The change in Windows strategy

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.


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14 Responses to The change in Windows strategy

  1. Edgar says:

    Microsoft need have at least 3 main versions of windows, one dedicated to workstations ie. Desktop dedicated with no touch capabilities, one hybrid as the actual 8.1 and one touch first for tablets and convertibles.
    The problem with desktops is that in the actual offering of OEM’s of all in one with touchscreens, is that are only that, all in one with touchscreens. If you want to know the future of desktops just look at the wacom cintiq.

    The day any OEM bring the market something like that bellow $1.500 with apple like hardware quality, I will be in the line to buy one.

  2. jcallahan says:

    I would love to see my company move to a managed code only (perhaps even ARM) desktop. There are way too many instances of viruses (which means security as well) and malware that are affecting the bottom line. I would love to sell that concept to management, but without a roadmap from Microsoft that makes it real I’m not going to discuss it with them. Basically there should be an option for building desktop apps for Surface RT devices. This and they need to flesh out the SDKs for it.

    • Edgar says:

      I cannot agree more with you in the desktop apps for RT.
      Microsoft need to split RT in two versions, one more simpler following the see and say approach of iOs with the desktop and all administrative tools removed, just a metro version of file system, and the actual version but muts allow to run desktop app, RT native or x86 via emulation.

      • dafowler says:

        I agree that RT should be aimed at Chromebook like devices but they should keep it down to one version. I think MS should adopt the Library OS MSR is investigating and promote hybrid apps. I think mass computing is going for lighter, simpler, and secure and RT would be a perfect fit.

        • Edgar says:

          Exactly, however in terms of usability for non tech savy users, MS need to release a simpler version of RT, for example my mother use a ipad mini without a problem, when she use my surface RT the moment desktop appear she struggles to do things, as happen when she use a mac or a pc.

          • dafowler says:

            I think this could be what we both are discussing; I imagine a simplified form of multitasking.

            • bob villa says:

              Very similar to what I thought … ditch desktop and bring in permenant task bar, or slide to hide on tablets, pinned on PC. Preview apps on middle or bottom (see ie10 tabs). What I envision a little different is a charms bar like flipboards on the right to show start menu apps, search, settings, account etc.

              But I think like yours the merge of start background and desktop have to happen.

      • I’d prefer it if there’s not too many twists and turns from Microsoft for a little while. Just hold steady on the course. By most evidence, there are enough touch enabled tablets around in the marketplace today. Eventually, MS will have sufficient market share, as long as it pushes and cajoles manufacturers to incorporating touch into their devices.

        Next, MS should provide some utilities to report which Win32 app is chewing up battery, and help push tablet life towards the magical 10 hour parity.

        In addition, having some APIs/guidance enabling Windows apps to push and sync to Windows Runtime would be handy. This way, an existing application can have a lightweight WinRT counterpart for on-the-go computing.

  3. Bob - Former DECie says:

    Quick typo correction: “who metro/modern thing” should be, ” whole metro/modern thing”.

    I agree that BUILD 2014 will be very important for Microsoft as to what they say to developers. I’m far enough along in my career that I won’t be leaving the Microsoft platform unless I am forced to do so by external forces. However, developers earlier in their careers may decide on their own to leave the platform.

  4. dewey2000 says:

    Build will be close to Microsoft’s last chance to stem the tide of defection! Clear and focused direction must be given or eventually the loss client developers will begin to erode server development! I’m rooting for them to get it right, but if they can’t…

  5. Joe Wood says:

    I think there are really two things here. First, the UX of the shell – should it favor touch or mouse/keyboard. I don’t think it would be a huge step to enable windowing of metro apps and add a more screen real-estate sensitive start menu. That’s a tweak in the model (and can largely be done already with add-ins).

    What’s more interesting is the direction taken with the sandbox model. The app-store ecosystem is *the* most important asset to Windows. Combining ecosystems (a single universal binary for Windows, Phone and Xbox) is a no-brainer – why fragment your ecosystem? If desktop has a future, then it too needs to be part of the same ecosystem and the same API set.

    So, the UX of the shell to me is a side issue. The much more important question at Build is going to be how they intend to fix the WinRT API and bring it up to parity to old Win32, WinForms and WPF. Plus, do all that without breaking the sandbox model with universal binaries.

  6. dafowler says:

    I think the big thing facing the future of Windows is it faces to seemingly opposing forces. On the one hand you have the vocal parts of the traditional Windows base who want what has always existed, and on the other a market moving toward appliance-like computers and simpler systems. To me the answer is Windows needs to become a new OS in terms of ease of use and accessibility.

