Microsoft's approach to "Windows Everywhere" has actually led to confusing division in the products they offer — Windows 8 RT on ARM devices, which doesn't run any x86 applications, even though it has a 'normal' Windows Desktop alongside the Metro interface, and 'normal' Windows 8, which can run everything on bulky power hungry devices.
In addition, Microsoft has struggled to attract hardware manufacturers to its platform, so has resorted to building its own hardware. They are still struggling to compete though; Microsoft isn't a hardware company.
Apple is driving forwards in the client hardware direction. That is what they are best at. Microsoft is following them blindly, even though it is not their core strength. When looking at the overall technology trend recently and imagining where things might go, computing power is moving away from the client into the cloud. Longer term Apple might run out of runway as the client simply does not need to get any better, in terms of processing power.
Instead of following the crowd, Microsoft could, pardon the term, think different. This week Amazon announced AWS Workspaces, a managed desktop in the cloud. It should have been Microsoft making that announcement.
Here's my vision for Microsoft. Focus on developing Windows in the cloud — your computer is a cloud computer, and your hardware is a thin client. The advantages of this approach would be numerous:
- Client architecture agnostic — run Office on an ARM client
- Your desktop — files, settings, applications — shared across all your devices
- Run any software on any device — CAD on a tablet? No problem
- Extremely thin clients
- Very low processing power required, leading to...
- Industry leading battery life
- Thinner, lighter devices
- Devices focused on user experience and input/output rather than computation
- No Windows updates — it's in the cloud!
- Increased security
- Easy set-up of a new device
- Greener — devices only need replacing when they are broken, or a new display tech comes along.
- No boot time
- Backed-up continuously
Microsoft could ensure a continuous revenue stream with a subscription model, charging for applications like Office on a similar basis. This would allow for a continuous development cycle with rapid releases and refinement, and reduce the risk of security issues by removing the time to update. There wouldn't be any piracy.
Local networking wouldn't be required any more. Sharing things between devices is no longer a thing. If you are sharing to yourself...you don't need to, it's in the cloud. If you are sharing to someone else, you just send to their account and they already have it — it's in the cloud. USB sticks are a thing of the past.
As long as the thin client's connection is strong enough to receive the rendering information in real-time, then that's all the connection is needed for. Everyone's internet connection suddenly becomes cloud-speed — gigabits per second.
There are a number of potential problems with this. Remote Desktop and VNC offer a very low quality remote-desktop experience, even with a fast connection. This is because the rendered desktop image has to be compressed (heavily) then transferred frame by frame to the client. Perhaps A solution could be developed where most of the rendering is done client side, requiring minimal data from the server. On a reasonable internet connection this might deliver the same experience as a local desktop.
If Microsoft wants to win back consumers, it needs to skate ahead of the puck. This would truly be Windows Everywhere.