Foley on Microsoft

Does Everyone Still Need Windows?

With its latest Surface-branded hardware, Microsoft has made a concerted effort to attract creative professionals who have largely been Apple loyalists. At the same time, Microsoft wants to establish itself as champion of the masses and leader in inking and voice input.

So far, the ’Softies have targeted customers with deep pockets. By definition, Surface hardware needn’t be pricey. But to date, it is. At least for now, Microsoft is leaving the lower end of the PC market to its OEMs and those making Chromebooks.

Microsoft officials publicly continue to pooh-pooh Chromebooks. And according to the latest Futuresource Consulting numbers, the Windows share of the K-12 mobile computing market actually grew from 56 percent to 65 percent between 2015 and 2016. But in the United States, the Windows share held steady at 22 percent, while the Chrome OS share grew from 50 percent to 58 percent between 2015 and 2016. Apple’s share in both the worldwide and U.S. markets in K-12 is fairly minor.

There are some new sub-$300 Windows PCs made by various Microsoft partners that are meant to compete directly with Chromebooks. But here’s Microsoft’s dilemma: Many kids, price-sensitive users and first-time computing customers just don’t need traditional, native Windows apps and PCs. They can get by with basic Web apps, lighter-weight Universal Windows Platform apps and tablets or phones.

This is a big reason I believe Microsoft is playing up the "creative" angle with Windows 10 Creators Update. Windows 10 Creators Update running on full-horsepower PCs with native apps is tailor-made for video/music production, design-heavy applications, video gaming and mixed reality. Microsoft’s message: We’re all Creators and Creators need Windows 10.

The truth is we may all be creators (lowercase "c") to greater and lesser extents, but most don’t need big, brawny PCs, OSes and apps.

Many office workers, front-line service workers, academics and other typical computing users can happily suffice using Chromebooks or possibly just their smartphones. They -- or should I say "we," because I’m definitely among this group -- use computing devices to browse the Web, do some light creation/consumption tasks and communicate. Despite this reality, Microsoft continues to add features to all editions of Windows, which the majority probably will never need or use, such as the new Beam game broadcasting capability, Mixed Reality and 3D Paint.

Right now, Surface PCs and Windows 10 are overkill for many us. These days, I use Windows out of habit, not need, and surely I’m not alone.

It’s not just on the feature front that Microsoft seems a bit lost with Windows. Two years in, the company is still struggling to make Windows work more like phone/mobile OSes on the feature/fix front. Turning Windows into a seamless "service" is a "journey," but a rocky one for many of us so far.

This fall, Microsoft will have an opportunity to improve its Windows 10 positioning and lineup. It will include a new version of Windows 10 for ARM-based processors that will offer Win32 app emulation for those who need it. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this "Windows 10 Lite," but hopefully it will open the door for new, affordable Windows 10 mobile devices that aren’t padded with functionality most of us don’t need. At the same time, Microsoft’s Fall Windows 10 update, code-named "Redstone 3," may include some of the Continuum functionality that could make the OS more interesting for those who need to occasionally connect a mobile device to a larger screen, keyboard and mouse.

I don’t know what my next computing device will look like or which company will make it. Will it be a PC? A phone? Some new mobile form factor? Because I know Windows, I’m hoping it will run Windows in some form. But we billions of Windows PC users are Microsoft’s market to keep or to lose.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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