The Challenge of Windows 10

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With the move to Windows 10, as disclosed in detail on January 21st, Microsoft is finally making clear its support of a unified system for devices from phones to an 84″ Surface Hub. Windows 10 is an interesting challenge that takes on the work of a considerable new approach to Windows–but it remains to be seen whether Microsoft will be as successful as Apple.

Apple and Windows, of course, have difference reports to markets. Apple, at the beginning of the iPhone era, had to make it successful in partnership with a Windows PC. Having gotten used to Windows with the iPod, Apple knew how to do it. And a number of those with Apple programs that made sense for mobiles, most notably Microsoft Office, had no choice but to support iOS versions (while some producers for iOS, such as Tweetbot, offered Windows and Mac versions).

Microsoft’s position is very different. Microsoft has millions of Windows PCs in use for every Windows Phone, while Apple must settle for a majority of iPhones and iPads not in use with Macs. Microsoft is determined to win a unified market of phones, tablets, and PCs. Its initial move is a new version of Office that will use a common code base for PCs and phones (we don’t know yet how Microsoft will handle Office for iPhone and iPad). In addition to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, it is rewriting Outlook to handle mail and calendaring on mobile.

Can IT do it? I have no doubt a critical Microsoft goal is to make the Windows Phone an attractive choice to its corporate customer. Most IT departments support the use of the Phone as demanded by workers, especially top executives, but they don’t like it. Android is, in some ways, even worse, especially since Samsung’s effort to supply Knox, an enterprise security issue, has flopped. BlackBerry is still the darling of IT departments, but it’s not making a comeback. That creates an opportunity for Windows Phones.

The big challenge is software. Based on what they have shown, Microsoft has done an impressive job of coming up with a version of Office that runs on PCs, tablets (( The tablet does not really exist as a category in the Microsoft lineup. Devices with displays up to 6″ are phones. Bigger devices are PCs. The closest thing Microsoft has offered to a distinctive tablet, the Windows RT system, is dead. )), and phones.

The question is what about apps not provided by Microsoft? Windows has been fighting it out with BlackBerry for third place in the software market. The Windows Phone apps store remains mighty scarce territory. The most recent business-related apps, Dropbox, is certainly welcome, but extremely late to Windows Phone.

Easier than Apple. Microsoft’s pledge in the Windows 10 reveal is that code will run on all devices across the Windows range. The unified operating system is a valuable move; it may make things a bit easier than for developers of Apple products who need to work in OS X  for PCs and iOS for iPhones and iPads (plus Windows for PCs). But it is still going to take a great deal of work to do versions of an app to work properly, and easily, in both PCs and phones. The Windows Phone segment has to get a lot bigger to make developers see it as worthwhile market. And if users are expected to use their Windows Phones for both business and personal purposes, building appeal will call for a lot of apps.

HoloLensDespite the challenge facing Microsoft, this was a sound decision. The alternative was to get out of the phone business, struggle in the tablet segment, and be stuck in a PC business that shows little prospect for growth. From Windows Phones to HoloLens and the Surface Hub, Satya Nadella is determined to rebuild Microsoft, and there’s no chance of winning without taking on some serious risks.

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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Windows 10”

  1. “The alternative was to get out of the phone business, struggle in the tablet segment, and be stuck in a PC business that shows little prospect for growth.”

    Or the other alternative is the following:

    1. Make Windows 10 a first-class citizen for desktops / laptops / enterprise users

    2. Transition the company from having the future rely be dependent on Windows to being a world class cloud provider & dependent on Azure + Office + Dynamics + Bing

    3. Have the above services be first-class citizens on Windows PC’s, Macs, iOS & Android devices

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