Windows RT and Surface Tablets are Dead

Here’s why I’m sad to see them go…

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Its clear to me that Microsoft really tried to create a total converged device with Windows 8 and its Surface RT product. Its also clear to me that the computing public – both consumers and tech pundits alike, myself included – totally panned, bashed and otherwise lambasted the OS to the point where Microsoft scrapped its roadmap, dropped back and brought back not only the desktop, but the Start Button and Start Menu as well.

The mobile strategy was simple, really… build and market a product that could compete with Apple’s iPad line of consumer tablets so that Microsoft wouldn’t miss out on the tablet revolution that was sweeping the nation (back in 2012 when the tablet revolution was in full swing).

Unfortunately, Microsoft failed. Back in the 1990’s you’d never even think of anyone thinking those words, let alone typing them on a web page that would be read by ba-gillions of people. Today, however, the tables have turned on Microsoft and their mobile strategy, well… it just sucks.

Windows Phone never caught on in the States, which is unfortunate, because the mobile OS is very capable and does what it does very well. Microsoft thought, erroneously, that they could combine the success of the desktop products with the tablet form factor and give everyone a product that would be a home run. I’m certain it sounded good in the Board Room when it was pitched, too. Unfortunately, this is where Microsoft missed the boat.

They thought that people wanting to bring their iPad to work meant that they really wanted a TabletPC. They don’t. They want a tablet that can do some PC-like things; but they still want a tablet. Microsoft, I think, got that; but maybe not so much.

Windows RT was an experiment that didn’t quite make it because Windows on ARM, or WoA as it was originally called, couldn’t run all of the desktop apps that everyone had been using and amassing for years. Users of Windows RT and Surface RT tablets couldn’t install their familiar applications and Microsoft was never able to convince its 3rd party development partners to release any software for the platform. Thus the death of a platform.

They just couldn’t leave the desktop alone. Putting a desktop on a product that didn’t have any desktop apps didn’t make any sense and really kinda tanked – and eventually killed – the product. Nobody could EVER figure out what it was supposed to be.

uC15s

However, if Microsoft had just embraced the iPad-like need that their customers were telling them they wanted, and made Windows RT more like Windows Phone, then they may have had a chance on making the product work. The in betweeny thing that RT really tried to be – a bridge between the TabletPC/ desktop world and a more productivity-based, consumerization of IT device – just didn’t work and as I said, confused nearly everyone, Microsoft included. They ended up concentrating more on the Surface Pro product line, as it followed the standard desktop PC paradigm they were used to seeing and working with.

However, I can’t help but think of what Windows RT really could have been if it did what it should have done. I really think that Apple has the right model. iOS is very similar to OS X. It just lacks a few key support items and features, but its really very close to Apple’s full blown, desktop OS. While those differences do require developers to make mobile counterparts to their venerated desktop programs and apps, Microsoft has been struggling (until Windows 10) with how to make that work. They really only wanted developers to HAVE to make a single app if they wished (hence the whole “universal app” concept in Windows 10).

But if Microsoft had totally ditched the desktop on Windows RT devices, which confused and befuddled users, and didn’t really permit them to DO anything that they could do on their Desktop machines, and figured out a way to have Phone apps run on RT, who knows what could have happened to the product.

We *COULD* have had a Windows based tablet that was a real and true iPad competitor. With a clarified and solid marketing strategy that differentiated and defined exactly what “Windows Mobile” was (Windows Phone plus Windows RT), Microsoft could have had a platform that may have been able to compete with both Apple AND Google’s Android. It could have been really cool.

And that’s why I’m a bit bummed. I saw an article on Computer World that says all signs point to the death of Windows RT, and they’re right. Microsoft isn’t going to provide an update path to Windows 10, though they will have some kind of update released to sort of bring it close.

I have no idea what that sentiment means. I have no idea what Microsoft is really going to do with Windows RT. I don’t think THEY know what they are going to do with Windows RT. However, its clear… they need to do something, and they need to provide some way for users to either use the hardware they invested in, or provide a way to spring board into Surface Pro (maybe some kind of hardware trade up program..??)

But it could have been cool… Unfortunately, the technology world is full of “could have been cool’s” from over the years. In the end, we’re just going to have to wait and see what Microsoft wants to do.

Goodbye Windows RT… We really never knew you or what the heck you were supposed to be.

What do YOU think Microsoft should do with Windows RT and Surface RT and Surface 2? Should it all be scrapped? Should Microsoft provide some kind of premium trade up program? Should they do anything else? Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion Area below and give me your thoughts on the whole situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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The Pomp and Circumstance of Windows 9

It won’t be as big a deal as you might think, if all goes as planned.

