[Update: See what Microsoft actually announced.]
Microsoft’s big Windows 10 event on Wednesday is all but certain to launch the latest beta—technically, a “consumer preview”—of its PC operating system (even if you might not see the mobile version until February). It’s a big moment for ordinary PC users and corporate IT managers all the way up to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the company he’s straining to reinvent.
Windows 10 is essentially Microsoft’s big redo, its olive branch to users put off by the radical and unfriendly design of Windows 8, which tried to shoehorn desktop users into a touch-based interface designed with mobile devices in mind. Early indications for Windows 10 are good; Microsoft has let interested users download a “technical preview” of the Windows 10 desktop version since last October, and has gone out of its way to solicit user feedback and to incorporate it into the OS itself.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped some critics from piling on anyway. “What if Windows 10 Fails?” Computerworld asked breathlessly. Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff opined a few days ago that today’s event is Microsoft’s “last chance to convince the world that Windows still matters.”
Failure Is Not An Option
Given Microsoft’s long slide over the past few years as tablets and even non-Windows laptop alternatives such as Chromebooks displaced Windows PCs in homes and some businesses, you can’t really blame folks for expecting the worst. But the doomsaying largely misses the point.
First, unless Windows 10 somehow turns into an utter technical disaster, it’s going to succeed in Microsoft’s core business market. The consumer PC market basically collapsed when the iPad and other tablets ate a lot of the home-based tasks—email, social media and gaming—that previously required laptops. But the business PC market is still going strong, and with Windows 7 starting to show its age, replacement demand alone is likely to buoy Windows 10.
Second, while Microsoft’s foray into mobile has been lackluster at best, Windows 10 represents its strongest shot at turning that around, at least on the tablet front. (Absent a miracle, Windows Phone looks like a lost cause.) Low-end PC prices are already collapsing to tablet levels, which is getting close to leveling the playing field for Windows devices.
Of course, that’s not close to enough. Much more significant is the fact that Windows 10 will make it far easier for developers to write one app that will run on a variety of devices. This is probably Microsoft’s best shot at staking out a new app ecosystem in the mobile world.
And on the consumer side, a Windows 10 feature called Continuum promises to reconfigure the operating system from desktop mode to mobile and back depending on how you’re using a device. Attach a keyboard to a Windows tablet, for example, and the mobile version of Windows 10 will revert to desktop mode. (At least in theory; last September, Microsoft would only demo the feature, saying it wasn’t ready for prime time yet.)
Sure, mobile remains a long shot for Microsoft, not least because it still isn’t giving people a compelling reason to choose Windows devices over Apple or Android. But without a solid and user-friendly OS and a strong library of apps, the company has no chance at all in this market.
So Windows 10 is table stakes in this game—necessary but not sufficient for success. As ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes puts it:
We now live in an era not only where devices get new operating systems for free, but most of the apps people use are also free. People just don’t seem that enthusiastic about updates, and even when they are—over things like iOS releases—it is short-lived. Operating systems are like browsers or an updated app in that they’re just part of the furniture of computing, and not something to get worked up about.
Finally, there’s the wild card: the Internet of Things. Some analysts think the transition to a world of innumerable smart, connected devices could be as disruptive to existing businesses as mobile was to Microsoft.
We know Microsoft has been making big, if still vague, plans for the Internet of Things. And while you’re still not likely to see Windows on your toaster—ever—this sort of transition could offer Microsoft a new opportunity to make its Windows devices essential tools for managing smart homes, businesses and vast numbers of newly intelligent gadgets.
What Else To Expect
Here’s a quick checklist of other things Microsoft might talk about at its event:
- Across the Continuum: It’s finally showtime for this feature, which could be key for making “hybrid” PC-tablet devices truly useful.
- Cortana on the desktop: Microsoft’s personal assistant, which debuted last year in Windows Phone, looks likely to migrate to all Windows devices. It could also take over many search functions in Windows.
- New browsers: Look for news on Internet Explorer 12 and its possible successor, a Chrome-ish alternative currently codenamed Spartan.
- Some gaming integration: Details here are still vague, but Xbox chief Phil Spencer is scheduled for a presentation, and it seems likely that there could be technical changes that make it easier to write games for both PCs and Microsoft’s gaming console.
Lead image by download.net.pl