The Future of Windows

Everything is changing, form factors, device usage, platforms, Microsoft is changing! and it seems to be changing in many exciting ways.

So lets look at what I believe Microsoft will do with the next version of Window (9, not the expected second update for Windows 8.1). I’m going to break down what I believe will happen for each form factor.

Please note, these points, are all conjecture based on rumors and notes from journalists and websites.


Firstly I expect to see Windows Phone, and Windows to become even closer, with even more shared. At the moment its pretty close, but I expect to see with Windows 9, it to finally be fully realised.

This means any app running on Windows, will run on Windows Phone, but also vice versa. We are almost there with Universal Apps, but its not fully realised yet,  as many apps are still separate between the two platforms (Mail app, Office apps etc.).

I also expect to see a much closer alignment of the UI, and I hope to see the Charm bar make an appearance.

This will be the Phone SKU, which will be a super set of the Basic SKU I will discuss next. This SKU will be free.

Mini Tablets (ARM, Atom CPU) & ARM Tablets (Surface RT/2)

These devices will come with a new free SKU of Windows. Which I’m going to call the Basic SKU. This SKU will not have the desktop or any of the legacy Windows features. It will be a Metro only environment.

Along side this SKU, Microsoft will include a new product, Windows “365”, which given the System on a Chip, incompatibles or low power will be used to run legacy applications, and provide the user with a desktop. I suspect this service will be fairly cheap for consumers to utilise.

This will be the core new way Microsoft will compete with free OS’s like Android, iOS (OS X should be mentioned here but isn’t targeting cheaper device markets). This Basic SKU will be constantly updated (about every 6months, for free). This SKU will come with basic versions at the very least of the Office Touch apps.

By offering a free basic OS, they will be able to compete on device prices, while offering the user better enterprise integration, security and updates than others do, and a way for Microsoft to sell users up into their ecosystem.

Microsoft may along side this offer a basic subscription. Which would include OneDrive storage, full Office Touch apps, Windows 365, Skype usage, Xbox Music (or maybe a way to mix and match these bits). This subscription maybe also be used to unlock extra professional features within the Metro environment (think Enterprise only features, domain login for example).

It would also be nice for this SKU especially on Mini Tablets to be able to run ANY Windows Phone app, not just Universal Apps, I suspect this wont happen, as it will stop users moving to Universal Apps.

Note: Just because its a subscription to unlock features of Windows, do not take this to mean that the PC will have to be online constantly to be able to use those features. Just like how Activation doesn’t need a constant internet connection to remain activated, these will be something where you pay a monthly subscription OR you can buy a perpetual license (or for enterprise / school, volume licensing). The OS will just have to go online once in a while to recheck your license. Given that this is a consumer device, the expectation of internet access once every 30-90 days seems reasonable in this day and age.

Large Tablets (Surface Pro) & Convertible Ultra books

These will too come with the Basic SKU initially, but then you will be able to either buy a Professional SKU as a subscription (includes all future updates, while your subscribed) or a perpetual license (included updates for 2 years, then support for another 2-3 years, so 5 in total) for a one off cost for those who prefer that style. Enterprise customers will continue to use their Volume Licensing as per normal (which is basically a subscription anyway).

The Professional SKU will come with a fully working, as you would expect Desktop, with no restrictions like it does with Windows 7/8/8.1

This subscription will give you a Professional license for up to 3/5 devices including activating any features on other SKU’s

Laptops, PC’s – Legacy Form Factors

These devices will continue to be sold with perpetual Windows Professional licenses, which can be when first brought translated into a subscription (which includes 2 years free of the subscription as its already been paid through the OEM).

Although I suspect many OEM’s will keep to just include the Basic SKU to keep the price down, but that Microsoft will try to restrict this for the following reason.

The downside to this model, is I suspect it will frustrate and annoy consumers to get their new device home and find to run any of their desktop applications that they have to pay even more, when they feel they have already paid for the device (these would be cheap devices so were talking about ~£220 per laptop). If a user feels shafted at this point, chances are they wont understand the changes, and feel shafted by Microsoft, and not the OEM/Sales person (who is the person who really shafted them).

