[This is an unpublished blogs I wrote around a couple of months. I never published it thinking I was giving too much wings to my crazy imaginations. But suddenly equally crazy rumors have started to surface about Windows 8, now called Windows Next. Surprisingly a lot of them talk on the lines of this blog. Therefore, as I sit 37,000 feet above the sea level, I suddenly have the feeling that this blog should be published right away! So here it goes!!! I have marked the latest news as “Update: …” and added lots of interesting links. But mostly I kept the blog as is. I also have a few more unpublished blogs, you should see them soon.]
Windows 7 had an awesome release, we sold it like crazy (didn’t affect the stock price though, well it never does!) and we raked in billions of dollars (I have no idea how much a billion dollar is but probably in 1 dollar coins it’s more than enough to fill the Windows team building up to the roof – twice. And here we are talking of several billion dollars). But this post is for the future and not the past. Although cynics would still like to believe that Microsoft is all about Windows and Office, it’s definitely Not. However the truth is, it’s still one of our most profitable franchise! Also from an investor point of view it still constitutes a major portion of our stock value.
With all the hoopla and expectations we see with every Windows release, I was thinking why not put in a list of my expectations from the Windows 8 team just for fun!
Before I start, we should clearly understand two things. One, Microsoft is already a super strong enterprise company (and we still don’t have major/no competitions there) and we are trying insanely hard (trust me) to be an even more successful consumer company. And we do have some stellar successes like Xbox, Kinect and we have some even bigger potential with Bing, Windows Phone 7, Office and Windows (yup as hard as you try to deny, they are one of the most used consumer software). And two, we are essentially, at our core, a software company (although we occasionally do do hardware if so needed). Therefore, this post is my journey towards understanding what we need to do to make Windows 8 as a strong pillar of support towards achieving that. To reiterate, these are just my personal thoughts. I would strongly request you to read this disclaimer before you read the rest.
My wish list
IPad is a roaring success, even kids know that, oh wait even my grandma knows about it! That speaks volumes. But hold on! We invented the tablet PC, we produced the first successful smartphone line. So what went wrong mid way? Honestly I don’t know. So I’ll try to take an informed guess.
Bill Gates as always was a visionary, he knew, he understood and he envisioned that one day the world will want computers as thin as a paper. But I think we came in too early to the market and the Hardware was not ready for touch and powerful computations in small form factors. We now understand that simples things like transition from resistive to capacitive screens can make huge differences. The whole tablet saga today is built upon three basic pillars:
Fit it light – No one wants to build a body carrying a dead weight around aka a laptop.
Good UX design FTW – It’s much easier to be a lazy bum, and let’s accept it’s uber cool!
Simplicity is the key – There is a genre of people who’ll want things to be utterly simple (if you ask a geek they’ll say utterly dumb!). They don’t want their machines to run Dooms Day, they are more than happy to just browse the Net or read a book or seldom ever run a game or a very thin application. Simplicity Rocks! And Consumers are essentially content consumers.
Whoa! If we notice the above list, it’s nothing but a feature list for an IPad. Let’s hand it over to the Apple folks, to give credit where credit is due, to make us consumers think this way about tablets, IPads == Tablets. Applause.
But is that all? I think… NO WAY! I believe we haven’t reached even a hundredth of the potential that tablets can be. So here’s a small list of things that are utterly doable but are still surprisingly missing. All it takes is a bunch of good developers, architects and designers. And I sincerely hope that Windows Next delivers them:
@Technically non-interested people, just skim through the points and move to the next section real quick! Read only the italicized sentences…
@Technically semi-interested people: Skip if you wish but some parts may be interesting!
@Utterly hopeless Geeks: You guys are as hopeless as me! So read through!
Screens and a cloud – We have been hearing long about the three screens and a cloud story. But honestly it hasn’t had much effect on my day to day life. Most of the interesting things we see today can at most be called proof of concepts. But there’s tremendous potential in the concept. With Windows 8 let’s achieve the first end to end story. Also, why be restricted to just 3 screens?
Let’s design Windows in a way so that ubiquitousness has it’s first stint of pure awesomeness! Wherever I see a capable screen I should be able to see Windows running. But mind it, in different (usable and scaled to fit) forms. It should be intelligent enough to understand what it’s running on and then fit it perfectly – no bloated edges please. Let’s complete that story.
More about the cloud part later.
Power of software – From when did simplicity start translating to poor platform support? Give me a break and don’t give me foolish justifications like ease of use! It is utterly possible to still develop a system which is super easy to use yet super versatile. It’s just that no one has ever tried it!
And for that well rounded device and platform support is a must. This should be an unique USP for Windows Next and is utterly missing in iOS or Android, for the simple reason that developing a versatile OS is not a child’s play. Air Printing and stuff should be strictly nice to have, I should just be able to plug in and make my devices work with any darn device in this world on any darn platform having any darn form factor. To give an analogy, an OS should be as fluid as water taking the shape of the vessel it’s put in; doesn’t matter what material the vessel is made up of.
