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Universal Windows Platform

The title is self explanatory; everybody and I mean every YouTube/Twitter/Reddit commentator and every pundit hates Windows 10 S. The newest edition of Windows is a locked down variant of the operating system aimed at education and ChromeOS. 10 S restricts the downloading of applications to the Windows Store; so no Steam, iTunes, or Chrome.

I get why there is animosity.

Windows users expect to be able to download or do damn near anything to a PC. There are a number of programs that will never (or likely never) to come to the Windows Store. And many see any attempt by Microsoft to move toward a stronger app model as creating a walled garden.

And while I sympathize, I want to call bullshit a bit.

For a long time Windows has been the frontier for good and ill. Its open nature allows for a wide range of applications and devices. It allows a lot of people to find devices to meet their needs and more importantly price points. It also means that there is a wide gamut of things that can go wrong. That same open space has made Windows an attractive target for hackers and crackers (criminal hackers). That reputation for vulnerability made the case for moving to other platforms like mac OS or Linux or now ChromeOS.

Then there is the semi-hypocrisy of parasitic platforms. The programs or services that live on Windows but also live to take you off. I put iTunes and Chrome down as prime examples. They exist solely to bring you in and move you onto their respective platforms.

Honestly the walled garden thing is a bit moot in a mobile world. People protesting that Windows shouldn’t have more locked down platform are spitting into the wind that is the billion dollar smartphone market or the growing presence that is Chromebooks. Also a number of these critics highlight services that are inherently locked down or looking to have walled gardens of their own (Steam/Valve).

From my armchair I look at Windows 10 S and I’m intrigued.

Microsoft bungled some of the messaging around it; and honestly I think they should’ve named it something other than 10 S because its open to ridicule and to differentiate it from Windows 10. Windows 10 S is a sort of update to Windows RT (an ARM based version of Windows) except you can upgrade S to full Windows. It is more secure, faster, and a little lighter. More importantly it operates like Windows. It has Windowing and works with peripherals.

Windows 10 S isn’t for the vast amount of people complaining about it. Also Windows 10 Pro is not going anywhere. 10 S is about making a product that can compete with Chromebooks and a changing market.

Chromebooks are an interesting phenomena because they reduce computing down to the thing many use their PC for; getting online. It is easy to overlook how much work has moved from dedicated programs to web applications. Yes people still used programs that are downloaded but most people use the web. It also moves the PC form factor closer to mobile devices. Windows as it exists now can’t effectively compete with an OS built around being lightweight, fast, and mobile. But a more stripped down version could.

The other change that I think influenced Windows 10 S development is mobile. We live in a mobile age; a time in which the “personal computer” is the one in your pocket. The fact that more work and tasks are done is being done on mobile devices changes how the PC is used. The PC is just another point in someone’s platform.

I think Windows 10 S marks the first real shift in modernizing the platform.

I don’t about everyone else but I’ve felt Windows has been in need of a change for awhile. Something that went beyond branding. The strengths of Windows as a platform have eroded in the face of competition. Mobile has replaced the PC and the PC has become more about the browser. Computing is moving away from the hobbyist stage of DIY to an appliance. A new set of users are growing up with a much different view of what a computer is and how it should behave. Windows needs to be better on performance and security; it needs to modernize how apps are built on its platform. Windows and its users need to be brought into the 21st century (kicking and screaming if need be).

Windows is missing out on it and will continue if it doesn’t change.

 

 

Today Microsoft unveiled a device so controversial and divisive it has split the Windows community….and it was a laptop.

It was a laptop running a new version of Windows; without the next big peripheral or any of the surprise twists of previous devices.

The Surface Laptop may be the most controversial thing to come out of Redmond and here is why.

Simple and Clean

With the Surface Laptop, the Surface team did something they have never done before; they made a device without a hook. They didn’t make the Laptop a second version of the Surface Book or a new take on the Surface Pro. The Surface Laptop is not a hybrid Tablet PC; it is just what the name implies (a LAPTOP).  In doing so Microsoft has divided Windows enthusiasts and Surface diehards.

Between late last night and during the event I read a lot of responses questioning Microsoft. In particular there were questions as to why Microsoft was playing it safe by making a simple notebook. They made the argument that the device was 1) not creating a new category (the reason for the Surface brand) or 2) truly designed for student needs. A lot of the arguments dealt with the fact that the Surface Laptop cannot be used as a tablet; the tasks associated with education, such as inking, are not workable. Another issue was price. Given the focus on education there was an expectation this new Surface would be fairly inexpensive. Many (including myself) were expecting some replacement to the Surface 3 or a device that folded like Lenovo’s Yoga  device line. So the price considered was at least $400 below the $999 entry fee for the Surface Laptop.

Beyond expectations the other issue was Windows 10 S.

The New RT

Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS and a sort of updated version of the ARM based Windows RT. Like RT, S is a stripped down version of Windows allowing it to be a little faster and secure. However unlike its predecessor Windows 10 S allows users to upgrade to full Windows; however this will cost users $49. Windows 10 S comes shipped on the new Surface Laptop which adds to the controversy.

At $999 some question the reason to “hobble” the new PC with a restricted OS. Windows 10 S is locked down to apps within the Store remember. So no Steam, iTunes, or Chrome. For many this is a non starter. Also to unlock it and move to Windows 10 Pro you have to pay, which is a hard pill considering the history of Windows.

So you have a laptop people wanted to do more, cost less, and run full Windows.

They got nothing they expected.

Unless they were the many who wanted Microsoft to build a regular, old laptop. One without hinges or detachable keyboards. Also there are a number of people talking up how secure Windows 10 S is.

I think the Laptop is controversial because it highlights the issues Microsoft faces in moving Windows into a more competitive position. Much like the Apple MacBook signaled a change for the Mac; the Surface Laptop is signaling change for Windows. Between the two, Windows 10 S is showing where the platform wants to go. Microsoft is ready to move away from .exe and legacy and toward a new application model based on UWP (Universal Windows Platform). This is about simplifying Windows to make it work for a consumer market altered by mobile devices. Users no longer use PCs as their sole computing device; and the one they use has changed how they view software. On the PC most people work through their browser and maybe a few programs. We are approaching the end of the PC Wild West.

And this maybe the first step

To Satya Nadella, Frank X. Shaw, Terry Myerson, or anyone in Redmond WA that wants to respond,

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

I mean it, ZDNet is reporting the company is selling a “Microsoft Edition” of the S8. So are you done with Windows Mobile?

I don’t mean the bullshit about maintaining of the software; but in actually updating the OS with new features or maybe an update UI.

I only ask because after the  retrenchment there has been silence other than the pat answer of being committed to Windows phone. And honestly that sounds hollow. In actuality Microsoft has done the barest of bare minimums in terms of support. The other reality is Microsoft has shifted its mobile concerns to supporting iOS and Android (when they feel like they toss phone users a bone if we’re lucky).

And now Microsoft is getting ready to sell the Samsung S8 in it’s stores (which they don’t EVER talk about).

So Microsoft would like us to know something; like are you now really done playing catchup in the phone market?

Are you ready to say the words so everyone can move on because you are now done with mobile?

Or are you holding on to dear life because you know saying, “We are done”, kills UWP in its already stagnant tracks.

I mean honestly you should be honest, just be fucking honest; so we and you can move on.

Sincerely a tired fan boy

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.