Being busy with a full-time job (REMINDER: What I post here are my own views and are not in any way associated with my employer) I haven’t been able to post in a while. A long weekend affords an opportunity to catch up a bit after 3 months. I thought it would be useful to check-in on where the Windows world is at the end of 2014, though I could easily summarize the situation as “Where’s Windows?”
Regular readers may recall that I’ve long lamented the lack of LTE options in Windows Tablets. Sure enough 2014 is coming to an end with only one Windows Tablet with built-in LTE, the new HP Stream 8. The Stream 8 (http://www.amazon.com/HP-Windows-4G-Enabled-Includes-Personal/dp/B00NSHLUFQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417190343&sr=8-1&keywords=stream+8+lte) was listed as unavailable earlier this week but is available now. So far I haven’t found any reviews. On the good side the Stream 8 with LTE is available for only $179 at Amazon.com. On the other, it’s hard to say bad, side it only seems to come with T-Mobile LTE support. And its specs are decidedly low-end (as in no better than more than year-old mainstream 8″ tablets like the original Dell Venue 8 Pro). At $179 I’m sorely tempted to add one to my collection, but in many ways I’ve moved on from Windows Tablets. At least for now.
One I started carrying a company-issued Ultrabook around with me my tablet needs diverged somewhat and I made Entertainment more of an overriding priority. That is, being able to run Windows desktop apps was definitely not a priority. And that made a number of non-Windows tablets more interesting. Because I’m an Amazon Prime customer and have made (both Prime and non-Prime) Instant Video a major source of content I decided to go for an Amazon Fire 8.9 HDX. Light, high-end specs, a fantastic experience around Amazon content, and it has LTE. It’s also more than twice the price of the Stream 8. But that says more about Microsoft’s current focus on low-end tablets than anything else. Microsoft and its OEMs just don’t have a device in the class of the Fire 8.9 HDX (or Apple iPad Air).
That’s not to say Microsoft doesn’t have anything in the high-end tablet space as we head toward the end of 2014. The Surface Pro 3 is a bona-fide hit, though targeted clearly in 2-in-1 space rather than being primarily a tablet. I’d really like to have one, and if I could get away with carrying a single device around with me the SP3 would be it. At this point I’m probably going to wait for a next-generation, hopefully fanless, follow-on running Windows 10. Indeed my entire commitment to Windows is probably tied up in Windows 10, something I’ll get to shortly.
Another interesting development since I stopped my regular writing about the Microsoft world is the emergence of a class of true cloud-centric Chromebook competitors running Windows. HP is at the front of the line here again with the Stream 11 and Stream 13 notebooks. The Stream 11 was introduced at $199 and the Stream 13 at $229, but you can get either at $199 right now. Stream 13 LTE and Touchscreen options also appear to be available, as is a Stream 14. I’m having trouble with an old notebook I use occasionally at a second home, and one of these inexpensive devices might be in the cards as its replacement.
Strategically it is interesting to see HP as the thought-leader OEM this year, whereas a year ago I was calling out Dell for staking out this territory. Dell’s 2014 upgrade to the Dell Venue 8 Pro, the Dell Venue 8 Pro 5000, offers nothing significant over its predecessor. And the Dell Venue 8 Pro 3000 is very similar at a reduced price, but the HP Stream 7 and 8 are far more innovative on both the pricing and capabilities front. The only thing the DV8P 5000 has going for it is its active digitizer, and I didn’t find the one on the original DV8P very useful.
The truth is that the second half of 2014 has been rather boring on the Windows front. While Windows 10 was revealed, what we’ve seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes there is a new Windows on the horizon that will be a worthy (and probably not so controversial) successor to Windows 7 on the desktop. That will be good for business. But so far Microsoft has revealed very little that demonstrates Windows 10’s ability to establish momentum in the mobile (phone, tablet, or 2-in-1) environment.
For Windows in mobile environments the situation remains just short of bleak. The library of modern apps remains empty of what is needed to capture either the tablet or phone space. Microsoft has gone so far as to talk about the combined store having 500K apps, although that is not the number available for any given device. What you want may be for tablets, or phones, and if it is for both then Microsoft probably double counted it. But fundamentally, despite some improvement, on either a Windows Tablet or Phone you are going to find desirable (perhaps necessary) apps missing in action. If apps are important, look to iOS or Android devices.
So what will 2015 bring? Windows 10 of course. One can’t underestimate the importance of Windows 10 to Microsoft’s prospects in the client OS realm. It is realistically their last chance at avoiding a slow slide towards irrelevance in this particular space. I’m not just talking about phones and tablets, where Microsoft has yet to establish relevance, I’m talking about desktops as well. When I’m in a room with executives from just about any industry there is a mix of PCs and Mac’s. If it is a room of technology professionals, Mac’s are equal to and sometimes a majority versus Windows PCs. Throw in college environments and the handwriting is on the wall. Leading indicator audiences are adopting the Mac.
If your senior executives have Macs it means your Helpdesk and the rest of your organization’s IT department are learning to support Macs in the environment. Your organization’s apps, third-party and bespoke, are being called on to treat the Mac as a first-class client. Even the projection equipment in your conference rooms are now equipped with Mini-Displayport adapters for Macs. (For an almost humorous example, I was recently in a hotel conference room where the projection equipment was only set up for Mini-Displayport and the presenter couldn’t use their PC to display the presentation.)
I’m in no way claiming the death of Windows, just pointing out a shift that is not healthy for Microsoft. It is bad enough for Windows that enterprises are letting employees self-select on phones and tablets they use to access corporate resources. But when employees show up for their first day at a new job and are asked “PC or Mac” it means shrinking market share for Windows. And it means that Microsoft must now fight for every sale, something that wasn’t the case just a few years ago. Windows 10 will heavily influence what percentage of those sales Microsoft wins versus loses.
The next indicator of what Windows 10 will bring is expected in late January, when Microsoft is set to unveil a number of consumer-oriented advances. It will likely also make available a consumer preview of Windows 10. But the real excitement including, I hope, significant advances on the hardware front from both Microsoft and the OEMs, won’t come until next fall. And if either Windows 10 or new hardware fall short? Maybe I’ll start writing about the Mac.