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Yesterday’s Windows 10 event left a lot of information on the table to parse through. Amongst the news provided was around upgrade paths for users on Windows 7, 8, and Windows Phone 8.1 devices. For the first year anyone wanting to move up to Windows 10 can do so for free. And that upgrade will include upgrades and support for the lifetime of that device.

Cool right? But what about devices running Windows RT? This is where it gets complicated.

Now as I write this at least two articles, one by Kevin C. Tofel GigaOM and one by Tom Warren The Verge, are writing the obituaries for the Windows version built for ARM devices. The reason is it wasn’t listed on the board when Windows chief Terry Myerson talked about pricing. When asked specifically about Windows RT a Microsoft spokesperson said, quoting the Verge,

We are working on an update for Surface, which will have some of the functionality of Windows 10. More information to come.

Now on the face of it this does mean ARM based Surfaces and other Windows RT devices (from Dell, Lenovo, Asus, and Samsung) won’t get the Windows 10 we saw on Wednesday. But they are getting an update, so what does it all mean?

I am going to take the  contrarian view on RT’s death; partly because it got combined essentially into Windows Phone. However another reason is that the device running Windows RT are outliers in the dividing line of Windows 10. Let me explain, Windows 10 splits the version a user gets depending on screen size; the version that ran on RT devices has now been reassigned to small tablets under 8 inches and phones. Most RT devices in the market are mid size (10-11.6) making the new ARM SKU a no go.

My best guess based on what has been said is Microsoft is preparing a SKU that will fit RT devices. It won’t be Windows 10 but close enough to get said features. However if I am right this version will probably feel like Windows Phone 7.8; the stop gap provided when Windows Phone made the cut from Windows CE.

Now Microsoft could well kill it off but I’m not sure they want to leave these users hanging.

I just don’t want to hear the bitching.

UPDATE 1/23/2015: So Paul Thurrott has posted his own opinion on the matter (he asked the question about the update during the Q&A afterwards). Also Microsoft added this to the Windows 10 page:

It is our intent that most of these devices will qualify, but some hardware/software requirements apply and feature availability may vary by device. Devices must be connected to the internet and have Windows Update enabled. ISP fees may apply. Windows 7 SP1 and Windows 8.1 Update required. Some editions are excluded: Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, and Windows RT/RT 8.1. Active Software Assurance customers in volume licensing have the benefit to upgrade to Windows 10 Enterprise outside of this offer. We will be sharing more information and additional offer terms in coming months.

I also wanted to add something to my earlier post. With Windows 10 Microsoft is ending Windows RT as it is now which is as the locked down version, tablet version of Windows. In my opinion the update planned to bring Windows 10 functionality to RT devices will be one where RT users can run Universal apps and access Cortana and Project Spartan. But it’ll be a one off.

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Right now I am in the middle of working on another piece about Windows 10 and mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) and some things have come up to make me try to a specific post about Windows 10’s mobile ambition.

Windows 10 may have some users and writers exclaiming the return of the desktop or fixing Windows. Some may still be clinging to old ways by slapping mess like Classic Shell on for the old productive feeling. In the midst of this keyboard euphoria one thing lingers over the head of Windows; mobile.

Its a bit tiresome to recount how Microsoft went from a nice share of the old mobile market (15%) to struggling to maintain share in the new one (4%). Or how a platform widely used by many with some of the best tools for development struggles to attract the endless wave of developers creating apps for the next mass computing platform which is mobile. And I am not even going to go into how all of it has created an ecosystem in which many only look at when devices sale for pennies,

Sometimes you get the sense that Microsoft is not fully committed to Windows lately. As if they realize mobile is the future of computing but maybe Windows has no place in it. So they make it easy for Windows developers to build Android applications and port their own apps to Apple’s iOS and soon to Android. Office for iPad is out now but the tablet version of Office for Windows won’t appear until Windows 10 launches in 2015.