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Microsoft is truly experiencing some monumental growing pains. Over the past seven years, its produced three version OS revisions – Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Two of the three releases – or 66% of their Windows related releases – were train wrecks. Thankfully, Office, though struggling to remain relevant with so many different and available free alternatives on the internet, hasn’t been as big of a problem.

Windows on the other hand… yeah. Microsoft will be happy to be past once of their more recent and much bigger OS mistakes. With their next release of Windows, currently known as Threshold, Microsoft is going to take a much different approach. Hopefully, they’ll be able to wash the stigma of Windows 8 away when Threshold makes its initial, public debut at the end of September – beginning of October 2014 with its Developer or Public Preview (whatever they decide to call the release).

According to Larry Dignan, Windows Threshold has a few key, critical points it needs to accomplish

– Microsoft needs to allow Windows 8 to die. The Vista analogies are really starting to be problematic
– Windows needs to find a way to be more touch centric
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate its ecosystem into its core functionality
– Windows needs to find a better way to incorporate faster releases into is development methodology
– Windows need to find a better way to be cloud focused

Obviously, Microsoft is hoping to find a better way to do all of these things with Threshold than with Windows 8; but as I said its not just Windows 8 that they need to live down, its much of what has happened with Windows since the release of Windows Vista in 2007, nearly 8 years from the initial introduction of Threshold. In this way, they can (hopefully and) finally leave Windows 8 behind.

While Windows has been touch capable since the original introduction of the TabletPC in 2000, the operating system hasn’t been really touch-centric at all. With the introduction of the iPad in 2010, Apple changed the way people interacted with their computers. Keyboards and mice are no longer required. Your finger is now your mouse, and an on-screen keyboard is great for short typing tasks. However, Windows really needs to change the way users interact with their computers. Right now, while you CAN use your finger to point and click, Windows isn’t optimized for touch, and its main method of interaction is not touch based (and that’s the biggest reason why Windows 8 is an Enterprise non-starter…). Until Windows is finger friendly, its going to have a problem in the consumer market where touch is becoming more mainstream.

One of the biggest problems Windows currently has is that its ecosystem is full of holes. Microsoft tried to lock it down with the implementation of Windows RT and the Windows Store; but as RT is a huge non-starter, I don’t see how Microsoft plans to fill them if the solution has anything to do with RT, but that’s another story.

Microsoft still has to figure out what to do with media – music, movies, TV – related content and how to bring that into both their mobile app and desktop app stores. Until they crack this nut, there’s going to be a huge problem with content sales in the Microsoft ecosystem. Currently, its very disjointed and very problematic. Whatever they do, they need to make sure that the store is unified and has content for both Windows Phone and Desktop Windows.

Microsoft’s development methodology and release schedule is also a concern at this time. They need to figure out how to provide more rapid releases; but they need to do it in a way where speed isn’t the only thing that people should see coming out of a new release schedule. Microsoft has to provide meaningful updates, features and patches quickly, in the same manner as Apple and many of the Linux distributions do.

There are rumors about Microsoft doing away with Patch Tuesday. While this may be a good thing – Microsoft needs to change the way the public views Windows and Windows Update – its got to be implemented the right way. Quicker is not necessarily better. Microsoft needs to figure out a way to eliminate security holes and other high ranking bugs internally, before they get out to the public.

To this end, they’re remaking the way they do testing. As this is an area of expertise for me, I’m interested in what they do and how they do it. Whatever their solution is, it needs to inspire a renewed sense of confidence in not only Windows and the rest of Microsoft’s products, but with the way Microsoft does business; and ultimately, in Microsoft itself.

Finally, Windows, and ultimately Microsoft, needs to find a way to be more cloud focused. Having a cloud based storage tool – Microsoft OneDrive – isn’t enough. Windows is local storage based and has been since 1990 blah, blah, blah. They need to figure out a way to be more cloud focused with their apps as well as with the data. Simply putting the data in a Dropbox-like cloud-based drive isn’t enough to make either Windows, Office, or any other Microsoft app, cloud focused. Cloud focused does not mean remote vs. local storage.

Microsoft has to provide a way to create and provide cloud based services that either don’t exist on the traditional Windows side of the world, or they need to provide new ones that replace their traditional products and services. Office 365 is a start, but its not the end of the story.

In the end, the results that Microsoft hopes to see and get from all of this is a de-emphasis of Windows – and every other Microsoft product, including Office – and a reemphasis on Microsoft as a company, service producer and cloud-based solution provider. To that end, you’ll notice that the next version of Windows as a product will be surrounded by less pomp and circumstance than previous versions; and that will be a very good thing. If there’s one thing that Satya Nadella knows, it’s the cloud. He’s been living in it for quite a few years at Microsoft. Hopefully, this new strategy will help Microsoft turn a corner and get its groove back.

