its fortunes. Instead it was treated like the Zune; a me too product never brought into the larger portfolio.

And the biggest sin Microsoft has committed has been silence.

The weak statements of commitment have been followed up with signs that mobile is being winded down. The number of devices have been reduced. And the feature set between PC and Mobile is inconsistent.

Windows may mean less to Redmond’s bottom line but that doesn’t detract from the need for it to continue to do well. There is also the need for Windows to continue its transformation away from desktop computing.

Whether they like it or not mobile needs to be resolved. I just don’t think Microsoft can hold off on it forever.

 

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.