Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)

Windows 10

As the old saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. For Microsoft, coming off colossal missteps including, among others, Vista and 8, the question has been whether the company has the vision, capability and frankly the toughness to come back. The current context for the next version of Windows, called 10, is one in which PCs are heavily diminished in market penetration and where Google and Android have come to own nearly everything else.

Innovation is critically important, but simultaneously enormously challenging. You have to focus on creating future offerings, while not losing the customers that buy your products today. Microsoft has arguably never been among the best at this. The wait for the next Windows OS is being watched closely by a wide audience. It’s in this context that we’ll soon see whether Microsoft stays in the game, or falls still further behind.

What to Expect

I was at EDUCAUSE when the announcement of Windows 10 was made. Since then, Microsoft execs have let it be known that 9 was not released because it was too close to 8, so they opted for a number signifying more distance. Smart move.

Windows 10 is anticipated for release to market in summer or fall 2015. Expectations (and hopes) couldn’t be higher. Maybe nostalgia has clouded my memory, but I still remember DOS quite positively, along with Win 3.11 and even 95. Memories of recent Windows are generally far less positive; a sentiment shared by many. It’s little wonder research shows there are still twice as many XP as 8 systems in use.

What do we have to look forward to in Windows 10? First, Microsoft has realized it should listen to its customers, and particularly those who use Windows for actually doing work. As a result, the news overall is positive. No, Tiles haven’t been eliminated. But they are smaller and less bothersome. The Start button is back, and the Start Menu features frequently used apps and folders, and is somewhat customizable. There are also new features designed for ease-of-use, though they will likely prove initially confusing for some. Among these is an ability to create different virtual desktops, each with its own character and use. For example, users’ might choose to create a different virtual desktop for work, and another for personal use or entertainment.

A Task view button reveals open apps and windows for faster switching between work. Another feature allows for quickly snapping different windows to the four quadrants of the display; a faster way of maintaining multiple open windows. Multiple monitors are also supported.

On the less positive side, questions have arisen as to how well OneDrive, Microsoft’s well-executed cloud sync, will work in 10 because of options apparently still being developed.

One OS, All Platforms

With 10, Microsoft is further advancing its strategy to create a single OS across all platforms... all the more reason Microsoft is effectively betting the ranch on 10 doing well. A highly anticipated feature in 10 is Cortana, Microsoft’s answer to Siri and Google Now. Cortana is billed as a personal assistant based on artificial intelligence-like capabilities. It’s significantly integrated into 10, and supports both keyboard and voice interaction. Microsoft has reportedly invested heavily on the development of Cortana, including the use of big data to help create the intuitive responses and suggestions that are built into the product. It is also designed to be adaptive, basing its suggestions on what it learns about the user over time.

Another interesting strategy Microsoft is incorporating into 10, likely to be successful, is the inclusion of native entertainment capabilities, including a new Xbox app. A single, convergent device remains the Holy Grail, and Microsoft’s success with the Xbox is being leveraged here. Analysts have suggested this may mean a move to expand the Windows Store with music, video and TV along with apps and games. Microsoft has enormous ground to close in this area relative to competitors, but if well executed it could be a great move.

As noted recently in ExtremeTech, Windows 10 “isn’t going to drive some kind of PC renaissance.” At best, 10 may catalyze a round of delayed PC upgrades and purchases. But if Microsoft doesn’t capture a substantial share of the mobile market, along with other sectors (including cloud-based desktops), then it’s hard to see a better day for Windows — ever again. On the other hand, as noted in CNET recently, if Microsoft is able to “future-proof” Windows by having 10 run effectively on all platforms, then Windows may have life left. For now, 10 is likely to be a very good place for all of us to land who avoided 8.

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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