I should feel equally powerful and capable using my laptop, desktop, smartphone, tablet, Xbox, fridge, TV, car, barbeque grill, toilet seat cover, face tissue…whatever! BUT, this should be done in such a way that we don’t complicate stuff the way we did with Windows Mobile train. It should be done in the same beautiful way we did with WP7 – beautiful, powerful, unique yet simple in design. We have proved that it can be done, so let’s do it again!
Keep the kernel split the shell – [Too technical…just skip!] Till date we have tried to port Windows 7 to the tablets essentially in the Application Layer. Since Windows 7 is not built up for touch/cloud/tablets grounds up, there are a lot of OS nuances that remains with the Application Layer. We need to create an OS grounds up to support those!
Technically we can split the Kernel code train. But I would not do that (caution: I am not an OS expert!). I would rather keep the same Kernel and make it support all major platforms (x86, x64, IA64, ARM, x128 etc.). This would open up for me an entire range of possibilities of having an OS that has the basic beating heart and therefore supports many architectures natively in the same way.
Therefore, for all core developers (like device driver developers, systems developers etc.) we can abstract away a whole lot of complexity. So let’s either fork the shell train or create a new abstracted shell which the developers can call in the same way on all platforms which in turn can call the platform dependent system calls(graphics/file IO/DDs), or possibly abstracted interrupts and BIOS calls. MSR also has a managed singularity OS, let’s see elements of that too.
Of course core device drivers still would need to be rewritten but we are saving a lot of pain and efforts for the developers. Also remember that in this way the apps written for one platform can run with minimal/no re-compile on other platforms. Way more versatile, way more easy, way more ubiquitous.
Update: Rumors are on that Windows Next will indeed have a new Shell called Modern Shell or Mosh. Don’t know what it’ll do though. But something stellar (and similar) I hope!
Enable serious Inputs/ ubiquitous input devices – It’s seriously difficult to use an onscreen key board for anything beyond casual browsing or typing. We need to improve upon the input devices. Well researched Natural User Interface design should be a primary goal. Integrate Kinect, surface gestures, support 3D hand gestures, Eye tracking, Virtual Reality. Make them native to the OS, open it up for the developers.
WP7 has got a great voice recognition engine, extend that. Handwriting recognition never took off because it’s difficult to do, but let’s try it again. Remember that studies show that an overwhelming majority of people are still faster in writing than typing. To prove the point, the short hand writers are still way faster than the fastest of typists.
Also here’s an idea, let’s promote a concept where Kiosks, Coffee shops, Airports, lounges, hotel rooms, homes will have a standard key board like they have phone chargers/ plugs today. Anyone and everyone can walk in with their PCs and just plug it into these devices. And these should work as USB devices work today. Plug in and Go! In this way we don’t need to lug around input devices, we just get them everywhere we go! Apple can never do that, they only support their own hardware, Google can do that but would need a lot of engineering/OEM investments to do that. We already have the infrastructure in place! Plug in and key in! Way to go!
Erase the Content Creators Vs. Content Consumers divide – While full OSs like Windows/Linux/OSX are directed towards content creators (like developers, designers, businesses), the tablet/smartphone OSs like WP7/iOS/Android are targeted towards content consumers (casual Net browsers, game players, essentially people not in the software field ). Both these markets are huge by their sheer respective numbers and are simply too large to be ignored. While most of the money is still in business, consumer market is rapidly growing. Also we should always remember that a happy consumer at home will always promote his/her commodities at office but seldom the other way round. Consumers are biggest word of mouth promoters and a consumer is a company’s biggest advocate (and yes sometimes fan boys).
So Windows Next should actually be able to support both these markets flawlessly (natively but through abstraction) because all other OSs cater to one segment or the other. As a business I don’t want a half baked OS with just pretty gimmicks. I want it hard core! And as a consumer I don’t want all those extra baggages. Cut them off, keep them optional! We need an OS that bridges this gap. That is the OS that will win this war!
To the cloud – One day Internet will be as easily available as Electricity is today. All cloud support we see today are primarily in the Application Layer. It makes utter sense to support cloud natively. If cloud is the future then an OS should be designed grounds up to support cloud.
For a start, I should be able to use my cloud storage as say just another hard drive of my computer. Partitions, files, folders et all! And that’s just one thing. Why not integrate the power of Bing search directly into the desktop? The OS should intelligently and abstractly decide what the system call should do and should then bring me the best of both worlds, user should not need to choose. And please no more stupid prompting!
Enable all our/3rd party cloud products to interact easily but securely with Windows. Imagine how much power we can provide to Windows user (consumer or business) if he doesn’t need to carry his laptop/tablet everywhere with him (note point 3 for ubiquitous input devices). His content should be ubiquitously available on any one of his machines/smartphone/Xbox/TV friends laptop/etc. The OS that achieve this and let the 3rd parties use them too will be best equipped for the future…
Enable Windows log in anytime anywhere through cloud – Use Live Ids (that’s one of the reason passport came for in the first place!) to be able to authenticate people into machines or create a new authentication model. There will be security issues, solve them.