So to paraphrase Satya Nadella, the question that must be answered is what place Windows? In consumer and in mobile, on tablets and phones what will Windows 10 offer the enthusiast and the novice. How will it stand out and how will it delight in a market that has iPads and Chromebooks; where the power and complexity of Windows is seen as a detriment.

So while I think Windows 10’s primary job is  appeal to desktop users it has a second and no less important job and that’s to rejuvenate the OS as something on mobile. If you want my opinion what Terry Myerson, head of Windows, does with the Metro side will be more of a statement on Windows’ future than the Start menu.

I do not have any answers on how to reverse or fix Windows phone outside of getting apps and maybe adding features. I have my view of what could work. Now I know some people who will and have suggested quitting, going Android (that ALWAYS work), making Windows look like iOS and Android aka Windows Mobile redux, or concentrating solely on business. I am not going to suggest these are bad plans (they are ) but they wouldn’t be what I suggest. The thing is what Microsoft needs to do is to finish Windows and COMMIT. If you look around at those of us left and what we’re thinking, we are seriously feeling like motherless children. There is this overwhelming sense that Microsoft has conceded and is retracting to the safety of the PC. We all are seriously doubting the investment in Microsoft’s platform.

Don’t get me wrong Windows 10 is great and all but what about the people who picked up Windows Phones and Windows RT devices? The ones who got them and honestly grew to rely on them to get work done. The rumor has been that both Windows Phone and Windows RT will combine in 10. What little evidence I’ve seen show a possible OS that is more Windows Phone than anything else. I worry about how this new version works on tablets; universal apps will scale but I’m concerned they will develop like Android. Android is fine on phones and tablets up to 7 inches after that it becomes painfully obvious developers aren’t concerned. Windows faces a form of this with dead apps; one time applications that are never picked up.

So what should be done?

Some of the solutions are obvious and I think are coming: refresh the design language, refine design elements, make the OS work better in portrait and smaller screens. To this I’ll add make it feel like a complete mobile system. Windows 8 was a great touch OS unless you needed something in settings or the Control panel. Windows Phone is cool but sometimes it is to minimalistic for its own good. I think Microsoft should concentrate on making this OS

Make it complex make it simple make it powerful. Windows will be Windows and that comes with complexity but it also comes with a level of flexibility and power that isn’t easily matched . Instead of necessarily hiding it, manage it. This does not mean going nuts with the controls, but it does mean letting it do more. Windows 10 tablets and phones should have multiple user accounts, multitasking, and the ability to have multiples start screens.

Concentrate on the new productivity mantra or as I see it, “Windows: Get Shit Done”. Be it tablet or phone Windows should be replacing Blackberry as the thing that makes users productive. It makes no sense to even let businesses to consider Android.

Be customizable (to a point). Most operating systems adopt features from other OS’es, Windows is no different. The two biggest ones I would add are Widgets and custom launchers. While Live Tiles give you some widget functionality I think in 10 we should have a tile size that lets us see and interact with our information. Adding launchers and other small customizations (wallpapers) gives a sense of control which is always a good thing when done right.

Apps. Get more of them. Get the ones people expect and make the deals that bind the buggers to make serious commitments to the platform. On the app front Microsoft has a mixed record. Some apps never show up, some are late, and many appear in one place (Xbox) but not others (Phones). Threes a mobile game is on the Xbox One but not Windows Phone or Windows tablets. Evernote, Kindle, and Audible are jokes (trying not to cuss). Goggle has an app that is best left saying it has one. There is a serious need for Microsoft to mobilize to stabilize its app situation. Some of that will be done in changes to design guidelines but also in convincing app developers that growth can be had on Windows.

Give us a Metro outside of Tiles. After four or five years it is time for Metro to be experimented with. I know Microsoft has designs showing Metro working outside of what we have today. It’s time to revisit past experiments and put them out.

