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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.

 

I haven’t done a post about Windows Phone now Windows 10 Mobile. I mean I started on one but then everyone said it was dead; then Mary Jo Foley got a Nexus and the sky fell.

So let’s recap:

  • Windows Phone as it was first conceived and marketed was not successful.
  • Many of Microsoft’s partners when it was still Windows Phone 7 Series abandoned it.
  • Redmond had to buy the only real Windows Phone handset maker left but ending up firing a lot of the workers and reducing the amount of handsets they make. (When really the only value were the Camera team and HERE mapping)
  • Microsoft has refocused its mobile strategies on pushing apps and services for the big two (Android/iOS); and on refocusing Windows  10 Mobile’s target audiences.

For the last year Microsoft under Nadella has been, in my opinion, trying to make Windows Mobile work. And by work I mean start making profits and being credible competition.

Now let me say upfront, Windows Phone failed. I hate writing that because like its spiritual ancestor the Zune, it was ahead of its time. It faced a number of hurdles that it could not overcome (no matter how hard they tried). So now we on.

I’ve been playing with Windows 10 Mobile since its Insider Preview started. There are a lot things about it I think need serious work. For me most of it is surface stuff. I like the personalization options, but I wish I could group apps to break up the Start Screen. I think the basic layout for UI needs refining and more needs to be done to make apps really pop.

But I also find myself intrigued by what the new Win Mobile is.

I complain about Action Center, but I also really like it. Controls are better. I like the fact this interacts better with the PC. And I like the fact I want to see it on larger screens.

So I think Windows  Mobile has legs, but how does Microsoft make it compelling?

Windows Mobile’s biggest issue out of the gate will be the legacy of Windows Phone: no one uses it and there are no apps. So first question will be, “Why Windows Mobile?”

In some ways Microsoft has already telegraphed that going forward Windows Mobile will be first and foremost about the Enterprise. While Microsoft has also talked about creating experiences for fans of the platform it is clear the focus will be on where they saw growth. Fans are just a bonus.

Beyond the business focus, Windows Mobile will need a consumer story. And I think this where the Surface team comes in.

Despite the appearance of Acer and HP with high end devices, Microsoft is going to have to raise the flag for Windows 10 Mobile. The rumored Surface phone is going to be the point device for Windows Mobile. It will need to be more than just a pretty phone; it’ll need to be a new experience.

This experience goes beyond just having hardware.

Recent reporting around Windows Mobile is indicating that it will be the focus of the next major update to Windows 10. If this is the case, then I think Microsoft should focus on refining the interface and building robust features into the platform.

In my opinion the biggest assets Windows Mobile has is it’s NT kernel underpinnings and Continuum. The NT kernel means this is real Windows. With Continuum Windows Mobile becomes less of an also ran to be a versatile platform. In order for Windows Mobile to get over the “no apps” rep, it will need to push versatility and Continuum hard. To me that means when dock, the phone just becomes a PC (including multitasking).

(Continuum allows a Windows phone to function like a PC with a desktop; apps built to make use of the feature fit the screen. It’s a lot like Windows on ARM or Windows RT)

In some ways what I am suggesting is Microsoft should run with the idea that Windows Mobile as the new Pocket PC. Keep it nerdy. Make it business friendly. Make it versatile and flexible in ways Android and iOS can’t.  Revisit the ideas from the old Win Mobile but reimagined for current mobile audiences.

hp-ipaq-hx-2490c-pocket-pc.jpg

 

(Honestly, I got more but I hit over 700 words and I’ll live it here)

 