I should be able to log in securely to any darn Windows machine in this world as if it was my own by just using my Live Id! I should be able to access all my publicly (cloud) shared programs software, files, contents from any computer in this world!Extend the roaming profile. Let my settings roam with me across devices around the world with me. I should always feel at home with any machine in this world. Yes Mac and Linux too! Because all they would need to be able to use the web login, even if it’s through a web connector. That is the power of the cloud! Let’s give it to the Users! Yay!
Also, create a new Native API stack for the Cloud. Calling the cloud stack should be as simple as making a Win32 call. I also have a name for it. Let’s name it WinSky ! To make things better make WinSky a wrapper layer on .NET. So extend core .Net libraries to the cloud.
Extend Marketplace support – Future of consumer computing is in personalized Applications. Henceforth people will use applications specific to their task. They will get them for cheaply tailored to their needs rather than buying costlier full blown Software.
Therefore it’s critical that we have a native support for Application development just as we did with Win32 and .Net. Windows Marketplace should be the one-stop-shop for App installation on all devices. And yes, apps should run on Silverlight just like it does on Windows Phone 7. Follow the .Net paradigm – “Write once run Everywhere”! Save the developers some pain and a vibrant eco system should be just a matter of months.
Update: It seems that this is already being built for Windows 8. And yes, it’s based on Silverlight! Yay!
Extend the Metro design language – Windows Phone 7 and Zune UI designs have been proven in the market and that too with a super high satisfaction rates of around 93% recommendation levels. By the time users get Windows 8, WP7 will be long in the market, so a major portion of people will be comfortable with the UI and the design language. So it’s practical to improve and extend Metro to the tablets but of course in the tablet form factor. But don’t forget to keep the existing Windows UI too but make it support super high graphics and as I now hear 3D too (but without those awful glasses please)! Update: This also seems to be happening!
Promote Hardware innovation – This is not related to Windows as a software but definitely related to Windows as a success. Let’s try to push the OEMs to bring in highly innovative hardware for the consumers (Nokia I am looking at you, you are my last hope!). Why should thunderbolt come to Macs first and then to Intel motherboards? Why can’t it be the other way round? We need to start caring what hardware users see and who brings them first. If it’s indeed a battle for mind share and being cool, let’s better push for it!
Will we be able to beat Apple/Google in the next generation OS war?
What? Wait a minute, we don’t need to beat Apple/Google in OS. Last time we checked we were still number 1 and by a crazy margin. Also tablet market is only supposed to be 10% of PC sales in 2015. Therefore the right question is that will we be able to make Windows future proof against the upcoming innovation trends?
The secret sauce of making software future proof is to be able to anticipate what’s round the corner and not what’s the craze now, but support it nevertheless. We have had our fair share of hits and misses. But the products we have launched in the last 2-3 years have been through and through great. Let’s build on that.
So here’s my bold prediction
To hell with studies and forecasts from analysts, tablets (strictly in current form) are grossly overrated. Period. No doubt they will form a big chunk of Hardware sales in the next few years, but they will hit the ceiling fast and hard and by that time we’ll already be preparing for the next-big-thing!
For me a computer is an Interaction Model. Whatever we do with them today, type, talk, touch, is just a manifestation of our external intentions. The form factor is not important, what is important is the power of the brain understanding those intentions. Today we interact with screens, tomorrow we may not, so it should not matter. We are already trying some cool stuff with Kinect. So the direction of future investments for any Tech company should be to build that brain. It may be through quantum/black hole computing or through extremely distributed computing or whichever model that suits. The brain is what will power the future, doesn’t matter what screen you give it. We should invest on computation. Toys can never dictate the direction of future computing, they can only be cool.
So, my bet there are only two companies currently in this world that will dictate the rules of future computing – Microsoft and Google. So we should continue to invest on computation before Google does.
Let’s build the Matrix. That is the last item in my wish list.
Am I possibly right? Only time will tell…
What should Windows Next be called?
The simplest can be Windows 8 or Windows next. Or as I aspire it to be as fluid as water, Windows Aqua? Or since it will blow away all the competition should it be called Windows Wind or Windows Hurricane?
I was in one of the sessions with Steve Ballmer where he was asked a (stupid) question – “Steve, every great software has four stages, one inception, two growth, three stability and four sunset. Which of these is Microsoft in?” Yeah, being Microsoft CEO is possibly one of the toughest jobs in the world, lol, but pat came Steveb’s reply – “There’s a different fourth stage, rebirth. Where you shed the old coat and wear a new. We are in that stage of being reborn.”. Let Windows Next be thus… the Windows Phoenix!