Is it “Back to the Future”? No, I am just starting to think about ahead to the future of Windows. There is a little bit out there on the internet that we can point to regarding plans post Windows 8 which is set to ship god knows when. But it makes for an interesting discussion. One blog I found references a few things about the possible Windows 9 principles. First it will be 64 bit only. 2:) There will be no legacy support. 3:) There will be only one OS 4:) There will be one user interface. A lot of this was discussed at the Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this year so these are not shocking details but it does make for an interesting discussion and speculation.
Starting with 64 bit only I am not sure this is as big of deal, as for example when Windows 95 came out, which was 32 bit. When the industry moved from 16 bit to 32 bit the issue of compatibility wad important. There were a lot of 16 bit Windows apps that would need to be supported. Microsoft came up with Win32s (subsystem) in order to support those older applications. In those days if you were a developer writing exciting applications you were writing to the Windows API’s. This was before the web had taken off. In order for an application to perform it needed Windows. Moving forward to today’s developer environment, though still important, Windows is not the center of the development universe. Developers are writing applications for the internet, meaning that consumption is through the browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, Firefox etc..). Don’t get me wrong the decision (if true) to move to 64 but only will be a bit painful. However there will not be as many applications that need to be moved to 64 bit in comparison to the jump from 16 bit to 32 bit. There should be ample ramp up time. We should see performance benefits from 64 bit, but in the end I believe due to the web this will be a non-event for both Microsoft and the industry.
The move to 64 bit makes the “no legacy” support a non-issue. If you have an app that is dependent on Windows you are one of the few. Over 70% of new development targets the web. With more services being pushed to the cloud our PC’s are starting to resemble, dare I say, dumb terminals. For device manufacturers this may be a bit more challenging as all device drivers will need to be updated. So if you have a HP printer connected to Windows 7 or 8 and you buy a new PC but not a new printer, you will need a device driver written for 64 but. Seems trivial to those who know what they are doing but most people don’t know where to find an update driver. This will in the short run create support challenges for many and likely some PR disasters along the way, but we shall overcome.
One OS for all. It seems like I have been here before back when Microsoft was shipping Windows and Windows NT. There was a push to have a consolidated client operating system. The world is a bit different now with the proliferation of different device form factors. We now have Tablets, SmartPhones, Desktops, Laptops and new devices on the way. So the question is how broad do you want to be when you say one OS for all? Windows 8 already promises to be the desktop, laptop and tablet OS. I guess that leaves the Windows Phone with is sitting over in a different organization at Microsoft, The Interactive Entertainment Business Group (IEB). The group that owns the XBOX. As I have said before this will not be a long discussion. In the end Windows always wins. Windows Phone will have a new home in the next couple of years. The key element in all this to me will be release cycles of the OS. Phones and Tablets in the industry usually have new releases every year. A desktop is every three years. Ina society where technology is consumer driven and these more aggressive life cycles are the norm, this will be the single biggest challenge of one OS.
Finally tagging on to that is the idea of one user interface. My phone will look and feel like my laptop. My tablet will feel like my phone. Who knows what new devices and form factors lay on the horizon, but one thing is clear. When we see Windows 9 the landscape will have changed yet again. It is an interesting and predictable view from Microsoft. But these ideas seem to much like an upgrade, a rather evil terms by today’s standards. The idea of comfort. It is something you are familiar with and feel at home with. It is the Windows user interface. With Windows 8 the user interface is set to change with the introduction of the Metro interface. A step in the right direction. However Metro is taken from the Windows Phone experience, which is not built on the Windows code. So the circle continues to morph into new and unexpected shapes. When Windows 9 ships I do not expect Metro to be the user interface. A bold prediction if I do dare say so myself.
In the end I do believe what we have “heard” so far is a good foundation for the future of Windows. As I have stated it raises a number of questions. Some internal to Microsoft and political. Some are yet to be known as we do not know where the industry will be 3-5 years from now and what direction it has taken. Others will be dependent on the success or failure of Windows 8, specifically in the tablet space. If it succeeds expect the Windows division to consolidate and own all OS experiences within Microsoft. If it fails and they continue to lose ground to Apple and Google, the wild west will be reopened at Microsoft. I would hope that Windows will make some bets on the future that are yet to unfold. It would be nice for a Windows OS to actually drive excitement in the industry again. Not just OEM’s getting excited about selling more laptops, but actual enhancements that change how we work and interact with technology. It would be nice to just have a vision for the future and not an upgrade.
Good Night and Good Luck
Hans Henrik Hoffmann, December 19, 2011