My daily job as a consultant\architect is to follow the trends and analyze them – to put it simple, understand where we were few trends, where we are heading now, what it means and what would be the logical next step. Then just imagine the path to get there and identify all critical milestones and tasks ahead of us.
I usually keep my thoughts for myself, but I made decision some time ago that I need to break this habit and start explaining why I think that X will happen in Y months and it will lead to Z – and this is my first tribute to this resolution.
The best trend analysis is usually the one that doesn’t say anything new, it just puts together all the things that “everyone knows, but don’t talk about” – that means that your predictions makes sense and people can imagine they will fulfill sooner or later.
Right here, right now…
To understand what’s the future of Windows desktop, we have to look in the past and think for a while how computers changed our daily lives.. When Windows started to emerge and found it’s way to regular households, it was very common that one PC was shared by different people – typical family had only one PC.
Years later, PC became commodity and as result, we have seen the trend that there were more than single PC in a typical family – the wide spread of portable and cheap laptops allows this change, especially since laptop didn’t require as much space as typical desktop and you could easily have multiple laptops at you home, each one personalized for each household member.
Last two years we have seen big boom of new devices – it all started by iPhone and now we can three major device types – smartphone, tablet and regular laptop. Because we are talking about trends, please forget about your favorite brand – the fact that iPad is the most successful tablet at the market doesn’t mean that it’s the only one (and definitely doesn’t mean that it will stay number one in the future). When thinking about the trends, we need to find general rules.
Why is this trend important? Because what we can see is that multiple computing devices are being used by single person for different reasons. We are no longer limited to single device per user and this brings new challenges.
For example I am using desktop\laptop for creating content, tablet for consuming content and smartphone for getting notifications.
A picture is worth a thousand words:
Citrix vision of form-factors co-existence
The fact that you are using more devices than few years ago also means that management and maintenance of these devices needs to change – you can no longer afford to spend hours updating and configuring each one of them, you simply want to connect them to your “personal cloud” and start working immediately with your favorite applications and working environment you are familiar with.
This will be definitely one of the most important industry trends that Microsoft will need to face with upcoming Windows 8. Devices will change to simple cloud plug-n-play extensions.
If you will need to spend 3x more time on configuration, maintenance, updates, then you won’t be able to productively use multiple devices. As a result – you will either stay with single preferred device, or you will switch to a vendor that understands this trend and is prepared to offer you this new type of work style.
I wrote about personal cloud many times before – in fact I presented a session called “Personal Cloud” more than 2 years ago. This session was mostly explaining that we are not going to “jump” to the cloud from one day to another, but we are rather going to see a change in our mind sets – we will still use the local processing power (of laptop\tablet\smartphone), but we will use internet (“the cloud”) as a central synchronization point and our end-point devices will just store local cache and process the data.
I was talking about Live Mesh\DropBox, contact unification platforms, cloud storages, Facebook… If I have a look at this presentation today, I think that we are really getting there. One of the topics I was talking about was roaming configuration (the way how Google Chrome works today).
If I buy a new device, I want to connect it to my “cloud” and get access to all my data immediately. I want to have access to same data from all of my devices and I want to minimize the amount of work required when I replace one of my devices.
There is a problem however. Applications are ready for the cloud.
You cannot simplify management with current Windows ecosystem – the foundation was created more than 20 years ago. Even though regular folks believe it’s possible, you cannot simply make a huge changes from one day to another and current Windows ecosystem is extremely huge and complex, with incredible number of dependencies. What you can do however is to introduce new platform side-by-side with existing one – that’s what Microsoft did years ago when they introduced .NET Framework. I think it’s time to do similar change now – with a platform that will be prepared for cloud based future.
The real challenge for Microsoft is not to change itself – the real change is to change all vendors, independent software developers and partners. You can spend ages on education, or you can introduce new platform with strict rules to follow. This requires of course clear vision and very disciplined execution. We want system that simply works – even if we will have to pay with restrictions and lock-downs (why is Apple successful and Linux is not?).
For the end-users, this will mean few changes – marketplace will be integral part of operating system (at this moment it was already officially announced by Microsoft, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while already), applications will be layered (operating system will be isolated from applications, configuration will be separate from application installation, user data will also represent separate layer). This approach is much more similar to smartphone architecture, therefore Microsoft will be able to use same platform and applications on different form factors. The important part is to de-couple applications from their configuration and data themselves, so you would need to have at least 3 different layers.
Operating systems is just used to execute the applications and applications are just used to manipulate with data. First layer is installed on device itself (application), second layer (configuration) is stored on device, but synchronized through the internet and third layer (data) is stored in the cloud (and potentially locally cached).
In ideal case, you can achieve this through the end-users – create something they like and they will slowly force developers to change their products. Similar change was introduction of UAC in Windows Vista – hated by most of the population, it was necessary and painful change. It’s not annoying (well, mostly) anymore – not because UAC changed in any way, but mostly because vendors changed their products based on complains from end users.
Is this end of the Microsoft?
In last few years, there was huge amount of predictions that this is the end of Microsoft. This is the end of PC era, new cloud era is coming! Few days ago, VMware’s CEO Paul Maritz said that in three years, more than 80 percent of the devices connected to the Internet will not be Windows-based personal computers.
I don’t agree with this opinion – but I think we can say following:
In the near future, not only desktops\laptops, but many different form factors will be connected to the Internet. Period. That doesn’t mean that Microsoft is out of game.