What do you think? How should Microsoft handle the release of the next version of Windows? Should it be as cloud focused as I’m saying it should be? Is the status quo for Microsoft good enough? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and give me your thoughts on all of this? I’d love to hear from you.

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One Windows OS (to Rule them All)

App windowsConfirmed – Windows RT to be cut from the Windows catalog.

I love my friends who cover Windows, namely Preston Gralla, Mary Jo Foley and Ed Bott.  They really know their stuff; and they have a number of contacts on the inside, where it counts, that provide them with some awesome insight. Today, I learned something “new.”

Windows RT is going to die.

Well, nearly EVERYONE knew that already; but today we were made aware of a couple interesting statements from Microsoft that all but confirmed it.

The Verge reported that Julie Larson-Green stated at the UBS Global Technology Conference that, “we have Windows Phone OS. We have Windows RT and full Windows.  We’re not going to have all three.”  Further, Terry Myerson, now heading up the Windows Group at Microsoft stated, “we should have one set of developer APIs on all of our devices…all of the apps we bring to end users should be available on all of our devices.”

Since Windows RT can’t run Windows desktop apps, and won’t, this indicates that the vision here is to have one Windows OS that will run on all devices, including phones, tablets and PC’s.  Since Dell has proven that a Windows Pro device can be just as miserly on battery life as a Windows RT device with its Venue 8 Pro, running Windows 8.1, it’s clear that MS is speaking directly about Windows RT.

Further, since Microsoft took a $900M charge against unsold Surface RT devices and forced Ballmer out, logic dictates that the shelf life of Windows RT and Surface 2 (not Surface Pro 2) are limited.  Consumers have repeatedly indicated that they don’t like the ARM based OS that doesn’t run standard Windows desktop apps.  This was just a matter of time on Microsoft’s part.

If I recall correctly, MJF indicated during a Windows Weekly podcast last month that this was going to happen, but the details have changed slightly. It’s easier to simply kill RT and then move Windows Phone and Windows to a single platform that it would have been to combine all three into a newer or single platform. The whole idea behind RT was to create a tablet platform, but Microsoft missed the boat when it created a separate platform instead of merging Windows Phone and RT together.

Since RT is going to die, and they’ll be merging Phone into Desktop Windows, it’s going to be a LOT easier for developers to create apps and games that can run on either platform. It’s going to make developing and selling apps a lot easier as well.

What do you think? Is this the right move for Microsoft? Why not join in the discussion below, and let us know what you think?

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Bricked WinRT Devices Causes Removal of 8.1 Update #1

Microsoft is just NOT having a good go of things…

surface_largeWindows 8.1 hit the streets a few days ago and there are a number of people who are having problems with both the Windows 8.1 RT and Windows 8.1 Pro updates not entirely working right. Things are so bad on the Windows RT side of the house that Microsoft has pulled the update from the Windows Store until further notice. The update has been reported to brick some windows RT devices.

The problem doesn’t occur with every Windows RT device, but there really isn’t a way to know if your device will brick or update correctly. The official statement from Microsoft attributed to a “Microsoft Spokesman” indicates,Microsoft is investigating a situation affecting a limited number of users updating their Windows RT devices to Windows RT 8.1. As a result, we have temporarily removed the Windows RT 8.1 update from the Windows Store. We are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and apologize for any inconvenience. We will provide updates as they become available.”

The problem seems to be wrapped around a BSoD connected to the recovery image that gets created on the device. When the device tries to reboot, many users get the following error message: “Your PC needs to be repaired. The Boot Configuration Data file is missing some required information.”

Microsoft is still working on a permanent fix for the problem. They’ve posted a Surface RT recovery image to the Microsoft Download Center that is supposed to help users with this problem unbrick their device. However, there’s still no official word on when the final fix and the Windows RT 8.1 update will be made available in the Windows Store again.

read Update #2

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Ballmer – Forced Out or Retired?

There are a number of credible rumors running round the internets on Steve Ballmer’s announced retirement.

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Steve Ballmer announced that he was retiring as Microsoft’s CEO last week. This is surprising and not so surprising at the same time.  As soon as the announcement hit, though, many people started speculating on what had happened.  Ballmer had mentioned retirement before, but not until 2018 or so.

