There are have been a number of rumors out there about the change in direction coming to Windows as a result of the “One Microsoft” reorg. And some opinions of what the rumors mean (e.g., is Microsoft backing away from the who metro/modern thing?) So I thought I’d put my stake into the ground on what is going on.
Microsoft really now sees that there are two different market sub-segments for Windows. The first is a mobile experience that is touch first, and crosses the divide from Phone up through Tablets. It is an environment in which, as suggested, the primary way of approaching the device is through the touch-centric and other natural UI we’ve come to expect ala IOS and Android.
The second is a more classic desktop experience that is Mouse and Keyboard first, although it can have touch and can run the mobile apps. This environment boots into the desktop, has a real Start menu (replacement), and assumes you live in the desktop day in and out.
Gone is the notion that the touch-first mobile environment takes over the desktop and thus the desktop only exists as a transition tool.
I don’t know how much progress we’ll see on this front in updates to Windows 8.1, or if the real shift will wait for Windows 9. I expect that it is mostly something we don’t see until Windows 9, where Microsoft could also introduce significant packaging and licensing changes, update documentation and marketing materials, etc. to match the new model.
This will of course be welcome news to most users, although I think the devil is in the details. For example, will Microsoft remove the desktop from the mobile SKU? Will the desktop SKU be able to run in full mobile mode to support 2-in-1s? Or will the differentiation be more stark. Will mobile (aka, Metro or Modern) apps always run on the desktop in the desktop SKU and in the full/snap mode in the mobile SKU? Will the mobile SKU get a more powerful windowing model that is independent of the desktop? What improvements will the Win32 development environment see now that the desktop is considered an ongoing vibrant application environment? Is ARM still limited to only the mobile SKU? Is a Surface-style device a mobile device or a desktop device in this world?And so on.
What we don’t know far outweighs what we know. I think what we do know, or can safely assume, is that apps written for Windows Runtime will continue to play a major role on both the mobile and desktop SKUs. But beyond that, it’s all speculation.
And that’s why Microsoft might need to reveal its Windows 9 (aka Threshold) plans at Build 2014. With the rumor mill already active Microsoft needs to give developers information on its future direction or watch as developers back off Windows-related development pending that direction. And that would be a potentially fatal blow to the Windows franchise.