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

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This was going to be my preview and predictions for today’s Microsoft event but the Walking Cat, Microsoft watcher/leaker/Ghost in the Machine, had other ideas.

So we now know what the rumored Surface Laptop will look like. And right now it looks like a well built 13.5 inch laptop coming in multiple colors (Grey, Burgundy, Blue, and Gold). This post will be littered with images. Spec wise the machine weighs 2.76lbs is 14.47mm thin at the back, 9.9mm thin at the front. And the laptop will have a screen with 3.4 million pixels according to the Walking Cat. From view Microsoft has chosen to not use USB Type-C or the Thunderbolt variant and looks to maintain its proprietary charging cord/port. So far reaction is mixed with many wondering why the laptop isn’t on the Type C bandwagon (best guess is for the education market).

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I’m surprised the laptop is not smaller. A smaller screen means this could have been used in early grades such as Kindergarten. And the lack of Type C will be met with head scratches; but the device is looking quite desirable.

So before I go too far into the hardware I did want to preview the event.

Tomorrow in New York Microsoft will be unveiling the laptop but it will also be showing off Windows 10 S aka Cloud. This version of Windows will locked down and limit use to the browser and to applications inside the Windows Store.

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I think the major focus of tomorrow will be about education and how Windows can work for educators and students. Services like Office 365 and Intune for Education will be on display along with applications like OneNote and Minecraft for Education to show the company’s breath and their ability to compete with Google’s ChromeOS.

And while the big reveal is out, the bigger story will be how Microsoft sells its newest SKU. Chromebooks have made a dent in education and the larger computing market. For Microsoft today is about making the case that they have something of use to education.

It will be interesting.

images: Walking Cat (@h0x0d)

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So it has now come to the point where Microsoft’s silence on Mobile has become this cancerous spot affecting coverage around Windows.

Did it have to go this way? No.

To recap: On Thursday, Microsoft released its earnings for the quarter and the phone sales were null. So the  last nail was pushed into the coffin of Windows Phone (with weird glee by some Windows watchers).

Anyway, Peter Bright of Ars Technica wrote about the Surface (Redmond’s computer brand) and how the company was repeating the same mistake it did with Nokia Lumia. Basically ignoring momentum  for sake of alienating OEM partners.

 

Bright argued that Microsoft needs to decide if it’s serious about devices because the hemming and hawing dooms the effort. It was a very alarmist peice which was followed by a more reasoned one by Paul Thurrott. Thurrott countered by saying the Surface brand wasn’t in trouble because Windows Phone was doomed from birth (paraphrased to retain content saltiness).

The thing is both are right but that’s beside the point. The point is silent treatment going on is hurting the Windows platform; and from this enthusiast’s slash armchair analyst perch will only cause more problems.

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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.

 

 

The last Windows 10 Cloud post (for now)……….

So Windows 10 Cloud; runs only apps from the Store, can be upgraded for a fee, and most likely will be revealed on the 2nd of May. Target market at launch looks to be education. We may even get a new Surface for our troubles.

Okay got it?

Good.

So what is the benefit of this thing for you, me, and the guy playing Solitaire on a netbook from 2000?

First things first. Windows 10 Cloud is competing with Chromebooks chiefly which means this is the low end of computing. So budget to middle devices. This is not gaming rig or Adobe whatever material. It runs stuff from the Windows Store, so stop bitching about Chrome or Firefox (you can always upgrade to full Windows). So what we have is a slightly lightweight and appliance like version of Windows. The kind of device that would be used for light browsing and cheap enough that if lost it wouldn’t be a big deal.

So who would buy this? Potentially people who want a simplified computing experience. For every person who wants to tinker with the OS, there is someone who wants something that quick boots so they can go. Another customer are those who need a second device. Maybe you game but want a PC for non gaming stuff or you need a travel computer; this may be for you. Lastly you just need something with a keyboard to use the Internet on. Say a parent wants to give their kid a computer for college. Something durable to last the four or more years away. Or you’re a person that lives on your phone but sometimes needs a larger screen.

ITS A PC DO WHAT YA WANT

 

The above title was brought to you by SEO.

We are now a week away from Microsoft’s next big event in which they may show off a new piece of hardware (or not).

However we do now that this event will be focused on the Education market.

Now the event is believed to be the unveiling of Windows 10 Cloud; a version of Windows that from leaks appears to be designed to compete with Google’s Chromebooks. For those that don’t know, Chromebooks run ChromeOS (a operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser). Chromebooks have seen steady growth; especially in the education market. This growth, along with data suggesting Chrome has helped grow the stagnating PC market, is cited as reason for the new Windows variant.

Windows 10 Cloud is a version of Windows 10 that locks the system so users can only use applications coming out of the Windows store. In some ways it is similar to Windows RT (the version of Windows 8 for ARM devices) with the difference being Cloud users can upgrade to full Windows. Now according to information from Windows Central, Cloud’s target specs are designed to compete with ChromeOS.