Lastly, give this thing a name. You know even though this is Windows 10 saying Windows 10 phone sounds silly. It is no better making the p lowercase for Windows Phone. And while I would’ve gone for a totally new name like Modern Operating System (MOS) or Core; maybe it is time to resurrect Windows Mobile. The name fits the focus of the OS, running on mobile devices. It stands for something other than Windows for desktops. It means more than phones. Yes I know it will lead to joke headlines but really outside of us nerds most people don’t know what Windows Mobile was.

Will  this fix what ails Redmond, likely not, but it would be a move forward.

Windows_Product_Family_9-30-Event-741x416

With the reveal of Windows 10 Microsoft has begun the process of changing up its mobile offerings. We know that the desktop will be getting a makeover in the next release but phones and tablets will be changing too. It is the nature of that change that will be a mystery.

With the announcement, Microsoft released an image of the type of devices that will make up the Windows 10 launch. If you take the image released as a clue you can sort of grasp what the Softies are going for. We already know that Windows 10 will be blending the divide between the desktop and the touch friendly Modern environment (as represented by Continuum). But the picture provides a look at screens many think won’t carry the desktop.

Windows10_Tablets_Phones

Looking at the images the first thing you notice is that phones and tablets look like Windows Phone. Albeit the UI shown looks to come with the ability to change the background colors and not just the tiles. It also appears you can group apps similar to Windows 8. And if you look closely at the min tablet it looks like the virtual buttons introduced for Windows Phone 8.1 will be a factor. Now I will go on a limb and say in landscape the new ARM tablets will resemble the Windows 8 Start Screen with what looks like modifications. (I say that even though more experienced Redmond watchers hint something else) This portrait view could be different from the one shown for Windows 10’s desktop which you can see if you look at the Lenovo Yoga type device.

There are a number of questions I have about this part of Windows 10. It has been rumored for a while that Microsoft would combine Windows RT (OS for ARM based devices) and Windows Phone; and this looks like what these are. My first question will this OS run on both ARM and Intel devices? Right now there are mini tablets running Windows that have the desktop and I wonder if they will be moved to an OS sans a desktop. Two will there be ARM devices beyond phones. At the launch of Windows 8 Microsoft introduced Windows RT (a version of Windows ported to ARM); it has met mixed success due to it not running legacy software. Will this version of Windows be used outside of phones? It may not run legacy software natively, but it provides safer computing and longer battery life. Third will Continuum be a part of mobile? What replaces the desktop for multitasking? I ask this because now on Windows RT users can have a laptop like experience. Will they, can they on a device without a desktop environment; and what happens when they plug in a keyboard?

Windows10_PC_Xbox

My last question has to do with the future of Metro. Metro was the codename and unofficial name for the design language and interface used by Microsoft in tablets and phones. At this time it is around four or five years old and in need of a refresh. I know that the time between Windows 8 and 10 is probably too short but I hope Microsoft is thinking about updating its UI. For me the key is refining the Live Tile metaphor. Providing users and developers with something new. Also in making the interface a bit more customizable.

Today, or Tomorrow take your pick, Neowin.net wrote of a possible update to the Surface/Surface 2 to be shown off in October. The news follows on the heels of Microsoft canceling the Surface Mini and the premier of the Surface Pro 3.

The Neowin article citing DigiTimes claims the Surface 3 will be thinner and lighter than the Pro 3 and be a 10.6 inch device. Neither site said whether what operating system the device could run, however Neowin seems to lean heavily toward the ARM based Windows RT.

If this is the case Microsoft will have to have certain things ready before they even think of scheduling an event. Because while I and handful of others will be happy to see it, a lot of people will not be.

For those that don’t know Windows RT is the version of Windows rewritten to run on ARM chips. The best way to think of ARM is that it is the chip use to run tablets and smartphones. ARM has the benefit of mobile capability (LTE) and also lower power (ARM devices run longer on a charge). Windows RT devices have longer battery life and, unlike the x86 version, is largely immune to viruses. Windows RT also doesn’t run legacy applications or programs built for the Intel/AMD x86 platform. This means the things people usually do on a PC won’t run on an RT device (Chrome, Firefox, iTunes). Like iOS or Android you can only run tablet apps.

