It’s a post-Windows world, and Microsoft knows it.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Build 2018.
What do you do when, after you dominate a generation of computing, you then lose an entire platform war?
If you’re Microsoft circa-Steve Ballmer, you double down. After Ballmer infamously pooh-poohed the iPhone, then watched Windows Mobile slither into irrelevance, the then-Microsoft CEO insisted on a ‘Windows everywhere’ strategy. On Ballmer’s vision board, everyone would work on a Windows device, post-PC editorials be damned.
If you’re Satya Nadella, however, now-CEO of Microsoft, the strategy seems to be, well, not Windows. It’s not a burial, but Nadella is facilitating a conscious decoupling from Windows as Microsoft’s central axis.
This post-Windows Microsoft was obvious at Build 2018. But what preceded the annual developer conference was more indicative. Two months prior, Microsoft announced yet another reorganization. It was the fourth major shuﬄe in the past five years, but Windows’ most significant yet. For the first time in Microsoft history, not a single division was left to devote itself to Windows.
The ‘Windows and Devices Group’ split into ‘Experiences & Devices’ and ‘Cloud + AI.’ Windows and Devices chief, Terry Myerson — a 21-year Microsoft veteran, mind you — left the company as part of the reorganization. In a memo to the troops announcing the change, Nadella was clear about Microsoft’s current priorities: the cloud and artificial intelligence.
In other words, it’s not about everyone, everywhere, working on Windows machines (although that would be nice for Microsoft). It’s about everyone everywhere working with Microsoft’s services, regardless of device. Whether you’re on Windows or macOS, for example, Microsoft wants you to know you can still run Oﬃce 365. And whether you’re launching an app on iOS or Android, Microsoft wants you to know you can scale it on Azure. Incidentally, Microsoft renamed Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure, the year Nadella took over as CEO.
Take Timeline, which was recently introduced on Windows 10. Timeline tracks your apps and activity and syncs across Windows 10 devices. Think of it as an in-depth History tool for your PC that lives in the cloud. At Build 2018, Microsoft announced that Timeline will soon be on iOS and Android. If you use Microsoft’s apps on these devices, you’ll be able to continue on mobile what you did on a desktop, and vice versa.
You can draw a straight line from the lost Windows Mobile to this ‘Microsoft everywhere’ strategy. If you can’t dominate devices, then why not dominate the services that these devices touch? And why not be the dominant back-end that these services run on as well?
It’s a cognizant strategy, but Microsoft has its work cut out against it. While Oﬃce remains a leading productivity suite, it’s hard for prospective buyers to argue against Google’s triumvirate of free oﬃce apps; Docs, Sheets, and Slides. And Amazon Web Services still owned the majority of the cloud computing market in 2017, with Microsoft Azure coming in second.
But Nadella’s Microsoft seems remarkably able to imagine a post-Windows world, and Build 2018 was saturated with announcements that proved it. And the things Microsoft is doing, as a result, appear self-aware, coherent and forward-thinking. Not terrible things to double down on at all.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM BUILD 2018
YOUR PHONE APP ON WINDOWS 10
The new Your Phone app for Windows 10 will let users access texts, photos, and notifications from their smartphones on a PC. You won’t just be able to read text messages, you’ll be able to type your responses. Microsoft says this app will support iOS and Android, to varying degrees.
TIMELINE FOR IOS AND ANDROID
Timeline will soon be supported on iOS and Android. If you use the same apps on phone and desktop, you’ll be able to go into your activity history and pick up where you left oﬀ. Timeline will be part of the Microsoft Launcher on Android, and in the Edge browser on iOS.
MICROSOFT LURES DEVELOPERS WITH MONEY
Microsoft is taking a smaller cut of the money for apps sold on the Microsoft Store. It used to take 70 percent, but in some cases, developers can now keep up to 95 percent of the revenue. It’s a better deal than either Google or Apple, which take 30 percent of the revenue from developers.
THINK ‘SETS’ NOT TABS
Microsoft will introduce a new feature called ‘Sets’ in the next version of Windows 10. It’s a system-wide tab system that lets you group apps into a single window or Set. The set will work like a modern browser, with separate apps occupying individual tabs.