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Windows 10

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.

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)

 

In a matter of hours Microsoft will once again take the stage in California for their E3 Briefing.

This year finds the Xbox group in an interesting place. While the Xbox One has seen a growth in sales it is still behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 by large numbers. There has been confusion in regards to Microsoft’s strategy for the Xbox and PC gaming; leading to a noted game developer saying Microsoft was trying to “take over” gaming through the Windows Store. Microsoft has also closed down a number of studios and projects, most notably Lionhead Studios and Fable Legends.

And then there is the ghost of the Xbox One launch that still hangs over the console even as it has become more gamer friendly.

So what to expect when Xbox chief Phil Spencer and company take the stage?

New Hardware

Thanks to Petri.com editor and nemesis of Paul Thurrott, Brad Sams, we know that today’s briefing will feature new hardware. And not just hardware focusing on pure gaming, but also media streaming.

According to Sams, Microsoft will be premiering a refresh to Xbox One in terms of a smaller, slimmer model (which according to leaks will be dubbed the Xbox One S). Additionally a new standard controller will also be shown off.

Bigger news, at least to me, is Microsoft is finally getting into the living room streaming game with two streaming devices.

According to both Mr. Sams and others, these two devices are aimed at competing with the Apple TVs and Rokus in the market and will make use of the Windows Store for content. I should note here that while the Windows store lacks the deep catalogue of the App Store and  Google Play it has a decent catalogue in terms of Movies, TV, and Music and Xbox already has media deals to make it a solid option. I’m expecting if the Streamers are shown off they will come with the announcements of new services.

Games, Games, Games

Now I am not certain of specific titles but I believe we will the release dates for games such as Re: Core and Crackdown 3. Some games like Titanfall 2 and Mass Effect: Andromeda have already been announced so they may be on and to show gameplay. I think the bigger news will be on Xbox as a gaming platform that stretches from the Console to the PC. Windows 10 has been used to bring together PC gaming and Xbox and I think we will see an update on where it’s going.

So that’s my spiel for this year’s E3. Turn in later to see if I was correct or horribly wrong.

 

Okay,

So we are now in the Satya Nadella era of Microsoft and honestly all is right with the world. He is making the moves many have long asked Microsoft to make. Office is on mobile devices. Microsoft is making services cross platform. And the “specter” of Windows 8 has been replaced by the well received Windows 10.

People Mr. Nadella is ready for his hagiography.

But before we go that far I think we need to discuss one of the potential problems Microsoft will have to navigate; Windows itself.

As Microsoft has moved more of its services cross platform many are asking what is the point of Windows. While Nadella has put forth a goal of getting billions on Windows 10 and getting people to love the OS, the company seems neglectful. While many praise Outlook for iOS Outlook on Windows still needs finishing. People also complain about the fact that Windows 10 isn’t as good on tablets as Windows 8 was. Lastly many are asking if everything is available on Android and iOS what differentiates Windows and Windows Mobile.

A lot of the of the good vibes around Microsoft stems from Nadella not being Ballmer but also that a lot of his moves are not about making the preciouses not have to touch icky Windows. But as Microsoft increasingly makes its services work cross platform Windows has become a sort of Black box.

For some enthusiasts Nadella is here to KILL Windows and especially Windows Phone.

It is clear Satya Nadella wants to change Windows and Windows Phone. When he or the company talk about More Personal Computing they mean Windows and Windows Mobile. But I also think he sees the need for Windows to change its approach. Windows 10 was about reaching out to desktop computer users, but its future is in creating a product that is wanted by users.

I think the future of Windows, at least from my view, will increasingly involve hardware. While Nadella may have been against the purchase of Nokia hardware, he has championed the Microsoft Surface and HoloLens. I think he sees hardware as this lynchpin for the Windows platform. Now the question is can Windows be that platform.

There has been so much news coming out of this year’s Build Conference that it’s hard to just recap daily events. Beyond HoloLens which is amazing is a number of initiatives and changes that are making Windows 10 this very intriguing platform to watch. In particular the future of the UI once known as Metro and Continuum.

Now this isn’t exactly breaking news, other sites have reported it, but during one of the sessions on Windows Live Tiles one of the slides listed Interactive Tiles as a feature being worked . While Live tiles allow you to see information without having to open an application you still have to open an app to do anything proactive. Interactive tiles function like Widgets which allow you to interact with info without leaving the Start Screen. Interactive tiles were introduced as a research project two years ago and it looks like they will be coming in Windows 10.

Interactive_Tiles

On the other side of things is Continuum. Continuum is a system that makes it easy for users of Windows to switch between the Desktop and Tablet environments. Basically it’s a tablet mode for Windows PCs and 2-in-1 devices. On Wednesday Microsoft introduced a version of Continuum for Windows Phones running 10. unlike the PC/Tablet PC version, Continuum for Phones turns smartphones into PCs. This means with a dock, wireless dongle, or USB cord your Windows phone can deliver a PC experience.