That doesn’t say anything about Microsoft, nor about Windows. One of the worst things you can make when analyzing trends is to expect that only your subject will change and the rest of the world will stay as it is today. PC (which usually means desktop\laptop form factor) is not going to die in few months, but will stay with us for years – even if ratio between different form-factors will change, mouse + keyboard will probably be preferred method if you need to create content.
Imagine for example that we will end up with 3 different platforms (iOS, Win* and Android) that will have similar feature sets. As an end user, I will choose my devices based on my needs and familiarity. If my mobile phone is iPhone, my tablet is an iPad, I will probably choose Mac OS as my laptop. If my mobile phone is Windows Phone, my laptop is Windows 8, I will probably choose Windows for my tablet device. Again, I would like to stress the fact that in our hypothetical situation all 3 platforms are equal.
Not long time ago, Microsoft was competitive only on the field of laptop form factor – Windows Mobile was obsolete platform and tablet editions of Windows couldn’t be compared to iPad ease of use.
Is Microsoft ready for this change?
The first sign of Microsoft adapting to this situation was definitely release of Windows Phone platform – while I was really disappointed by huge Microsoft mistakes at launch (in my opinion completely wrong promotion of the product – you can’t afford to not share details about your product if you are trying to enter mature market divided to few big players and expect customers to massively migrate to newcomer – same mistake as HP did with their tablet), one of my first thoughts when I started to use it was – this device is cloud mobile phone, not regular mobile phone.
To explain – when you turn on your Windows Phone for the first time, you will receive few questions – are you using Facebook? Are you using Google? Are you using Exchange?
Next, next, next, finish – then wait for a while, so all your accounts and data are synchronized – and within 20 minutes you can start using it.
You will get different calendars merged into one view – green for my private Google Calendar, blue for my business calendar, pink for my wife’s calendar. Your contacts from different sources are automatically merged together – so if I’ve got my wife at Facebook, Google contacts and Exchange, it’s merged together under one contact. Almost nothing is stored locally on the mobile phone itself – even the photos you take are synchronized to SkyDrive.
My device should plug-n-play to my personal cloud and adapt to it.
When you are saving contact, you no longer decide if you want to save it to your phone or to your SIM card – rather you decide whether it’s private and business contact (and it will be saved to the cloud). If one of your friends changes his mobile phone number, he doesn’t need to send SMS message to his whole contact list – he will simply change it at Facebook\LinkedIn and this change will be distributed to all his friends\colleagues.
Ok, so they started with mobile phone, now what?
As I said, I think that Windows Phone is a great foundation for Microsoft to start with moving users to the cloud – but smartphone is the least important of all form-factors.
At this moment, Microsoft can cover only smartphone and laptop\desktop form-factor – and these two platforms are not very well integrated. Microsoft first take on “tablet” market was 20 years ago with Windows for Pen Computing – even though they were trying really hard, it was never successful (nor were the follow ups like Windows XP Tablet PC Edition or latest Windows Vista\Windows 7). Tablet is different from PC, usage cases are different and Microsoft needs to understand it.
I have been a big fan of tablets for years – still got my 6 years old HP tablet under the table and I recently bough an iPad. I never really liked MS tablets – they were too similar to regular laptops. I am probably the only one that doesn’t really like iPad (even though it’s much better than Microsoft approach) – for me, even though it’s the best choice, it’s still more like a big mobile phone than regular tablet platform.
I am still looking for my ideal tablet – it should be somewhere between smartphone and laptop. This balance is very hard to achieve and it can easily slip to one of these extremes. If new Windows 8 tablets will be comparable with an iPad, then it will be huge success of Microsoft. But it needs to be different from regular Windows OS, otherwise it will fail (again).
Uff, hold on, how does Facebook fits into this discussion? To answer this question, we need to ask ourselves – why is Facebook so successful?
Is it because it’s technically brilliant? Definitely not. Is it because it’s something new? Don’t think so, social networks have been here for years. For me, the reason is that everyone is at Facebook and it doesn’t make sense if you alone would be at brilliant social network – but without any friends.
Which identity is the most spread around the world though? Is it Facebook profile? Google profile? Live ID?
I think that the most common identity is your regular Windows profile you are using daily. Everyone (almost) got it. Everyone is using it.
What Microsoft should do (and there were small hints that they already starting doing it with Windows 7) is to change your Windows profile to your cloud profile. When using Windows Phone, Live ID is required, why can’t it be the same for your desktop?
I would love to use my Live ID to logon to my Windows – to each of my Windows at home in fact. If my identity will be stored online, it would open completely new world.
I could easily synchronize my settings between different workstations – the same way as Google Chrome can synchronize using your profile. I could easily share documents with my wife and friends – using their Live IDs. I could link different profiles together – link online my Live ID with my Google ID with my Facebook ID… The potential is unlimited. This could be the single entity that would link all the topics discussed before together.
This is much longer post than I originally expected to write, so I will try to summarize my points here:
1.) Microsoft will need to carefully choose which parts of Windows they want to move to cloud and be very disciplined when executing this strategy
2.) Microsoft will need to finally make serious attack on tablet market – similar way as they returned to smartphone market
3.) Microsoft will need to find a way how to push vendors to adapt to this change – guidelines, trainings and best practices are not enough in this case
4.) The real challenge is with applications and the whole Windows ecosystem. Fail here and you will close your door to the future
5.) Windows Phone was a good start – now it’s time to bring Windows and Windows Phone together (ideally with real tablet OS in between)
I am running 5 desktops (+ smartphone + tablet) for few years, these thoughts are based on my experiences with using multiple devices.
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