There are two credible rumors that caused Ballmer’s ouster that I want to concentrate on with this column. Both are related, but in many ways have their own lives – the $900M Surface RT write down and Ballmer losing Bill’s support. I’m going to hit these briefly, because, quite honestly, there’s a great deal to ramble on about here…

$900M Surface RT Write-Off
The write off is old news; but very likely the cause that brought Ballmer down. I don’t care who you are, or what company you work for. If you’re the captain of the ship and get hit by that photon torpedo, either you or the ship is going down (or both, depending on the company). Thankfully, Microsoft can weather the storm, but it’s clear, they’re going to get a new captain.

Please remember that the RT hardware isn’t bad. I think both Surface tablets are decent, but it’s the tablet/desktop convergence that is the problem. It has confused and confounded users from the beginning. Microsoft is having issues shedding its traditional computing model, and that contributed to the write off and Ballmer’s downfall,

I’m not surprised, though. Ballmer has NEVER understood mobile computing. It’s the major reason why they continued to come behind RIMM (now Blackberry) back in the early to mid PocketPC/Windows Mobile days, and why Windows Phone, while considered by many to be a superior mobile platform, doesn’t have any real market share to speak of.

Interestingly enough, I wrote to Steve Ballmer 13 years ago and offered my services to him and Microsoft.  I got a letter back from his office saying, “thanks but Steve’s got this.” I am in no way saying I could have prevented this from happening, but either Ballmer wouldn’t listen to mobile strategists or they were afraid to stand up to him and tell him he was wrong. It’s too bad; and hopefully the new Microsoft and now new CEO will change the culture.

I’ve been calling for Ballmer’s ouster for years. It’s too bad it took a $1.0B finance hit to make it happen.

Ballmer Lost Bill’s Support
The other big rumor going around is that Steve lost Bill’s support at the Board level. Up to now, Steve’s had it. Bill – though not part of the day-to-day at Microsoft any longer – handpicked Ballmer to succeed him and has supported him throughout his tenure as CEO – until now.

It’s sad that it took nearly $1B US reasons for Bill to withdraw his support, but I honestly think it’s overdue.  As I mentioned, Ballmer has never understood Mobility or Mobile Computing. If he did, it’s clear that Windows Phone would have had a different product development path. Windows CE/Windows Mobile wouldn’t have hung around so long, and received such lack-luster internal support. Changes to Microsoft’s standard, PC platform would have come earlier than as part of Windows 8; and most certainly, Windows XP would have had a much different life cycle than it did.

Now, there’s a lot in that last paragraph that doesn’t necessarily deal directly with mobile computing, but a different mobile strategy would have effected a LOT more than just mobile OS and mobile devices at Microsoft.

At the End of the Day
I hope the new Microsoft CEO comes from outside the organization and brings a new point of view and mobile computing outlook to the organization. I hope that they understand what the consumer wants, what the enterprise will accept and isn’t afraid to put both chocolate and peanut butter together. While mobility isn’t ALL about CoIT at this time, it’s too much of a consideration not to have someone at the helm that doesn’t understand it.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this Microsoft development in the comments, below.

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Microsoft to Update Surface Devices

Redmond isn’t giving up on RT; and will also update Surface Pro in FY2014

mwpMicrosoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference concludes today (2013-07-11). There’s been a ton of information that has been disseminated, but one of the most interesting points came during a presentation from Microsoft’s COO, Kevin Turner – Microsoft is planning some updates to both its Surface tablets during FY2014.

When you look at the slide, it’s clear that not only is Microsoft planning to introduce new Surface RT and Surface Pro accessories, in multiple colors, but its planning on updating the tablets as well. Intel recently released its Haswell processors, and I would expect the next version of Surface Pro to use this processor.

Surface RT, which uses ARM based processors, doesn’t have a clear upgrade path at this time.  The Verge is reporting that MS is giving serious consideration to using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor in the next version of the consumer tablet.  According to The Verge, Microsoft has been testing Windows RT 8.1 on RT tablets powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor.  The chip has LTE connectivity on-board, so Microsoft may be planning to include mobile broadband support with the next version of Surface RT.

Nearly everyone who uses a Surface RT or Surface Pro tablet likes the clickable Touch and Type keyboards that are available for them. However, the devices, Surface Pro specifically, lacks a docking station.  Microsoft has officially stated that it won’t be releasing one. However, third party providers may release one.  MS has promised, however, “future peripherals that can click in and do more.”  What that means, specifically remains to be seen, but we should know well in advance of the Holiday Buying Season.

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Et tu Blue-te..? – Is Windows 8.1 Your New Best Friend?

The Public Preview of Windows 8.1 is out. Is it what we really wanted and needed, or not? Here are my initial impressions of the revamped OS.