courtesy of the Verge

courtesy of the Verge

I think Windows 10 will be a test for Satya Nadella. I think no one questions his commitments to services or to cloud computing. He gets enterprise and helped build the platform that will grow the software giant, but is he cut out for rebuilding Microsoft’s consumer market? He has said some interesting things in his short time as CEO about hardware and about consumers.
Now in Nadella Microsoft has a man who is comfortable with the enterprise side of the software giant. He was head of enterprise and development before becoming boss. His background is not in consumer software; he was in charge of Bing and Online services. His conversations so far around Windows and Xbox has been broad but not really specific. The same is true of his views on the company’s growing hardware component.
His obliqueness has made many wonder if he intends to pull out of the consumer computing market. I know it is something many a pundit has advised. Many took the appearance of Office on iPad before Windows as a sign that the new CEO had no place for it.
Nadella_NY_Times
My personal read on Satya is that I think he is open to things; the guy is clearly a thinker. I think it is interesting that in his  comments about Windows he makes a point about appealing to customers and design. Actually the fact he brings design up at all as a differentiating factor is important to me because it signals someone who knows that the OOBE is something one should get right.  He has talked about a focus on productivity, in some ways getting back to basics. Nadella has talked about what is core to Microsoft (and no it is not Candy Crush). But he has also talked about the importance of gaming and of the need for devices being about work and play.
The push in making services truly cross platform has been rough on some Windows fans. Some have wondered aloud if Windows makes sense if you get the same if not better on iOS and Android (and they have the apps). I admit I have said it myself. It will be an issue Nadella must answer on the 21st when Microsoft unveils the next update to Windows 10.
Here’s hoping we get an answer (we like).
image: New York Times
it seems like the last few years has been a waiting game; a period in which many promises were made (and assumed) but never fully materialized. sometimes it seems like being a Windows users is waiting for the pronouncement that the platform is dead in all its forms and we will now have to choose between Google and Apple as places to stay. I mean how many times and ways have we heard or read an analyst or writer suggest Microsoft quit Windows, adopt Android, sell Bing and Xbox, spin off Xbox, or become a software vendor for Android and iOS?
in recent times the most persistent bit of advice has been in either running Android apps or quitting Windows Phone. The latest is longtime mobile writer Myriam Joire who suggested recently Microsoft could recoup the cost of buying Nokia’s hardware team by making a pure Google phone. Her reasoning was one we all know by now: no developer support, Android has the applications, it would probably sell.
All things that may be true.
For the past few months I’ve been in various discussions around Windows Phone and Microsoft and mobility. I have come to realize I don’t know the answer on how to fix it other than traveling back in time to make Microsoft move sooner. It seems like there is no clear cut solution that solves the app gap or developer adoption. The most widely suggested solutions, especially anything involving Android, would destroy the platform for enthusiasts in my opinion. Adopting Android would solve short term issues but also open up new ones. It would curtail native development and there would be howls from enthusiasts. It would psychic defeat even if it fixed all the issues faced by Windows Phone.
And yet as I write that I know the way it works now has not been successful. All I have is a question: What is the worth of the Windows platform to Microsoft?

In hindsight all roads are clear, all mistakes can be seen before they are made; and all it is because we are looking at an event AFTER it happened.

Right now there are rumors Palm and Kodak will have phones on hand for the Consumer Electronic Show, CES. Both are likely to be devices running Android and perhaps a specialized skin (user interface layer) to brand the experience. Neither Kodak or Palm exist in a way where their name being on a product will bring anything special to make them stand out. The Palm phone is being made by French manufacturer Alcatel One Touch. Kodak has now moved to backend technologies and licensing its name for use on products. The companies join Nokia (Microsoft only part the hardware group) in making device plays using Android.

Nokia at least helped in designing the app launcher and the look of the tablet (Foxconn will be doing the rest).

“Go Android”

This is a phrase often used as sage advice to anyone wanting to get into mobile. It makes sense in a way because Android is the largest mobile platform by far. It outpaces iOS and is the 21st century equivalent to Windows. It has a matching app catalogue to Apple’s iOS is open enough to where a company can skin the beast to make it look and act any way they want. In the last few years it is the advice many a pundit has given Microsoft. Go Android, offer Microsoft services on top of it and everything will be golden.

The Android Panacea

I don’t know any more, maybe just going Android is what everybody should do; move with the tide. Slap your name on the ass of a device and watch the money roll in. Fork the green robot, paint it blue and go attract developers. It did not work for Blackberry, but it sort of worked for Amazon. It raised the fortunes of HTC until Samsung; and before both was Motorola. Android scales, unless we are talking tablets or laptop devices (then it becomes tricky or it uses ChromeOS).

I have nothing against Android it is a solid platform, but it is not a cure all.