The lack of legacy support on RT has made it a bit of a pariah in some circles. It has found some success as the application market has grown and amongst those who like its low maintenance styling. Much like the Google Chromebook, Windows RT devices have found a home in education (especially amongst students looking for a complimentary device).

If the Surface 3 is indeed real and comes out it will need to do something to differentiate itself from comparable devices running full Windows (x86, usually a low powered Intel or AMD chip); not to mentioned the iPad and various Android devices. According to the above sources, the Surface 3, or 3, will come with a stylus like the Pro model. We can assume this pen will be N-Trig and thus compatible with the Pro 3. I hope it means the 3 uses the same aspect ration for its screen. The Surface Pro 3 uses a 3:2 screen which makes it easier to use in portrait orientations than previous models that used the widescreen 16:9. If the 3 uses 3:2, it will be better aimed at its target audience.

Another factor that will make the Surface 3 palatable is new apps. A best case scenario is the 3 is the premier for Office Gemini (tablet/touch version of Office for Windows) or a new book service. Given the Redmond giant’s move toward productivity as a sales hook, the Surface 3 will need something that highlights it as a mobile workhorse of merit. So things like ports will be needed; also a kickstand that resembles the Pro 3. Microsoft will need to show it has the applications to sell the Surface 3. One of the big issues that faced the Surface RT (One) was a lack of apps; this needs to be different with the 3.

The Last thing this rumored device will need is to be THIN. While the Surface Pro 3 has been met with a lot of praise, its still a PC. It requires ventilation for the Intel processor. The Pro is also larger, sporting a 12 inch screen which could be too large for some. There is also the price; the Pro 3 is $799 with an i3 and goes up from there. The Surface 3 would be smaller, run cool, and be cheaper. Hopefully it is also cheaper including the TypeCover (which it will need).

Now I could be wrong and the Surface 3 could run a Baytrail chip from Intel. Doing that will make PC diehards happy (Its REAL Windows), but it would signal Microsoft was done with Windows RT. The Surface 3 could be an interesting product, if it sells its strengths. It will need to signify Microsoft’s productivity mantra (the productivity tablet) along with providing the apps. And it has to be thin.

No Pressure.

Editor’s Note: Sometimes you write a piece and it either hits fast or it stops and starts. I’ve written a number of posts lately that I want to put out for general consumption, but are not finished writings. Their unreleased tracks that up until now have crowded up my notebook. So staring now I will release them as is, without edit (and sometimes ending). First up is MoS.

 

One of the things I glanced over in my first Windows 9 concept was Windows RT. Windows RT is a strange animal largely because its not considered REAL Windows. RT doesn’t run programs built for x/86 and the tablet platform has a smaller app catalogue than iOS or Android. In many ways it is similar to Chrome OS except that Chrome doesn’t get the same criticism as virulently.

 

From what we know Windows RT will be merging with the other ARM based Windows, Windows Phone sometime between next year or 2015. Now this changes a lot of things for my Win9 concept (and my kind of aborted Windows Phone one too); the fact that Microsoft and Nokia (which hardware division will soon be Redmond’s) are the only makers of RT devices have put the poor thing on deathwatch. It also makes me wonder how much of my Win9 concept should bleed over into RT/Phone. 

One thing rumored is that the new head of Operating Systems (the group now in charge of all systems at Microsoft) is thinking of making a mobile SKU for x/86 and ARM based on this new hybrid. I should add that both the former and current head of Windows have alluded to the idea of a mobile OS (word used was turnkey) for tablets and phones. We will soon see the next version of Windows Phone so this is just my initial ideas for the merged OS. 

One of the big issues for me is about the Desktop. Right now there is a desktop on RT but its main purpose is so users can access Microsoft Office which is preinstalled. Once Office for Tablets is released the main purpose of the desktop will be gone; add to that an OS containing Windows Phone apps will need it even less.