Continuum_Concept

Now during a talk on how to implement Continuum for Phones members of the Continuum team briefly showed a slide that showed a device they described, “as not a PC but a device powered by a Phone.” The white laptop dock, which was also described as a detachable tablet PC, would work like a cross between Windows RT and a Chromebook. The team described it as one of a new class of devices that could be powered by Continuum for Phones. The idea of using a phone to power a laptop isn’t new; Motorola did it with the Atrix and Palm with the Foleo. Asus also markets the Padfone as tablet/phone device. The difference here is Microsoft is designing its software to work across screens and providing developers with the tools to do the same.

The fact that the developers showed off a picture of a device looks like Microsoft or one of its hardware partners is planning on showing us something cool.

build1220150429_web

Yesterday Microsoft kicked of its annual developer conference, Build, in San Francisco. With a packed audience the Day One keynote covered Microsoft’s cloud offerings, Office, and of course Windows.

Going into Wednesday’s event much was riding on what would be said by CEO Satya Nadella and various VP. While Windows 10 has been largely lauded Windows and the PC have seen declines in sales; along with the dismal fortunes of Windows Phones. So a lot was in play.

What followed in the two and half hour keynote was something that stated exactly what Microsoft is along with raising a few questions on where Windows is going.

build1020150429_web

Unlike pasts Builds the Day One event did not start off with Windows but Azure. In fact one of the interesting things about the keynote was it covered Azure, Office, and Windows with Windows going last. The Azure platform continues to grow and this year’s announcement’s by Server and Enterprise chief Scott Guthrie were about filling out the cloud story. On tap were improvements to Azure SQL Server, a new service for big data called Azure Data Lake, and Azure Data Warehouse. The big news for developers is a new product for Visual Studio called Visual Studio Code. Code is an code editing program that for the first time brings Visual Studio to OSX and Linux. It is also available on Windows. Code is currently in preview and free. Code along with Azure services continue to signal Microsoft’s commitment to cross platform. Next up was a brief run through of Office,

For a while now Office has been slowly moving from a pure application to a service; now its morphing into a platform. On the stage Wednesday, Nadella himself helped demo the ability to run add-ons like car service Uber within Outlook and Excel. Unlike the Micros of yesteryear, the new apps work across PC, Mac, and browsers. Along with the new initiative it was also announced that Skype will be launching an API for integrating into apps and the web.

Then came Windows.

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Now between each segment Nadella would walk out and introduce the next speaker. With Windows OS chief Terry Myerson came out to give an overview and update on Windows 10. He reiterated that 10 will be a free upgrade in its first year out. He also added that Microsoft’s goal was to have Windows 10 on over a billion devices across three years (That’s ambitious). Myerson also unveiled four new ways to create applications on Windows: Web, .NET/Win32, JAVA/C++ (Android), and Objective C (iOS). The addition of Android apps was and is a controversial move and you could tell from the reaction of developers. iOS was a surprise. Both moves make it easier for developers to port applications to Windows.

With the opening out of the way he introduced Joe Belfiore and Alex Kipman to show demos. Belfiore who heads up design and UX walked through changes to Windows 10.

The big news around Windows 10 in Build (other than HoloLens) was Continuum for Phones. Unlike the version on the PC which let’s users switch between touch and keyboard the phone version allows you to turn a phone into a PC like device. Belfiore also showed off further finishes such as an transparency layer similar to Aero and a new look to the Start Menu when in tablet mode. Kipman caped off the demos with the first look at HoloLens’ finished product and another UI demo. Basically HoloLens is the future even its only 15 minutes. The HoloLens demo showed how you can pin Video and Skype to a wall (and make it go with you), place a 3d weather model on a table, and have the wildest anatomy class ever. HoloLens continues to rack up workplace scenarios that make it feel more like a tool than a plaything.

Satya Nadella came back on stage to close out the presentation and once again drove home that his Microsoft was about reaching its customers where they live; that means both on Windows and across other platforms. I will have more to say later as the conference moves on but for now onto Day 2.

images: Microsoft

So it’s that time again, Microsoft’s Build conference. In a few minutes Microsoft will once again take the stage in San Francisco’s Moscone Center to talk about Windows and Azure. This time the Redmond gang will be talking Windows 10 and Windows across devices.

This year finds Microsoft in the now familiar position of underdog trying to sell developers on a platform many consider irrelevant, especially in mobile computing. Windows 8 wasn’t well received and Windows Phone has only made headway as budget phone option (barely). Microsoft’s own moves to push out services on other platforms has left users confused and concerned as to whether Microsoft still considers Windows valuable. And I will not even start on how people are reacting to changes in the UI/UX of Windows 10; let’s just say it is ugly.

So Build will be important because people want a definitive answer, let us hope Microsoft has the answers.