On 30 September Microsoft conducted what they call a ‘media briefing’ ( link ) where the focus was giving the press and business customers which was akin to the ‘Back to Mac’ media briefing Apple gave to the media before releasing Mavericks – a reminder to the world that yes the organisation is still focused on the traditional markets and that there is an on going to focus to fix the past mistakes of being distracted on ‘other things’ which has given mixed messages to the customer base.
The media event focused on a certain amount of back peddling, a realisation that ramming a single user interface down the collective throat hasn’t won them favours especially when you consider that their enterprise has the capacity via the subscription to keep with the status quo where as the consumer, unless they’re savvy enough to ask for it, just tolerates the existence of Windows 8 because they have no other choice. So the net result is you’ve got 75% of Windows 8 consumers where as the 25% I’d hazard to guess being small businesses buying off the shelf from the local Warehouse Stationery.
The first demonstration was the return of the start menu or more specifically a start menu that was context aware an adapted accordingly – if you’re in tablet mode then the Start Screen but when in desktop mode it opened up as a start menu. Something that should have been the situation from day one but better late than never – maybe enough enterprise customers telling Microsoft that re-enventing the wheel and disrupting a tried and tested work flow isn’t going to win one favours in the real world.
They then talked about how they were fine tuning the interface, the introduction for example of windowed ‘Modern UI’ which looked great but once again in the usual Microsoft fashion they take a good idea and fail to take it to it’s logical conclusion. The mail application actually looks pretty damn good and I could imagine that if they moved all their middleware over such as Skype along with all the applications which make up ‘Live Essentials’ then have a single set of applications that work both on the tablet and desktop. Where things are let down is the lack of drive to move Windows (the UI) and it’s bundled applications (Internet Explorer, Notepad, Wordpad, Calculator etc) along with the configuration tools to a unified experience sitting on top of WinRT meaning that the win32 API would eventually become a compatibility layer rather than something that Windows was dependent upon. Settings for example should replace the control panel so then there is a single hub where all settings are made regardless of whether it is in desktop or tablet mode. Same can be said for the various other items such as networking, printers, scanners etc.
As much as I’d like to say, based on the very limited presentation, that Microsoft is getting itself back on course I can’t help but feel as though that this is back pedal rather than a course correction. As much as I would like to see Microsoft take a bold step to fix up the the inconsistencies but given their misstep with Vista then Windows 8 but then again this seems to be a pattern with Microsoft. It’ll be interesting to see how things are going when it comes to the OEM’s who are quickly embracing ChromeOS given that we’re now seeing not only NaCL (native applications in the browser) but also the ability to run Android applications on ChromeOS which might end up resulting in consumers opting for a platform which is backed by Google and high profile hardware vendors. Combine that with the move towards BYOD this might possibly be Microsoft’s undoing just as Blackberry found out the hard way with BYOD devices coming in to the workplace in the form of iPhone and Android handsets.
Long term is this the vision of Microsoft? if they bring Microsoft Office to Android and iOS along with OS X then focus on the delivery of services online and a focus on that with the operating system being treated as a means to an end then in the future are we going to eventually see Microsoft delivering the dominant hardware player in the Windows consumer market competing along side former OEM’s who are now banking on ChromeOS and Android? that Microsoft will eventually become the IBM of the software and hardware world where they become the heavy lifting entity behind it all rather than being a brand that is at the forefront of consumers minds when purchasing goods and services. Where Windows was the product associated with Microsoft the future will be Microsoft Office and its services will be associated with Microsoft along with tablets, smart phones etc. but what is really holding back things is the procrastination when it comes to fixing up their operating system – 30 years of code hoarding has resulting in a behemoth of an operating system where as both Apple and Google are blessed having the former start with a clean slate and Google not having to deal with legacy issues and a framework flexible enough to be adaptable to almost any scenario one could imagine. Where as Apple and Google can respond quickly you have Microsoft unable to because they didn’t make the compatibility breaking changes 15 years ago and now they’re so far down the road that the opportunity is too far gone – too many businesses have too much tide up in the status quo and the lack of any drive to offer something better will keep entrenching in the status quo for longer.
As for me for what it is worth – it has pretty much re-enforced my position to remain with the Mac platform. The reality is that Windows 10 wouldn’t have changed anything but it would have been nice to at least see something that was remotely tempting by addressing long standing issues but as so long as they make the micro-steps I’m for ever going to remember my Windows experience with bad memories – webcam applications not being able to capture video without losing frames left, right and centre, the general shitty UI inconsistencies that make using Windows a jarring experience and the recent versions of Windows merely re-enforcing the problem the combine it with the wall to wall poorly written applications, an operating system that can break just by looking the wrong way etc. no thank you – having worked a 50 hour week or a long day at work the last thing I want to have to do is give my computer some TLC just so I can sit back and chill out watching the latest episode of Ray Donovan or The Blacklist.