Friday, February 10, 2017

Microsoft's next Windows RT

Apologies for the brief diversion while I discuss Windows.

The Inquirer recently wrote about a future version of "Windows Cloud" that Microsoft will (one day) push its users to, probably whether or not you want it, just as they pushed their Windows 7 users to Windows 10. The difference is that the new operating system isn't really what you think of as "Windows." Instead, it's more like a Chromebook.

Now, I have no problem with the Google Chromebook. The Chromebook has a lot of great use-applications. The platform becomes irrelevant. Instead of a traditional operating system, you get a desktop and a web browser. All your applications are in "the Cloud," so Google's G Suite for your word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation software (think Word, Excel, and Powerpoint). Your email is in Gmail. And anything else you want to do is on a website somewhere. It's a great platform for a highly mobile world.

My wife has a Chromebook, and she loves it! In fact, she's thinking it's time to upgrade to the new Chromebook that's coming out soon.

I used to run a Chromebook when I was the campus CIO at a small university; I ran Linux on my desktop, but for meetings I usually brought my Chromebook.

At that same university, I envisioned that we would someday replace our meeting room PCs with Chromeboxes (the desktop version of a Chromebook) or Chromebits (a "micro" version of a Chromebox that plugs directly into an HDMI slot on a display). And we probably could have replaced many of our classroom PCs and general lab PCs with Chromeboxes or Chromebits; as a Google campus, all our apps were in Google's Cloud, so G Suite and Gmail.

Chromebooks ($200) and Chromeboxes ($150) and Chromebits ($100) are great Cloud-integrated systems at a low price. But that's the trick: the core assumption is that everything is in the Cloud. You don't run local applications on a Chromebook. You can't install applications on a Chromebook.

And now Microsoft seems set to move into this space, as well. The difference is that "Windows Cloud" (as they call it) will be a Cloud-integrated system with the "Windows" label on it. And people expect to install applications on "Windows."

The Inquirer article makes a great point here, both acknowledging why Microsoft would want to move to Windows Cloud, while questioning the wisdom of doing so:
There is a logic to Microsoft's entry into this market. Google's Chromebooks do well in certain markets, thanks to their low cost and zippy speeds on even low power processors, and Microsoft would naturally want to swipe some of that market.

However, despite improvements to Windows Universal Apps, explaining to the average consumer that they can't run their existing programs on their new computer is going to be as problematic as ever, and calling it "Windows 10" is going to mess with people's heads, as quite clearly, it isn't.

It feels like Microsoft are missing the point. If you buy a Chromebook, you know what you are getting. But if you buy a Windows machine, you have 30 years of heritage and expectation attached to the brand and people aren't going to be happy if you deliver a new version with less.
That last paragraph says it all. I think if Microsoft wanted to do a "Cloud-integrated" system like this, it would be better to avoid the "Windows" name. Maybe adopt the "Surface" name, like "Surface Cloud." Or leverage the "Edge" web browser name, and call it the "Edgebook" or something along those lines. At least then, users would carry different expectations to the new product.

Maybe this is a signal that it's time for Microsoft to retire the "Windows" label. Sure, Microsoft probably does want to shift it's operating system into the Cloud (whether or not that's a good thing, I'll leave that to you) but keeping the "Windows" label will hold them back. Learn from the disaster of "Windows RT" where users quickly discovered that while it looked like Windows and felt like Windows, you couldn't install "Windows" applications on it. With a new name, Microsoft can shift user expectations.


  1. Clickbait. Not a thing to do with Windows RT, outside of metaphor.

  2. Not necessarily, Donnie.

    This was a lesson that Mircosoft learned with Internet Explorer. By the time that IE was build to be more standards compliant (by IE 11), the name of the browser was tarred and feathered to such a degree that no-one cared that it was sticking to the standards... they just didn't want IE any more.
    Hence the Edge browser, it was partly to break way from the IE brand that was driven into the ground. A huge part of that was walking away from the Trident Engine, something that they tried and mostly succeeded to do by IE 11 but the new engine being connected to IE almost insured that no-one noticed.

    Windows is very likely in the same boat.