 

Or will it?

 

I think part of RT’s charm and versatility comes from the fact its Windows lite. RT provides an environment free of the stuff that clogs Windows. It is also immune to the viruses that can effect Windows machines. An RT device like the Surface can do all the things a traditional Windows box can do save natively run x/86 programs. So it can run multiple monitors and has remote desktop and can do more than two things at once.  

Now multitasking Modern apps is pretty basic they sit in a pocket on left side and get be brought out by gesturing (mouse or touch). On Windows Phone there is a task launcher that you use by holding down the back button and you flip through apps similar to webOS’s Cards. Now one of the things I have been thinking about is should this OS (let’s call it MoS) have a desktop or something else?

 

In making MoS, the OS team is essentially creating a lighter, locked down system aimed at high mobility from phones to devices like the Chromebook. One thing I think shouldn’t be lost is the flexibility of RT as it is now, but possibly a difference of multitasking.

 

One concept I had was the workspace. Workspace would take the Phone task switcher and blow it up for use on tablets and devices. It would be similar to webOS’s cards which I think is as close as we’ll get to mobile multitasking. The workspace would replace the desktop and possibly mimic it on MoS devices with clamshell bodies.

The other concept I had in mind is something borrowed from Ubuntu and Motorola. On certain Windows Phones running MoS it will be possible to use them as literal “Pocket PCs” for light computing. It would be a feature of using MoS.

One other aspect of MoS and one aimed directly at Google’s Chrome would be the new Internet Explorer. IE11 has done a lot in modernizing the browser; now is the time to weaponize it. The next IE should be built with the idea of handling web apps and filling in the gaps in the platform. So for example pinning a website like Google Books means it will open and work like an app and not a webpage. IE has a limited version of this but this takes it further.

(I did not intend to make a three post series, I apologize.)

The future of Microsoft’s maligned Windows RT (Windows recompiled for ARM chips) is not death as many a blogger or desktop hardliner hopes, but a merger with Windows Phone. We do not know what that means but I am certain it means an OS unlike the one running on Lumias or Surface devices.

In the last two posts I described the issues facing Windows and Windows RT; in particular Chrome OS. I pointed out Chrome OS as a representation of where I think computer use is heading: appliance like, light computing with an emphasis on the Web. I know I left out web apps, the iPad, and possibly a million different things but I hope I got across my point…..

Computing is changing and so should Windows.

So in this third act I want to talk about what a new Windows needs to survive and how Windows RT’s successor could fit that bill.

If I were to define the areas where Microsoft needs to change the Client OS is in simplicity of design, use, and maintenance. Windows has become a lot more user friendly but it will need to become a maintenance free zone quick. Windows will also need to learn to hide some of its complexity from all but the most diehard. And me writing that and them doing it would make every last power user tattoo a Linux Penguin on the side of their face.

There is already pushback from Windows users who feel the platform has gone too far from its roots.  I think the mere idea of a further simplified OS would cause a riot. And that is where ARM based Windows comes in.

Well that and a rethought Internet Explorer.

Despite many PC partners abandoning or forgoing Windows RT I think the news of Intel getting into the ARM chip business could change their minds. That and Microsoft giving it away free. Right now Android and Chrome are offered at no cost to OEMs to use and build devices. Imagine Microsoft offering lets call it WinR for free for use on devices.

Now WinR will run on Phones but also tablets and like Windows RT, conceivably Netbook like devices. Now all this would entail WinR can build on the slow growth of Windows Phone and the WinRT run time (the app layer) is fleshed out to developer expectations. WinR could experiment with delivering an easy to use experience where regular Windows would need to maintain compatibility for legacy programs.

