Microsoft is set to unveil a bunch of new hardware on Wednesday, with the star attraction likely to be a new Surface PC to compete with Apple’s all-in-one iMac.
Microsoft is billing this event as the future of Windows 10. That’s not surprising: The reason Microsoft got into the Surface business in the first place was to push Windows forward into a touchscreen future, whether PC manufacturers wanted it or not.
But we’re fast approaching a moment in time where Microsoft is going to have to do more than introduce new kinds of PCs if it wants Windows, first introduced in 1985, to stay relevant for the next three decades.
The PC industry is shrinking and Windows is increasingly irrelevant in a mobile world ruled by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Even worse, Microsoft’s own attempts to break into the smartphone realm have landed with a resounding “thud,” exacerbating the slow decline of the Windows business (fortunately for Microsoft, its cloud and productivity businesses are exploding, propelling the company’s stock to new highs).
It’s gotten to the point where some, like Infoworld Editor-in-Chief Eric Knorr, have openly wondered whether it would be best if Microsoft put Windows out to pasture now, rather than let it bleed out slowly over the next few years as the world passes it on by.
Well, Windows isn’t quite dead yet, still accounting for the vast majority of the hundreds of millions of desktop and laptop PCs in the world. And Microsoft has laid out some ambitious master plans for the operating system that have yet to bear much fruit, but have the potential to make a huge impact on the future of the operating system.
All of which to say that it’s not time to give Windows its last rites yet. But it’s definitely time for Windows to do better, or else risk the slow death that otherwise awaits it.
Microsoft may have missed out on smartphones, but it’s working hard at making sure it never misses any future trend, ever again.
With Windows 10, Microsoft has built an operating system that works on PCs, tablets, the Hololens holographic goggles, virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive, connected devices like this smart hockey table, the Xbox One console, and pretty much anything else, too. Whatever comes next, Windows 10 will be there.
More than a year after launch, though, the Windows Store is still underwhelming, to put it delicately. While Microsoft has won the support of its best friends in the tech industry, with the likes of Facebook and Uber providing apps for the Windows Store, it’s otherwise pretty slim pickins.
With smartphones growing and PCs shrinking, lots of developers are choosing to focus their efforts on iOS and Android, where users are going in ever-increasing numbers. In so doing, Windows is completely missing out on current-wave apps like Snapchat and Pokémon Go, and thus a whole generation of users.
So if Microsoft wants to save Windows from an ignoble fate over a long time horizon, it needs to start pairing its first-rate hardware with a wider range of apps, by any means necessary. Just as the rise of the App Store turned the iPhone from a trendy gadget into an economy unto itself, Microsoft needs a stronger Windows Store to keep users happily using Windows well into the future.
There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon: Microsoft has wisely pursued a renewed focus on video gaming with Windows 10, bringing Xbox exclusives like “Gears of War 4” and “Forza Horizon 3” to the PC. Video games are still something that Windows PCs do better than Macs, iPhones, or Android, and Microsoft is doubling down.
Windows is one year older than I am, to the day. It’s very hard to picture a world without it.
And yet, while Microsoft’s cloud and productivity businesses are booming, as evidenced by its most recent quarterly financial results, the Windows business has been working very hard just to keep revenue fairly flat. And its investments in stuff like using HoloLens and connected devices to push Windows to new markets are risky and unproven.
Windows isn’t going anywhere in the short- to- medium term. Even though the PC industry is shrinking, Microsoft’s Windows 10-powered Surface Pro tablet and Surface Book laptop are very slightly bucking the trend and seeing modest growth.
But Apple and Google are both ramping up their efforts to get in on that action. Apple’s iPad Pro points to a future where it’s as easy to get work done on iOS as it’s historically been on a Windows PC. Similarly, Google’s rumored “Andromeda” operating system will take the core of Android and make it more friendly for laptops and tablets.
No matter what happens to Windows, Microsoft as a company will be fine in the long run.
Microsoft Office, still the gold standard in productivity, is available on Windows, Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, and people are subscribing to the Office 365 service in droves.
And Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud computing platform, provides the crucial backend server hosting and services for lots of popular iPhone and Android apps. As those apps get bigger, so too do the checks they write to Microsoft.
In other words, Microsoft increasingly stands to do fine, no matter which way the winds blow. But those same winds carry dire tidings for Microsoft. And while new Surface PCs might accomplish the goal of getting Windows 10 to more places, there’s a lot more work to be done.