The positive side to this though is that because its just a Metro environment, OEM’s wont be able to include tons of painful to remove junk ware, they will only be able to include Metro apps, which the user can quite easily remove.


So I believe next year Microsoft will introduce 3 new SKU’s (excluding Enterprise SKU’s)

  1. Basic SKU (Free, Metro Only)
  2. Phone SKU (Free, Metro Only, Phone Optimised)
  3. Professional SKU – (Non-Free, enables Desktop on compatibles devices (x64, excludes Atom, drops x86?), Enterprise Metro features), Perpetual OR Subscription pricing.

In addition to these I suspect they will also start to offer Windows “365”, and a Microsoft Services subscription.

  • Windows “365” – Offloads the desktop for devices (ARM, Atom) to run legacy applications in the cloud
  • Services – OneDrive, Office 365, Skype, Windows “365”, Xbox Music, Advert removal in, in an all inclusive subscription, (or one which enables users to mix and match what they want) for all of Microsoft’s cloud services.

I think this is a nice rationalisation of Windows, and how the platform needs to evolve going forward. It protects existing markets for sales, and customers who want to do things in a what will be regarded as a “legacy” way. While allowing Windows to properly compete in a world with new devices and form factors, and where free is king.

It should be simple to describe to users, and for a user looking at a Chrome book/Android PC/Tablet should be persuade back to Windows, as price is no longer an issues. While Microsoft may not have the biggest App Store yet, it has the biggest selection of legacy applications. More apps (real apps, plus the web) than Chrome OS, and solves the many issues with Android (Security, Performance, Updates).

But the danger is that it offers, a new and untried business model, for Microsoft, and the technology world. Google gives Android away for free to try and profit from advertising, Microsoft is going it in a sort of “Apple” way, to try and upsell people into the  app stores, and into the Microsoft Ecosystem.

Can Microsoft encourage its users to pay for its products and its ecosystem? I think its possible, but it will take ALOT for consumers to get used to. Microsoft is unlucky in that it has a extremely conservative user base that doesn’t like change, and while Windows 9 will offer something for everyone, legacy and new, I suspect, part of the media, may cry hysterically when Microsoft announces consumer subscriptions, if like usual Microsoft fails to explain its plans and positions, clearly to customers and the media alike (think of the shenanigans that came around, with Xbox One, when Microsoft announced it. They didn’t explain it brilliantly and the media ran with what they could infer, which was fear of change, plus it helps that conflict increases the number of clicks an article gets).

If Microsoft can get its story correct, and the media and user education correct, I think their onto a winner. I think with the changes we have recently at Microsoft makes me think they can just about do it.

Final Points

If Microsoft does this, what will it do with the Surface RT/2/Mini and other ARM tablets (the few that exist), who currently have a Desktop. Will they lose it? Will they mind if they use it? Or will Microsoft do a trade in / up scheme for users who feel let down by this, this will depend though on the numbers sold. Or maybe Microsoft will allow those users to block the update somehow? This will be the hard question for Microsoft to answer.

I feel partially that they should clear this up when they announce the Surface Mini, by introducing a new SKU of Windows RT or updating the existing SKU (forced update??), which doesn’t have a desktop but comes with the Office Touch apps (Beta) instead, and allow existing users to update to that SKU. This would give Microsoft a chance to test how it will deal with this issue before Windows 9.

If Microsoft forces this now, then when Windows 9 comes, it wont be a big negative point from any reviewers or the media.

Goodbye Google Apps, Hello (Custom Domains)

I have finally finished moving from Google Apps to Custom Domains (as detailed here). (Well actually the old Google Apps is still running for a few legacy reasons, and forwarding emails)

So I used to use Google Apps Free (now not available) as it was pretty good, and better than Hotmail at the time, plus it was free, and well featured. But Google has been cutting features out of the free version, things which are essential like EAS support (there isn’t a suitable mobile optimised protocol to replace this in my opinion which I will discuss shortly).

So recently the BYOD Wi-Fi at work stopped working for Windows Phone devices as its not officially supported. Since then I have noticed that the Mail applications data usage has been very high (using 250mb+ in 2/3 weeks), which has pushed me over my data limit. This confused me because it never used to do that before we could use the BYOD Wi-Fi at work (which was turned on in February).