Forking Android, skinning the OS and selling under your brand is no guarantee of success. It is not a guarantee the developers will come any faster or be any more committed to updating apps. Adopting it to sit alongside native development kills native; ask Blackberry. It gives you the ability to have apps but not every app and not overnight; ask Amazon but really ask Barnes and Noble.

If you can live on the thin margins and can build up a little brand strength than go ahead, go Android. But if you building a platform and go Android know that what you’ll have one day is another app launcher and the Google Play store is full of them.

Today an interview with tech gadfly and Rackspace Startup Liaison Officer Robert Scoble brought up a continued argument around the future of Microsoft and Windows. In an interview with GeekWire, the former technology evangelist at Microsoft was asked about Seattle and Windows Phone. His responses were let’s just say provocative. 

On Windows Phone:

“That train has sailed,” “The real answer is, give up Windows Phone, go Android, and embrace and extend like you did with the Internet. But they don’t listen to me.” “The problem is that Microsoft has 4 percent market share for mobile. The reason for that is that they have no apps, and there’s no love for developers of apps.

On Microsoft:

The problem with Microsoft is that it’s so committee-driven and slow. It’s not a startup anymore. It’s a big-ass company with a lot of people. And let’s be honest — you work at a big company because it’s comfortable. You don’t have to work 80 hours per week and you get paid, have nice benefits, and the family is all happy. It’s collected a lot of those kinds of people and they are all in committees. Committees don’t do anything.

 

You can read more of his sound bites on GeekWire (warning if you work in Seattle or for Microsoft you might need to restrained). The interview is interesting because it highlights the issue of what exactly is the nature of Microsoft. Is it the next IBM, an enterprise technology company that should focus on software and services. Or is it a company that has a place in the mass consumer computing space. Windows Phone successes and failures seem to be representative of this issue, as is the success of Azure and Office 365.

There is an argument to be made that Microsoft would be better served abandoning the consumer market and mobile as a platform maker. The company’s market share has been slow despite having years in the market. Windows phones and tablets have also had issue in gaining traction with the new set of app developers created with the emergence of the iPhone. In mobile success has come from software and services which don’t need to run on devices with the Windows logo. And serious growth has come not from the fickle consumer market, but from the enterprise with Azure and Office 365.

I think the question around consumers and enterprise is what good does it do Microsoft to have anything to do with computing beyond developers and enterprises. I was in a conversation today where this case was essentially being made. Does it make sense for Microsoft to invest heavily in having a mobile platform if its limited in adoption when they could go for services and have virtually no costs and all benefits? Could they win just by putting Office, Xbox, and desktop Windows on Android phones and iDevices?

Yes they could, but they also would be limiting themselves.

Imagine a situation in which Microsoft’s mobile efforts were built around managing iPads, Android tablets, and Chromebooks. They’d provide software and support using Intune and MDM. Now both Apple, Google, and say Amazon will also be doing the same; except they’ll have actual devices with software they make to complete the package. Now Microsoft’s strategy would manage these devices well but they would be a third party. Their solution would also have to mean the shop buying would have previous investment in the Microsoft ecosystem; this is a workable scenario but not best case.

One thing I have come to realize with computing is that it is both easy to discern enterprise computing from consumer computing and hard to divide it. It is easy because we can come up with a list detailing the need of a business and the wants of a regular consumer. Its hard because the devices and software you use for one, you use for the other. Beyond this users themselves make devices dual use. The mobile platforms people think Microsoft should abandon Windows/Windows Phone for are still largely consumer focused. The computing field has moved beyond supporting specialized software on a large scale.

I don’t think I have an answer to, “Why Windows or Windows Phone”, that will appeal to the rational. I have no answer to how to make it grow. I have my opinion and suggestions, but I’m an armchair analyst like everyone else. I can say that having a mobile platform means having a showcase for your services. It creates a physical product that makes what you sell real to people. It allows for access where otherwise you be restricted. And it is the natural step for most companies seeking growth.

So maybe Scoble is right. I mean Microsoft could make it work. It’d make Value Act and investors happy. It make Google and Apple happy. It would likely destroy whatever would be left of Microsoft’s developer base. And it would relegate Windows to the closet where all back end tech goes.

If Microsoft is okay with this I guess its the right course, but I doubt it.