This week, I’m at the Microsoft Windows Creative Edition launch, which is coupled with a heavy dose of Surface updates. What I think is most interesting about this event is that you finally get a sense that software and hardware at Microsoft are working together, like hardware and software work at Apple.
Microsoft’s historic advantage has been its ability to use companies like Dell, HP and Lenovo as partners to control and dominate the PC market. But its disadvantage has been that the software/hardware experience has been disjointed and not as seamless as it has been with Apple.
Surface, Microsoft’s own hardware platform, did create conflicts with partners that weren’t appreciated but it also created the promise that eventually the two parts of the solution would shift from embarrassing discord to a solution in harmony. At this event, my core takeaway is that this is finally happening and, I think, this will eventually help all Windows hardware.
In addition, with this edition of Windows, Microsoft is again focused on the people who use Windows. This focus was core to the success of Windows 95 but somehow got lost, a loss that was particularly noticeable with Windows ME, Windows Vista and Windows 8. Users drive software updates and this coming update is focused on pushing the boundaries of 3D, much like Windows 95 pushed the boundaries of productivity.
Let me walk you through the launch.
Creation in 3D
We saw a problem with the emergence and failure of 3D TVs. There just wasn’t any compelling content and the tools to create it were difficult to learn, lacked standards and were extremely expensive.
As we move from flat panels into things like artificial reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), we increasingly need to work with 3D objects. If users don’t have tools that are easy to use, where they can easily share the result and where people are inspired, these new platforms will fail as well. This is what is motivating Microsoft to pivot Windows and, much like Office addressed a need for comprehensive productivity tools, this latest version of Windows is designed to help users create the objects they’ll need to enable the coming world of 3D immersive objects, ranging from those that only exist virtually to those that can be 3D printed into the real world.
Microsoft’s surveys indicate that Generation Z wants this capability badly, and if it can address this need, it will fuel a resurgence in the PC space. This version of Windows, therefore, isn’t for the current generation of users but the coming generation and, to be fair, those in the current generation who haven’t aged out of wonder.
The app that Microsoft has focused on is Microsoft Paint. This product, a free feature in Windows, is now 3D-enabled, giving it additional functionality while not significantly increasing the skills needed to use it. Coupled with a new service, Remix 3D, a social network where people share 3D content, and SketchUp (a Microsoft partner), users can build 3D images using a blend of their own content from third parties.
The demonstration was surprisingly compelling. The presenter took a blend of elements and, in a few minutes, was able to publish an animated GIF and post it on Facebook where it rotated in 3D when done. Much of this same capability is available in PowerPoint, where you can insert 3D objects and position them in three dimensions. For instance, you can take a 3D image of a tree and rotate it in all three dimensions to not only create the perfect angle but animate the result. So, for instance, an image of a car could be rotating in full 3D while you’re talking about it. If you then had access to HoloLens, or a mixed-media headset, you could interact with these created objects in the real world. That image of a car could be seen in your own garage, or an image of a bar stool could be placed virtually in your home, or with VR glasses, into a virtual world.
HoloTour and Cheaper VR Glasses
This was an interesting demonstration. This feature, created initially for HoloLens, also works with VR glasses, and allows people to go to distant places virtually and experience them as if they are there. HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus and Acer will be shipping VR glasses starting in the $200 range so that people can enjoy VR more affordably. Right now, VR with the PC is pretty pricey, costing for an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift around $1K and, I can tell you from experience that they are a pain to set up.
You folks may not care about gaming, but your CMO may. The ratings on traditional sports TV shows have been dropping sharply while the number of viewers watching video games online has been growing. For many of the larger tournaments, video games pull larger audiences than the NFL does. Windows 10 and the Xbox make it far easier for players to broadcast individual play and create tournaments. Sadly, this all likely means your kids are going to want both an Xbox S and a new 4K HDR TV for Christmas. Fortunately, both are cheaper this year.
People at the Center of Windows
An interesting update with this version of Windows is that the top people you communicate with are in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. If you want to communicate or share with them, you either click on them or drag what you want to share onto their image, making the sharing process vastly simpler and easier. I expect the security folks will want to take a look at this because the likelihood that an employee will share something that is confidential will be higher. However, if you regularly share with co-workers or your boss, this will also make that process far faster and easier. This feature aggregates your communications apps so you can more quickly see when they communicate with you and you can more rapidly respond in the app of your choice.
Wrapping Up: Lessons for Vendors
There is a lesson here (actually several) for vendors, regardless of product. There is much more excitement in the room for this version than is typical at a Windows offering. This is because Microsoft is again focusing on the users, and users drive products. Microsoft has found a couple of areas where products are lacking -- 3D creation and communication -- and pushed the envelope. Suddenly, Windows has gone from being out of date to being relevant again, at least in this room, and if a firm is going to survive and flourish, it has to keep its product current and relevant. Microsoft forgot that for a while. It’s nice to see that it has remembered it again.
I’ll cover the hardware in my next post.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+.