Turns out that between then and now, I have installed GDR2 which switches all Google Accounts from EAS to IMAP due to Google cutting EAS support, and IMAP is horrifically inefficient it seems. And its not just my data usage it was eating up either, it was also my battery life. Since moving back to a EAS account, my battery life has shot up.

This is just another example of Google cutting useful features, or making changes to existing products to try and encourage uptake of their other failing products. So in this case it is to ensure people use their Gmail app (on supported platforms which are just Android / iOS at the moment as far as I know), which gives Google more control.

And for those not on Android / iOS they either have to suffer, or switch. If they suffer it is likely they will blame Windows Phone for the high data usage, poor battery life, not Google, which also helps Google get people to switch to Android.


Can Microsoft Succeed in the Mobile / Tablet markets?

Firstly lets define succeed, this doesn’t mean to become the biggest market share holder, but to take a significant chunk of the market – be a major player. This isn’t like Mac vs. PC or Betamax vs. VHS where there can only be one winner, its different this time, there is room for 3, and it’s very possible for there to be three or more major players and for the consumer it is essential that there are more than two major players to keep competition alive.

The big difference this time is that Microsoft cannot use its old tried and proven method of breaking in to market – sell it cheaper, let it run on anything and everything, and profit through volume. It worked for Microsoft with Windows, and IE, But Google has already taken this strategy and taken it to the extreme, Microsoft cannot undercut free. Microsoft has its back up against the wall.

So they need a new strategy, one similar to what they did with the Xbox which overtime, was very successful, even though it had initial problems, tough competition, and it was in a market, where the game was considered over.

A lot of people I have discussed this with, have said that its game over in these markets, and it’s too late for Microsoft to make an entrance (hopefully some of the above should distil that) but, these are new markets relatively, and the markets are far too young, and too fast changing to say that the game is over. Android is still making considerable progress against iOS in the smartphone market across the world, and the Tablet market is hardly developed and still has a lot of expansion and growth to go under. A market cannot be in a position where a winner can be declared, while there is such rapid growth and market share changes. There is all still to play for!

So what is Microsoft’s Strategy?

Firstly, they are going to try and match their competitors’ prices (maybe even slightly undercut it initially). This has to be done, to get consumers on-board.

Secondly strike at the enterprise. This will be easy for Microsoft, integration with their existing services and manageability tools means Microsoft can win this hands down, and this will expose the devices to a large number of consumers who are likely to then buy the devices at home (comfort, familiarity, etc.).

Finally and this is the key part of Microsoft’s strategy – is that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, offer something unique and different, to a market that is very polarised. At one end you have Apple’s completely closed ecosystem, limited or no choice in hardware, or services. At the other you have Android, where you have a multitude of devices from the very good to the absolutely terrible, where there are any number of services you can use, and a very open ecosystem.

What Microsoft is going to do is to provide a middle ground. A limited number of very good quality devices, across a number of price points. Along with a restricted set of services (this is needed to solve malware issues that android suffers from) which users can trust. They are going to try and provide the best of both worlds, choice and quality.

  • Everything so far is just Microsoft’s attempt to catch up and compete. Microsoft has also provided a number of new and innovative bits of functionality (not all of these apply to both markets).
  • A Unique User Interface. (Weirdly this also take a middle ground between Apples icons only – and Androids unlimited widgets, but providing something like widgets but within a consistent UI)
  • True Multitasking (on the tablet, it is possible to have two apps on the screen at once)
  • As mentioned previously – Cracking Enterprise Support
  • A common UI across multiple devices
  • A brilliant development environment, with lots of choices.
  • Xbox Integration
  • Office

I think all of the above means that Microsoft has a good chance of becoming a major player in these markets over time, as long as they don’t allow long periods without updates (they need to move to a yearly release cycle for Windows in my opinion), it’s far too early to rule them out!

The Microsoft Surface

Wow just wow, I was not expecting Microsoft to announce that last night, and I think (yes I know I am a bit of a fan-boy) this is the tablet which defines what a tablet should be.