    Windows 8 was and is about answering the mobility question for Microsoft but it goes halfway. What Windows 9 needs to be is both something that feels and looks new, but also allows users to approach Windows in a new way. I think to accomplish that the OS team will need to really rethink Metro but also the desktop and applications that run on it. Whether people like it or not the PC is changing and Windows (if it wants to compete) will have to keep changing with it.

  7. waldtaube says:

    I have a couple of big problems with design concepts that try to split Windows into two strictly separated modes (of course, having two totally separate SKUs or OSs can be thought of as an even more extreme version of this):

    First, having a strict modal separation between the two windowing models breaks a bunch of IMO not terribly uncommon scenarios where mixing them in some way is useful.

    * Can’t have a different mode on each monitor – if one is touch/a tablet and the other isn’t, for example

    * Can’t snap an app beside the desktop and have the system automatically manage the use of the remaining space. There are actually some desktop apps that have hacked a custom implementation of this – OneNote for example – so I don’t think it’s a contrived scenario

    * Sometimes I like to use the availability of desktop and immersive windows to express a “work versus play” (or, more precisely, “continuing part of ongoing persistent task versus transient digression”) distinction. That way I can use the “transient/play” apps without worrying about them cluttering the taskbar, slowing down the PC, interfering with what I’m doing, etc.

    * Some apps just work better with one or the other windowing model – e.g., part of what I really like about Tweetium is how clicking on a link will automatically shrink the Tweetium window down to a narrow strip and open a browser window in the remaining space. That of course depends on the immersive windowing APIs. Other apps such as calculators or ‘sticky notes’ work better in desktop windows. So it would be nice to have apps like this automatically open in the right kind of window, or at least allow the user to set this per-app, rather than requiring an obnoxious global mode switch that potentially messes with everything else.

    Second, while running immersive apps in desktop windows seems like it could probably work well, I’m really leery of the reverse. There are a few potential problems with running desktop apps in immersive windows that I see:

    * Desktop apps can open multiple windows and draw outside of their window. Some apps (ab)use this quite a bit for dialogs, palette windows, etc. This could get pretty awkward to map to immersive windowing – do we put each in its own ‘strip’? Do we make each ‘strip’ a little virtual desktop where the app can put additional windows? Do we try some mix of the two approaches, and if so, how does the OS decide which is which?

    * Desktop apps can even take arbitrary goofy dependencies on the desktop environment – custom notification bubbles off the taskbar, whatever. How to support?

    * A goal of the immersive app model was that the user wouldn’t have to worry about closing apps or which apps were/weren’t running – indeed that the concept of “running apps” wouldn’t exist for most users. The system UI was designed around that – no “X” to close, no taskbar to show what’s open. But desktop apps can do anything in the background, so closing them and knowing what’s running is important. And when you switch modes back into desktop, which apps should even be kept open? Since “metro” mode blurs the lines between running and suspended apps, it’s not clear.

    And if you can’t run desktop apps in immersive windows, and in general have a 1:1 mapping of running system/app state between modes, you can’t really have a pure modal separation – either the mode switch is made destructive and essentially becomes a reboot, or you’re left with a bunch of hidden stuff “running in the other mode” which doesn’t make any sense. Once you really start thinking through the ramifications of alternative models the current desktop-as-an-app model starts to seem pretty elegant in some ways IMO.

    • halberenson says:

      It is unclear to me just how they will separate the experience, or if “separate” is even the right way to think about it. My guess would be that on a desktop machine the default would be a more Windows 7-like experience with boot to the desktop and a more traditional start menu. And with the ability to run immersive apps on the desktop (ala Stardock’s ModernMix) you’d get the ability for classic desktop users to get an environment they want while still being able to get the benefits of the new apps. The doesn’t mean the user couldn’t choose the Metro/Modern Start Screen or to run immersive apps outside the desktop, just that it isn’t the default for them because they are exactly the group that has rejected the model (so far). Other tweaks, like right click bringing up a classic style menu instead of the app bar, would be huge wins for either environment when you have a mouse or other pointing device.

      On mobile devices Microsoft would probably continue the march away from the desktop altogether, not try to run desktop apps in an immersive environment. I’ve always said the Windows RT SKU wasn’t about ARM and that’s how a new Mobile SKU might manifest itself. It would run on phones, ARM-based tablets, and Atom-based tablets.

      The real head-scratcher are 2-in-1 devices. Do they get the Mobile SKU or the Desktop SKU, and in the later case do they get the Mobile-like defaults of a Start Screen with immersive apps experience as the primary usage model but retain the ability to use the desktop (either optionally or as a default should they so choose).

      The really interesting case is the 2-in-1 type devices

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