I have been around Windows launches since 1991 and the launch of Windows 3.1. I have seen Windows upgrades succeed and I have seen them fail. I have seen Windows reach the pinnacle of the industry and I have seen it try to stay relevant. It has driven an empire and it has driven an industry. More than anything Bill Gates created Windows and Windows created Bill Gates. Bill Gates created Windows developer momentum and then watched developers flee as Steve Ballmer begged them to stay. Now we are on the verge of the launch of Windows 10 and Microsoft is once again trying to build momentum to prepare the world for the next great release of the flagship Windows Operating System. As I listen to the Microsoft BUILD conference I cannot help but feel a bit tired from it all, is it really any different? What is there to get excited about (there actually are a few things)? What would I like to see a OS become? There were some exciting discussions and announcements that were cutting edge. Maybe Windows 10 is helping Microsoft stage a comeback.
The Microsoft BUILD conference is really about one thing: Developers. The one thing consistent throughout its history is Windows is only as good as the applications that are developed for the platform. Without developer support the influence of Windows begins to decrease. Currently the biggest challenge Windows faces is the web. If I am going to start a business I don’t start with a Windows App, I start with a website. If I am going to sell something I will need e-commerce as part of my website. The only thing I need Windows for is to launch my browser. That is a big challenge for Microsoft. There is the idea of the offline experience. I will need something to cling to when the network is down and will need offline versions of Office to survive, but that in my view is short-sighted. With each year connectivity improves in terms of reliability and in speed. Eventually this will hit the Lanline phone experience of five nine’s.
The Microsoft Holo-Lens has generated some buzz in the industry. I find that exciting as I remember in my last job at Microsoft one of our metrics, if you can call it that, was to generate industry “buzz” . I took a beehive and threw it into a room of developers, it worked fairly well (the author is making a false claim). I cannot say I am a huge Tom Cruise fan, but his film, “Minority Report” touched a lot of technologist fantasies and remains a significant influence and benchmark for many in the industry. Especially the ability to manipulate holographic screens via touch. What we saw at BUILD does not quite get us there, but it does give us a glimpse of the future and where we are headed. If Microsoft is able to capitalize and grow this as a development platform, they will have made a significant contribution to the technology industry and alter how we interact with one another as a species.
An operating system in reality is pretty simplistic in what it is supposed to do and its function in the computing world. The primary responsibility for a OS is to take the end users commands and display them on a monitor. Essentially bring the PC/Tablet/Smartphone to life. As Bill Gates loves to say, “Software is where the magic happens”. That traditional experience is being challenged by newer technologies like the Smartphone OS and the emergence of browser-based devices, such as Google’s Chromebooks. The idea of the Windows OS as the center of the software development universe has long since passed and some question do I need be concerned about Windows at all? Windows still has a place just by the fact that to this day they remain 90% of the desktop/laptop computing space. However the market has expanded well beyond into the mobile space where Apple iOS and Google’s Android are the dominant players
The only thing for certain in the future is change will happen. The industry will continue to evolve with new form factors and as the holo-lens leads us to, it may not be a handheld device. The computing experience in the next ten years will transform again and become more transparent. As the Internet of Things, Big Data, Cloud mature they will take us into new areas where direct interaction between human and device may not be as evident as it currently exists. It will likely engage other human senses beyond touch and look to voice (sounds), human emotions, sight, and taste. It will touch all man-made objects and living organism’s. I think we will see the computing experience leave the device. No longer tied to a monitor and a keyboard. We have watched an industry go from mainframe to smartphone. In the next decade we will start to leave that all behind. Reality will look much different.
Will this be a big launch? Will Windows 10 be on a billion devices by 2010? Is this the last big Windows release? I think the realization is setting in at Microsoft, and has for some time, that there will not be another Windows 95 launch. Despite all the enthusiastic talk, the audience has grown weary and are looking for new emerging fields of technology. This is probably why the Holo-lens has been greeted with enthusiasm as it demonstrates possibilities for a yet to be realized future.. This is probably the key point, that the technology industry is built around Windows of the future, not reflecting on Windows of the past Even Satya Nadella said in his opening memo to Microsoft employees “Our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects innovation”. This is a critical time for Microsoft. Am I excited about a new OS? No I cannot say I am. Am I excited about a new future? Without question I am.
Good Night and Good Luck,
Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 15, 2015