I think if Microsoft is to succeed however they will need to rely on the browser. Back in the late nineties and early 00’s Internet Explorer was a cross platform browser. It ran on Macs, in fact it was the native Mac client. These days Firefox and Chrome are the only two cross-platform browsers with additional presence in mobile. Microsoft will need to expand Internet Explorer and make it operate like many other modern browsers as a sort of mini operating system.

Internet Explorer has come a long way from the days of IE6 but if Microsoft wants to push its platform forward it needs to push its browser forward. The blueprints are there in Microsoft Research projects like MashupOS and Gazelle. The two projects revolve around how to handle complex, rich web applications without being a drain. The other part of the equation is the Windows Run Time supports Java Script and HTML. Additionally aim this at Chrome OS app developers, if its all HTML why leave it in the confines of one browser?

So imagine a web browser built on Microsoft’s Chakra engine but built to handle web apps and intensive websites. Imagine it supporting extensions but all of it built less like a bowser and more like an OS. You could pin a web site to the Start screen and it would act like an app and not a website. A browser like this could help Windows tablets and phones with their app issues. Now the IE team added things like Read Mode to the touch browser in Windows 8.1. I love it but they need to add more niceties.

Beyond all that I think Microsoft either needs to make it free or throw it in as a freebie when OEMs buy Windows licenses. Let them use WinR as a low cost tablet or as a “OfficeBook” in place of Chromebooks.

In looking ahead, I think Chromebooks will be a major headache for Windows because OEMs are turning to it as an alternative. Chrome OS now partially resembles the PCs of old with enough OSX features to add polish. Additionally they hit what I think is the price point many would impulse buy on PC.

They look and operate close enough to a computer as to support most computer users’ needs. A WinR based device; with its better handling and longer battery life could compete with the Chomebook and the iPad.

Microsoft needs to eat its own in order to remake its consumer offerings, so let it begin on RT.

So what is the future of Windows RT.

It gets good time.

The devices it runs on are are some of the slimmest and nicest around.

But it doesn’t run legacy Windows; not Photoshop, not Chrome, not iTunes nothing built for Intel chips.

Windows RT has been the red-headed stepchild because it only runs apps in the Windows store and mostly because the store’s selection pales in comparison to the digital inventories of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android.

When the Surface 2 reviews came out they treated RT a lot better than in the first go round with the Surface RT. Many say it would be perfect if not for the dearth of applications built to run on Windows tablets.

When Windows RT was introduced many wondered why it wasn’t Windows Phone and why you couldn’t just run Phone apps. Its something iOS and Android do. To me I understood the decision was around encouraging or forcing developers to create tablet apps and not just run apps from the phone. The approach was what Apple does for iOS; they let phone apps run on the iPad but they do it in such a way that encourages the creation of tablet apps.

I think the problem for Windows RT is many developers and tech enthusiasts think Windows Phone should’ve been the tablet OS. I have and maintain my doubts because to me touch computing on a tablet needs a richer and larger experience than blowing up a phone app. I also feel that Windows RT has added to the Metro Interface by bringing a level of customization missing from Windows Phone.

But that is now. We (royal) know that the plan is to merge Windows RT and Windows Phone into one OS. And that is what I want to discuss.

Now while everyone has gone tablet crazy Google slipped in a browser that acts like an operating system in Chrome. I have been thinking a lot about Chrome, Chrome OS, and Chromebooks as they relate to Windows RT. Both fall into this new category of computing appliances, devices the world would think of as PCs or netbooks but tech enthusiasts see as constrained. They don’t run what people would consider real programs and instead are built around the use of light applications. Most times these applications are wrappers for websites.

Chrome is interesting in its built on the idea of the web as the actual computing platform instead of something like Windows or Linux in which the OS is the platform. Windows RT is quite similar except it’s a hybrid mobile OS. The big difference between them is Chrome OS is based on a browser and it exists cross platform.

In thinking about Chrome and Windows RT I am starting to think the future for Windows on ARM is something that borrows elements from iOS and Chrome OS to make a truly mobile OS.

Which I will speak about more next time.