For Windows 10 Cloud and devices running it to compete they have to make a case for why it is a better choice than a Chromebook or an iPad.

For educators and schools a Chromebook has benefits in terms of cost, software, and maintenance. Cost is simple; compared to a Windows PC, Mac, or an iPad Chromebooks are cheaper. For example Dell sells an Education laptop  with both Windows and Chrome. For a 13 inch laptop the Windows device runs for $519 and the Chromebook for $299. Compare that same Chromebook to a 9.7 inch iPad (sans keyboard) that runs for $309; Chromebooks make sense. With software the benefit of running Chrome is it’s lightweight and limited. ChromeOS is basically a browser so it doesn’t have the same overhead a PC or Mac does. Also a lot of the materials used in schools today are web based like testing. Lastly ChromeOS is easier to deploy and maintain. Chromebooks limited nature makes it perfect for schools and school districts that have little or no IT support. This is not mentioning Google’s services like G Suite; which are free or discounted.

 

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image: Windows Central

 

 

Another factor in the education space is the differing needs of students according to age. The needs of a teacher with First graders is much different than a 10th grade History teacher. One reason iPads work well in schools and had larger adoption than Macs is they are excellent tools for K-5. In those grades the simpler and more intuitive tablet works. Touch is an easier concept for early learning. Making an iPad work beyond this period requires extras like keyboards and sometimes isn’t the best solution for older students.

So Windows 10 Cloud is facing a few hurdles.

And this was just the education market.

Windows 10 Cloud’s first hurdle will be explaining why it exists and why customers should consider it. Microsoft went down this path with Windows RT and it was rejected. Now there have been improvements. Windows Store and Windows 10, unlike RT, allow all apps to run on the desktop. Also Cloud will allow users to upgrade to “real” Windows whenever they like. But it also brings back something RT did have; a light weight, faster version of Windows.

Windows Cloud’s education and student focus allows for it to be sold as a secure OS. The fact it only runs pre-approved apps means it avoids a lot of the things people associate  Windows with; viruses  and undeletable junk software. One of the benefits of having a simpler system like a Chromebook is its built to work as an appliance. They are designed to be easily picked up and used. In an education environment that ability to pick it up and just use it without a lot load time or checking for updates is benefit. And this brings us to cost and deployment.

Perhaps the biggest factor in what device schools buy is cost. If you are a cash strapped district buying $200-400 dollar iPads along with Apple Pencils and keyboards is a non-starter. Remember they are buying in bulk and for about 4-6 years worth of use (and this is just me spit balling about devices for in school use, not 1-to-1 programs). Microsoft has recently introduced a Windows version for Education along with deals for low cost education PCs. However they are still more expensive than a Chromebook which can be picked up at an OfficeMax (I have personally seen teachers in stores looking).

The other factor in choosing devices is maintenance. Some schools have dedicated IT staff; others have at least one teacher who is the dedicated tech support. So deployment and upkeep are big factors. iPads and Chromebooks work in part because they are easier to deploy. They are also easier for teachers to fix without calling tech support. Microsoft has simplified management and deployment with Intune for Education (simplified computer management). However I am unclear if they have solutions for triaging apps and devices.

Now I haven’t talked about software yet and I guess its as good as time as any.

So at the 800 word mark I will switch it up and describe how I think Microsoft will sell Windows 10 Cloud.

 

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image: Windows Central

 

 

From an education standpoint, Windows 10 Cloud’s selling point is that it can grow with the student. The fact that Windows went touch three years ago means it runs on tablets but also on those clamshells kids upgrade to as they age. For institutions the argument is they have a one stop shop. Also this is Windows which means Office and in particular OneNote. OneNote is tailor built for students in mind and it’s growing feature set has been designed to appeal to teachers building ad hoc lesson plans. Also Office 365 offers both free and paid options for schools, students, and teachers (including 24/7 customer care). Microsoft also has software like Minecraft for Education (aka Lego Crack). With Windows 10 Microsoft has inking and touch built in.

Unlike Apple they have multiple vendors. In comparison to Google they are more expensive. Or not because Windows 10 Cloud will probably be a free version of the OS. In terms of manageability Windows 10 Cloud Microsoft will argue it has more flexibility; from homegrown offering like Active Directory and Intune to 3rd party vendors. In terms of third party apps and other features I think Microsoft may ink new deals with education software vendors and tout their Edge Browser.

And as far as hardware goes, if there is branded hardware it will be around 10-11 inches (good middle ground for K-12), 6GB of RAM, 64/128 GB, and a SSD. It will have an attached keyboard and come with a pen. I also think it may be built with a different type of material than the magnesium of Surface.

(Now this isn’t certain, but I’m betting on two devices; a clamshell and a smaller tablet)

Okay that’s it turn in later for a nice (and brief) piece on Windows 10 Cloud for everyone else.

 

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.