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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?

neon

It’s April and we are slowly encroaching on Redstone 3 which means more information on Project Neon, the UI update for Windows 10, is leaking. To recap Neon will be an update to the existing Windows shell coming after the Anniversary Update (which seems to be coming fall 2017).

After the initial leaked info (and my nerding out) I have wondered how major an update this is. Windows 8 was major in that brought in touch/tablet elements. Windows Phone brought the Metro design language.

So what is Neon bringing?

I should also say I had started reading a lot of the commentators remarking on how Neon was a minor refresh adding minor features. So my enthusiasm waned. But then I got excited again.

For one Neon is bringing in a level of polish to Windows. It is something that honestly got lost on the platform when it started backtracking from Windows 8 and Windows Phone. It also appears like Microsoft is focusing on providing more tools and templates to create good designs out of the box. Also it new rumors make me think the overarching goal is to go the last mile in terms of delivering a consistent product.

A number of recent rumors will see features coming that bring real value to users and not just cosmetic changes. Things like in app tab support; for things like File explorer are welcomed productivity features.

Also it looks like Microsoft is working on having a consistent feel and behavior for the design. The rumored blur glass effects are being carried over to the Start Screen.

Now with my excitement I still have questions.

Like what changes are coming to improve touch. Will we see previews for other applications with Neon. The MSN apps need a new coat of paint. Also how does this translate to other form factors like phones (We hope) and tablets?

We may soon get the answers (because I finished this thing the month before Build).

 

 

 

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

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.