Slide: 1 / of 2.
Caption: Terry Myerson Microsoft
Slide: 2 / of 2.
Caption: Terry Myerson, executive vice president, Operating Systems Group, and Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Operating Systems Group, take questions from the audience at a press and analyst Windows update in San Francisco, where they spoke about the next chapter of Windows and announced Windows 10 Technical Preview available on October 1. MicrosoftSkip Article Header. Skip to: Start of Article.
- Author: Cade Metz. Cade Metz Business Date of Publication: 10.01.14. 10.01.14 Time of Publication: 3:10 pm. 3:10 pm
Windows 10 Will Run Everywhere. But What Does That Mean?
Terry Myerson says Windows 10 will run on “the broadest range of devices ever,” from small “internet of things” gadgets set up in offices and homes, to game consoles, to handheld tablets and phones, to computer servers that drive websites and other business software inside massive data centers.
“Some of these devices have four-inch screens. Some of these devices have 80-inch screens. Some don’t have any screen at all,” Microsoft’s Windows chief proclaimed on Tuesday morning while unveiling an early version of its latest operating system at a press event in San Francisco. “Some you hold in your hand. Some you sit 10 feet away from and use with a controller or gestures. Some include a touchpad, some a mouse and keyboard. Some switch between input devices.”
All this sounds rather impressive. The question is what it actually means for the people and businesses interested in using the upcoming operating system—and that’s a question worth asking. As Myerson said during yesterday’s event, 1.5 billion people now use Windows in one form or another. But few use Windows on phones or tablets, it’s losing ground to the open-source Linux operating system in the data center, and relatively few businesses have moved to the latest flagship version of the OS, Windows 8. As it faces increasing competition—in various markets—from the likes of Apple and Google, Microsoft is fighting to maintain its place in the computing universe, particularly its place inside the world’s businesses.
According to David Johnson, an analyst with Massachusetts-based research firm Forrester Research, only about one-in-five businesses are currently offering Windows 8 machines to employees, and the older Windows 7 will reach the end of its life in 2020. “Microsoft has to give enterprises a reason to move to a new version before it becomes a crisis,” he says, warning that companies like Apple and Google will step into the breach.
That’s why Myerson is pitching Windows 10 as an OS that runs everywhere. At least nominally, Apple and Google still offer disparate OSes for disparate machines—Apple with Mac OS for desktops and iOS for mobile devices, Google with ChromeOS and Android. Myerson wants to show that Microsoft is doing something that others aren’t. But, really, what does his pitch ultimately mean? And how much does it matter?
Terry Myerson and Microsoft corporate vice president and Joe Belfiore take questions at the unveiling of Windows 10.
Basically, it means that the same core operating system code will run wearables, game consoles, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and servers—though, naturally, disparate devices will still offer different interfaces and other tools atop this core code. Microsoft has been moving in this direction for the past several years, and now, it seems, Windows 10 is taking things further.
But what does that mean? Well, Myerson tells WIRED it will ultimately lead to a more effective and reliable OS running across those myriad devices. “There’s quality that comes with scale,” he
tells WIRED. “The same code being on the client? There’s so much quality and reliability that can then go into the server.”
Certainly, he has a point here. But Microsoft sharing core code in this way is nothing new. Its server, desktop, phone, and game console OSes already use a lot of the same core code, and, well, this kind of thing happens all the time. When it comes right down to it, Apple’s Mac OS X and iOS use much of the same core code, though they’re separate OSes in many ways. Google’s ChromeOS and Android are both based on Linux.
Myerson also says that the new Windows 10 will allow software developers to more easily build applications that run across disparate machines, and that the company will offer a “universal” app store that serves all devices. You know, it’s the old “write once, run anywhere” pitch. “Developers can write once and target many systems,” Myerson explains. A coder could build an app that, say, runs on both a desktop and a tablet or both a wearable and a server.
But how often will that really be possible? How often will it be necessary? Microsoft hinted that the Xbox will be able to run more applications built for desktops and laptops, but it’s unclear how this will work. And it’s unclear how many developers will really want to build apps that span devices at opposite ends of the spectrum. “There are examples where the answer is a categorical ‘Yes,’ and there are examples where the answer is ‘Of course not,'” he says, when asked about the possibility of wearable/server apps. “But this is about allowing coders to make their code available in more places.”
The idea is that the ubiquity of Windows 10 will lead to more applications on all devices, but while “write-once, run-anywhere” is easy to say, it’s really hard to pull off. In fact, it’s near impossible. Microsoft already took a step down the “same code” road with Windows 8—the predecessor to Windows 10—offering the same core software on both desktops and mobile devices, but coders are still required to do a lot of extra work if they want to build an app that runs in both places. Microsoft may take another step forward with Windows 10, making it easier to build apps for multiple devices, but how far? Even if the different devices use the same core code, developers still have to make changes in building software for each one. After all, they’re different devices.
In the end, it’s not even about “write once, run anywhere.” Most developers write apps to make money, and they get paid when they write their software for devices that people crave. That’s been Microsoft’s great weakness in recent years. While the company has done some promising work with its Surface tablets and phones, for instance, coders don’t build a whole lot of apps for them because there aren’t a lot of people who use them.
Myerson and company want to change that. They want lots of people using all kinds of Microsoft devices, so they’re trying to bootstrap the prospects of each device using all the others. In some ways, that makes sense. But ultimately, it all comes down to how well each device works, whether there’s good reason to use it over something else. Windows 8 also sought to bridge the gap between disparate machines, but, says Forrester’s Johnson, people have been slow to adopt it, in large part because its interface—one of the things that tried to bridge the gap—ended up confusing and frustrating people.
The future of Windows 10 is not about how many different devices it will run on. It’s about how well it runs on each one.