Introduction

Microsoft has taken a huge beating over its implementation of Windows 8.  The problem isn’t the OS itself, which is fast and very much, (user noticeably,) bug free.  The problem is its hybrid user interface that works well with its Surface RT, or more tablet oriented hardware; and not its Surface Pro (which is more an ultrabook than a tablet) or 3rd party desktop machines.

When asked, I usually offer the following advice – if the PC your considering purchasing or upgrading doesn’t have a touch screen, don’t bother with Windows 8. Its just going to frustrate the daylights out of you.

In response to this (consistently reported, user) issue, Microsoft has introduced Windows Blue, now formally called, Windows 8.1.  While simply a point-release, many are calling Windows 8.1 a major release and not a simple upgrade.  Is it the Microsoft operating system you’ve been waiting for?  Will it save Microsoft and bring them back to the land of relevance; or is it simply prolonging the inevitable? Let’s take a look and find out.

Major Changes

There are several changes to Windows 8 in Windows 8.1.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to highlight the most obvious changes to this article. If I’ve missed something, I’d love to hear what you have to say in our comments and reactions section. A link to that area can be found near the bottom of the article.

Start Screen

Believe it or not, there are some really nice changes to the Windows 8.x Start Screen in Windows 8.1.  The biggest and best change is its new tile sizes. For tiles like Weather, Finance, Sports, etc. large tiles are truly awesome. They give you full access to scrolling data (though they don’t always update like you would expect them to, especially after you’ve run the associated app…)

Tiles can now also be placed in named groups.  For example, you can put all of your Office tiles together and name the grouping with an appropriate name.  Any tiles can be grouped with others in custom groups.  Placing tiles is still a bit tricky, and I’d really like to have more control over that.  Tile sizes aren’t always available for all tiles, either, which seems silly; but again, that’s just me.

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All Apps Screen

If the live tiles just don’t do it for you and you’d like a lot more functionality at your fingertips, you can have the Start Screen go right to the All Apps Screen.  This is really great for PC’s that don’t have touch.

Like the Start Screen, the All Apps Screen, is quickly accessed by clicking the down arrow at the bottom of the Start Screen, and is also customizable.  You can arrange apps in groups, making it easier to find them without searching. Also, note the “new” designations on recently installed apps.

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The Start Button (not Start Menu) Returns

Speaking of the Start Screen, I know that many people are excited, or think they’re excited, about the return of the Start Button.  If they are, they’re in for a bit of a disappointment.  The button may be back, but the functionality that everyone was really wanting, was the Start MENU, not the button.

The button is nothing more than a visual place for users to click to get to Windows 8.x’s Live Tiles or All Apps Screen. While many people were screaming for the return of the Start Button, what they were really wanting is Windows 7’s Start Menu, and it’s easy to use, easily understandable program layout and PC searching capabilities. Microsoft has apparently moved on from that and has embraced the tile paradigm.  They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

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More Noise about WinRT – Microsoft Getting in its Own Way

I’ve heard more noise about Windows RT needing to die over the past few weeks. It doesn’t need to die; but MS needs to get out of its own way…

windows-rt

Despite what everyone says, Windows RT doesn’t suck. It doesn’t… IF its viewed in the right way; AND if it gets a few needed tweaks.

I’ve heard recently that Windows RT holds just .04% of the market. I’ve also heard that analysts are urging Microsoft to dump the misunderstood OS in favor of Windows 8. While that may not be a bad idea, what most people are missing is that Windows RT could be very good at what it does IF and ONLY IF it were marketed as what it truly is – a tablet OS.

The OS is misunderstood. End users don’t understand that Windows RT is the Microsoft answer to iOS. Microsoft also didn’t help itself by using the Windows branding with it, either. To most PC users, Windows is Windows, and having Windows on a tablet is an interesting experience… Provided I can get all my software on it… or at least that’s what most users think.

Windows RT’s biggest problem – aside from a really weak to non-existent software store and an anemic ecosystem – is its Desktop mode. Its needs to leave that behind. Windows RT is NOT a desktop OS, and Microsoft needs to help users get over it. Everyone I know who has seen Windows RT doesn’t understand why they can’t get their older Windows apps to work on it.

Surface RT needs a marketing remake if it’s going to survive. It needs developer subsidies so that developers write RT based applications. And I mean USEABLE applications. Windows RT doesn’t need 50 bazillion different farting and pull my virtual finger apps.

Despite what everyone might think, I really believe that Microsoft has a decent chance to compete in the tablet market. However, it needs to make a few needed changes. If it can do that, then it can crack the tablet nut. Unfortunately, the marketing blitz needed is something that I really don’t think Microsoft is going to do, and that more than anything, is the biggest disappointment I’ve seen out of Redmond is a long time.

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