The iPad while good, was simply good, it was not excellent, it was not brilliant, it was not a replacement for a laptop, it wasn’t a productivity device. It was a device that was hard to justify buying, and mainly there for consumption and entertainment. Basically it was exactly what you would expect from Apple.

Microsoft has given us what we expect from Microsoft. A device which is great for consumption, but also brilliant for productivity. I finally fill like I can sell my Laptop (MBP) and my iPad and just have one device. This has always been my issue with the iPad, that you cannot just have an iPad sooner or later you end up needing a laptop to do something. This has happened to me a number of times. There’s too many restrictions in the iPad, too many compromises.

What MS allows, mainly due to Windows 8 is to remove as many of those compromises as possible, the biggest one remaining is Legacy Software on ARM, but this is one which is acceptable to a degree (although there might be ways around it) for security and resource management reasons, to ensure the user gets the best possible experience. But this coupled with such a lovely bit of hardware like the surface, extenuates this. You have a tablet, like the iPad, with a similar cover, but in a few seconds, it turns into a lightweight laptop, but one which is just as useful as a laptop. I don’t have to worry, about if I need a laptop, I am already carrying one.

The Touch Cover is an amazing bit of engineering, and will seriously improve the typing experience. My fingers hurt after prolonged typing on the iPad, its simply not comfortable. The Touch Cover will improve typing speed, and comfort while increasing the usability of the device, without having to carry around a bit heavy keyboard.

Now for the downside

As MS mentioned in its keynote, the displays are “Retina” (using Apples definition of not begin able to distinguish pixels from a normal usage distance). They might not be as high on the ppi scale as the iPad, but using other clever technology they have achieved it, which enables lower power usage.

Yes, if your a purist you might say the screens let it down, but I think we will have to wait and see to pass judgement on if ClearType is an acceptable substitute.

Yes the iPad will have more apps on its App Store, but it is just a matter of time for Windows 8 to catch up, and I am sure the quality will be just as good if not better. Developers should want to develop for Windows 8, because of the shear number of devices it will be on – not just tablets.

The other issues are mostly relating to the lack of details about the device, why are no firm specifications, prices, release date, set yet? Why announce this now, and not wait until they could announce and release at the same time, instead of making us wait months (not to mention they did not detail global availability, if it will be sold outside the US (hopefully they wont make this mistake again like they did with the Zune))

The only reason I can think of, why they announced it now, is because they are about to go into mass production with the device, and this would have lead to leaks (Most of Apples recent devices have been leaked, due to manufacturing leaks, parts lists. But that does not excuse the lack of details, which must surely be set in stone by now. I do not think we will ever know why MS announced when it did.

Finally why no 3G/4G support. This seems like such an obvious thing not to miss out, unless they just had not decided on it, as part of the final specification yet.

Which One

So I will definitely be buying one of these, but which one. That I have not decided yet. Part of me feels I should get the ARM one, lighter, thinner, cooler, longer battery life, but there is a little bit of me, that wants the Intel one, just so I can open Visual Studio, and do a bit of development, and perhaps put some of my favourite classic games on it from GTA to SimCity, but that is at the compromise of much lower battery life, hotter, thicker and heavier.

I think I will end up with the ARM one, for the reasons given above, but also because I want, hope believe, that these publishers will release metro apps which will give me, the functionality I want without needing to go to the desktop. There is no reason why there should not be Windows 8 Metro versions of GTA, or SimCity, just like there are on the iPad.

I also have some plans for applications which I will hopefully release when Windows 8 is released which should hopefully give me some of my development opportunities back on Windows 8 Metro.

The OEM View

Building its own PC Hardware is a big departure from the norm, for Microsoft, and will have a massive effect on how the OEM’s act and behave. But lets be honest here, a lot of OEM’s have failed MS and their users, and MS is simply saying to them, ‘This is the quality of the device we want you to make, no crap ware, original thinking, put the user first’. MS have set the bar and it is the OEM’s job to jump it.


I feel, the device is great, almost perfect for the future of computing, and I am very excited for it. Just cannot wait to get my hands on it now!!!