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Windows 10 S and Microsoft's Future

A few weeks ago, Microsoft held a press event to announce their new Education initiatives. While many focused on the high end hardware that was announced in the Surface Laptop, I am much more interested in the new version of Windows 10 that was announced: Windows 10 S.

Some have called Windows 10 S, "the future of Windows." I tend to agree. But I never think it will be the only version of Windows. Right now, at best, Windows 10 S will be the version of Windows your grandma, your parents, or your kids can use. But the "power users," the core of those who make up the creatives that Microsoft seems to be trying to cater to lately, will find the OS limitations a non-starter.

For those who still aren't aware, Windows 10 S, at it's core is a version of Windows that can only run applications delivered through the Windows 10 Store. The idea behind this is sound. It's the basic principal behind the iPad, iPhone, and Chrome OS (to a lesser extent). With a locked down operating system, users are less likely to run afoul of issues that plague current versions of Windows (See last week's WannaCry attacks as an example).

The Surface Laptop is still a big deal, don't get me wrong.
I personally feel that Windows 10 S is part of a larger, and longer play from Microsoft that will truly put it as the "preferred" version of Windows 10 going forward. Remember back at the unveiling of Windows 10? Microsoft said they hoped to have 1 billion devices running Windows 10 within just 2 years or so? Now they've since backed off that claim and at Build 2017 announced Windows 10 has cracked 500 million installs. The problem is Microsoft has fallen short, by half. At the same time, a few other interesting numbers were announced back in April by Apple. MacOS currently has 100 million active installs. Now this week at Google's I/O conference, they announced 2 billion active monthly devices running Android. One of these things is not like the others.

Google clearly has the edge when it comes to personal computing devices in the world right now. Android is the most popular computing platform in the world. Some guesstimates for the entire Windows ecosystem, counting every version still running is about 1.4 billion, still putting Microsoft 600 million devices short of Android. This is the larger issue. Microsoft has 500 million devices on their latest platform, of which basically 0% is in Mobile, where Android dominates and Apple has less than 20% global marketshare, but is hugely profitable. Microsoft has to find a way to pivot from being just a desktop OS, and Windows 10 S lays the foundation for the pivot.

As Windows Central has reported, Microsoft is building an adaptive shell for Windows 10. This basically means that the OS will be smart enough to know what kind of device it's being displayed on, and display a user interface that makes sense based on the screen size. This could mean some apps only work at certain sizes, where others would scale no matter the screen size. It's not hard to take the next leap and see now that Microsoft has begun porting Windows 10 to ARM, in the near future we could see PC/Phone hybrids that use ARM processors, running Windows 10 S with the the adaptive shell, utilizing Continuum, to allow for a phone and "full PC" experience.

With this approach, I see Microsoft looking to kill 2 birds with one stone. First, Windows 10 S attacks the markets its ready for today, education and Chromebooks, while offering a cheap but reliable option for those who only need basic PC and web functionality. Next, when Windows 10 on ARM is fully up and running by the end of this year, I see Microsoft moving to shake up mobile, offering a hybrid device that can do full PC tasks, and also fills the mobile needs for businesses and consumers.

Will Microsoft ever be able to make Continuum a thing?
If Microsoft can drive interest at the education level, that helps keep the next generation embedded in the Microsoft ecosystem while they grow up. This allows them to win back mind and marketshare from Google. It also provides a richer target for developers who thus far have largely shy'd away from developing native applications for Windows 10. Following that up with what Satya Nadella has called "the ultimate mobile device." A device that truly blends the portability and convenience of mobile computing we experience today, with the option for productivity and creativity we currently sit in front of a separate device for today, Microsoft may just have a chance to win a space back in the mobile game. 

Failure, means Microsoft slowly, but surely, is relegated to enterprises only. Not a space I would feel comfortable in when all the new startups decide to use Google services to run their businesses. Remember how I mentioned Apple has 100 million MacOS users? That's Microsoft in the future if they can't turn the corner. Windows will be used by businesses and small core group of consumers who enjoy using a PC. Apple right now is trying to figure out how to appease this small, but very vocal group of customers who have followed them from the beginning. Microsoft should take note, but be wary that they don't have the iPhone to fall back on like Apple does.

The road is long, and the mountain of 2 billion Android devices is high, but even the longest journey begins with one step forward. Here's hoping Microsoft has taken those steps with the launch of Windows 10 S.

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