The Future is Windows 10

In May of last year I wrote about how the PC wasn’t dying, as people were claiming, but rather that the forms of our computing devices are simply changing. I also talked about how one day we’ll all have just one computer, say a smartphone, that will power every computing use case we’ll demand. Well, today Microsoft announced that they also believe this is the future and they are paving the way with Windows 10. Absolutely brilliant!

Windows 10 in a very small nutshell is going to have a unified operating kernel that will work on all devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops to desktops, from the smallest of screens to the largest of screens. The OS will detect the type of device it is running on and at the very least will modify the user interface to best take advantage of the form factor of the device. But perhaps it will also modify its own installation, so as not to install things that can’t be used by the device, but I’m not sure about this last part.

I’d like to say that I influenced Microsoft’s direction, but that’s incredibly naïve, as unifying Windows is a massive undertaking that has been in the works for years by thousands of people. It started with Windows 8, the Surface products, and Xbox One. And we’re seeing the next step with Windows 10. The possibilities are endless and I’m looking forward to seeing where this is going to take the computing world.

Project Spark Should Go Beyond Gaming

This year at E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft revealed a new game, or rather game making game, called Project Spark. Project Spark is a game that allows you to create your own game from the ground up, literally. From the landscape, to the characters, and their respective behaviors, Project Spark gives you the tools to build your own game. You’ll be able to play/design on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, and a Windows 8 machine. One demo I saw showed a guy using, what appeared to be, a 50″ or so touch display. He was using both hands to create a new world, drawing, dragging, inputting interaction parameters, etc.

Ok, so it’s a cool game, but why just a game? My first thought was this type of technology needs to be applied beyond gaming. Imagine city planners being able to draw out neighborhoods, business districts, entirely new cities even, with a tool like this. “Ok, how about putting city hall here, a business district here, some housing here, a few freeways…”. You can quickly design, visualize, and brainstorm ideas. If it doesn’t make sense, quickly change it or explore multiple scenarios.

Just doing a little brainstorming, here are some other ideas:

  • Traffic engineers could model out new freeways or expansions, the impact of surrounding surface streets, traffic light patterns, etc. (could overlay on top of satellite imagery)
  • Physicists could model out the universe, from planets, to stars, the impact of black holes on nearby galaxies, etc.
  • Architects could quickly model out new buildings
  • Fashion designers could mock-up new designs and digitally fit them on models (imagine a life-size touch/design screen)
  • Automakers could put together scale models of new concepts on a large touch display
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Since the underlying computing and graphics engines are there, you’d “simply” need to overlay whatever parameters are specific to the task at hand, like traffic pattern algorithms, garment hang/flow calculations, standardized and customizable automobile components, etc. Sure, all of these things can be done with existing software,  but Project Spark brings to the table a new, much more user-friendly, touch-friendly, and I think creative way, to design.

Take a look at Project Spark and brainstorm some ideas of how you think it could be used. I think the possibilities are pretty limitless.

 

 

Personal Computers: Dead or Transforming?

Talk about the death of the personal computer (the PC) has been all the rage lately. Tablets are taking over the world, the media says. Just look at the decline in PC shipments. That’s all the proof you need. Oh, you silly click-bait-driven tech writers. The PC isn’t dead. The “PC” will never die. But its form factor is certainly changing.

When personal computers came into existence the “desktop” form factor was all that was available. Even if someone had wanted a powerful, lightweight, portable machine (read a laptop), the parts were just too big to build such a thing. But technology has advanced, as it always seems to, and the bits and pieces that comprise a computer have become smaller and smaller, and more and more powerful, to the point where fitting all of that “desktop” computing horsepower into a little, portable, folding case has become commonplace. We now have laptops that weigh less than a couple of pounds and are almost thin enough to slice sandwich meats. Yet the traditional desktop lives on.

And now we are seeing a similar form factor shift with tablets. Why buy a desktop or a laptop when you can get a tablet, or a smartphone, some would argue? Tablets will force the extinction of desktops and laptops. Well, maybe. But not in the way you might think.

What most people really mean when they say tablets will replace PCs is that today’s limited-functionality tablet operating systems (i.e. iOS and Android), running on a tablet form factor, will replace the full powered desktop/laptop operating systems (i.e. Windows and Mac OS) running on desktops and laptops. But the form factor is largely irrelevant. With the right hardware, iOS and Android can be installed on a desktop or laptop instead of a tablet. Conversely, a full powered OS (again, Windows or Mac OS), with the right hardware, can be installed on desktops, laptops, or tablets. In fact, Windows 8 was developed to handle these types of diverse device installations. My guess is Mac OS will at some point also incorporate much of the finger-friendly functionality of iOS and iOS will cease to exist.

The reason some believe tablet OSes will win the operating system battle is that, for many people, today’s tablets offer enough computing power and functionality to do all the things they do with computers. They check email, surf the web, watch videos, etc. They consume content. They don’t need an office suite, or a software development package, or the ability to edit large photo and video files. They just need the basics. These consumers will likely never again buy a “PC” or at the very least will delay purchasing a new PC until the current machine is on its last leg.

But what about everyone else, those that produce content as well as consume it? These users will always need a full powered OS, with the variable being the device on which the OS is installed. If I’m creating content, say a movie, or a video game, or an architectural blueprint, I’ll likely spend much of my time sitting at a desk. I’ll probably want a large screen, with a keyboard, and a mouse or some other input device. In this case, the size and shape of the computing box is largely irrelevant and driven by aesthetics. It could be the size of today’s desktops, the size of a smartphone, or driven by the cloud. As long as the computing power I need is there, looks (and location) are a personal preference. If I’m a mobile worker, I’ll either want a laptop, or a laptop/tablet hybrid, or a pure tablet. Regardless of the device choice, I still need the full power of a “desktop” OS. Of course, there are additional hybrid use situations, but I won’t go into every possibility. So it isn’t that PCs are going away, it’s just that the devices on which the “PC” operating systems are installed are changing.

All that said, given advances in hardware, particularly CPU/GPU efficiencies and battery technology, it will one day be rather silly to have different OSes designed for different use cases. Honestly, we are pretty much there with Windows 8. If you could get 24 hours of battery life out of your tablet, running a full OS, that is just as finger friendly to use as today’s simplified tablet OSes, wouldn’t you prefer a full powered OS to a watered-down tablet OS? My guess is most people would say yes.

No, the PC isn’t dying, rather PC operating systems are evolving to be touch friendly and the devices on which these OSes are installed are changing. One day there will be no distinction between a “PC” and a tablet, because convergence will bring them together seamlessly.