Windows Adds New Features, Polishes a Few Old Ones

Posted by: Stephanie Donahue on July 18,2014

Choosing Microsoft and Windows

In the first installment of my thoughts on Satya Nadella’s keynote presentation at WPC 2014, I reviewed the promise Microsoft is making to its partners, and the promise it inspired PAITgroup to make. In the second installment, I discussed how Tiffani Bova claims technology is changing the way businesses do business. This third segment is perhaps my favorite section, because it’s all about the changes Microsoft is making to encourage users to choose them.

Tony Prophet took the stage to tell me why he chose Microsoft after he worked at Hewlett-Packard for years—because he believes in Microsoft. I have always been more likely to choose PC over Mac and generally prefer Microsoft for my computing needs, but I’ve never been a passionate Microsoft-fangirl… until now. While I watched the live stream discussion of the technology Microsoft is using, the changes they are making, and the vision they have for the future of their products and devices, I found myself drinking the Kool-Aid. Now I believe in Microsoft too, and here’s why.

Microsoft knows who they are

Tony, and all of the Microsoft speakers, made it very clear that they know exactly what their goals are, and exactly what steps they are taking to reach them. First, they are our partner. As stated in my first blog, Microsoft recognizes that they can’t succeed alone, and that by providing us with the tools necessary to excel they are starting a movement towards collaboration that I would argue has no precedent. It is very clear that Microsoft eats, sleeps, and breathes collaboration, inside their organization and out. Microsoft has charged us as partners and developers to imagine new and unique ways to satisfy our own customers, and by extension their customers.

Secondly, Microsoft Windows is a platform of global scale. Beyond traditional computing, Windows reaches into the cloud, it is gaining momentum in the smartphone race, and it is mobile. Microsoft’s declared goal is to become the platform of choice, and to release lower cost devices to gain an even more competitive edge. To help sharpen that edge, Microsoft is working to build a ground-breaking converge and develop platform that will allow for universal app development. The ultimate goal? Consistency among all devices, universal apps, and equality of experience from 4” smartphones to 48” monitor displays. If you’re a web developer like I aspire to be, then you recognize just how ambitious this goal is. Consider how hard it is to achieve universal browser compatibility from cascading style sheets. Now imagine writing a custom app with the same goal in mind. I can’t imagine it, but Microsoft can, and honestly if anyone could make it happen my money is on them.

Microsoft Delivers

Now to the part that I really appreciate: the updates that Microsoft is making. Microsoft is making it a point to roll out features and not just fixes with every update. For example, one of the recent updates for Windows 8.1 included new mouse and keyboard functionality. For the Windows phone, the action center, shape writing, Cortana, and Windowed apps. Then there’s the slew of devices Microsoft has in store.

Desktop Functions

I’ve had Windows 8.1 for a few short months now and have made it a point to avoid using apps that entire time. I could understand why tablet or mobile users would like them, but to me they were clunky, full windowed monsters that didn’t let me take advantage of the drag and dock Windows functionality I came to love in Windows 7. I felt like once I opened an app, I was trapped alone in a world where my Lync messages were forgotten and my other apps were neglected.

Now, the apps are more desktop friendly. You can interact with the app icons using your mouse, which you could kind of do before but it’s a bit more “Windowsy” now. You can also hover at the top of the screen or at the bottom to pull up the task bar or the menu bar. Finally, Windows 8.1 feels like Windows again! This might not be a huge update or feature, but to me it means that Microsoft is listening. They heard our disgruntled cries and read our catty tweets, and they stepped up to fix the problem. Bravo!

Windows Phone

Now on to the Windows phone. I have had smartphones for years now. So far, I’ve only had Android phones because I didn’t want an iPhone and I didn’t think Windows phones were ready. After this week’s demo however? To quote one of my favorite cartoon monkeys, “it is time.”

I’m so excited by some of the Windows phone updates that I’m not entirely sure where to start. The display is gorgeous, the updated translucent tiles and the ability to add a background image are simple but powerful ways for Microsoft to gain our trust. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a vapid consumer, and while I’m not an impulsive shopper I am much more likely to choose anything that has a unique quality, or lets me apply my own. Oh that power drill comes in turquoise? I’ll take ten. I can personalize it for the low, low cost of my left leg and first born child? Sign me up. The ability to tailor the Windows UI, without losing the consistency, is very appealing to me.

Then there’s the modifications that are going to help Windows phones pick up the more casual smartphone shopper. Windows phone is finally adding an action center, where you can find all of your notifications in one place and access them quickly. I guess I’m a bit naïve, because I didn’t realize they didn’t have that before! I took it for granted that all smartphones had that, and if I would have been in the store trying out different options that were generally equivalent, that would have been a deal breaker. Windows phones are also getting what they call “shape writing,” but it’s what I know as swipe typing. Now you can drag your finger across the keyboard to draw your words instead of having to hunt and peck. Again, something that would be a deal breaker.

My favorite addition to the Windows phone is bound to be Cortana though. I don’t have an iPhone, I’ve never had an iPhone, but I’ve been around them enough to know that Siri is incredibly annoying. I don’t doubt that she’s useful, and I’ve heard mixed reviews on how accurate she actually is, but I would never use her just because I can’t stand her voice. Cortana has a much less grating timbre, and isn’t quite as naggy. I’ve also heard that she does an awesome Gollum impression and tells better jokes, and let’s be honest here, we all know that’s the most important thing.

Then there’s this whole bit about her being able to interpret what you’re telling her by using logic. You can give her commands in a conversational manner and she will correctly interpret what you want. The voice command on my phone can’t even understand “Call Mom” until I’ve screamed at it a few times and broken down into tears, and by that time I’m saying “Call Bob,” which is my dad’s name. Catastrophic failure. Naturally, I’m not putting all of my eggs in the Cortana basket. I’m maintaining sensible skepticism, but I’m still very excited to see what she has in store.

Windows phones also provide enterprise level security, and the ability to segment your personal data and your professional data. They recognize that most people are using their devices for work and for play, so it’s about time someone made it easy to keep the two separate. Finally, Windows phones have Office built in, so you can stay productive on the go instead of using a chintzy note app or a dumbed down document formatter.

Windows Devices

I’ve been wanting a tablet for a while, but I knew that I wanted a Windows tablet. In particular, I want one of the Surface Pros with all the bells and whistles, because why not? Now I’m actually considering going with one of the less expensive devices, and I honestly don’t think I’d be sacrificing on the bells and whistles. Microsoft is really applying pressure to its biggest competitors in the mobile computing industry. They’re offering several options that have the same performance and processing capabilities as iPads, with additional features, for a smaller price point. For example, Windows devices have the ability to connect to thousands of peripherals. Unlike Chromebooks or Netbooks, Windows devices can run offline. They also have more robust usability.

Windows is not just trying to make a presence in the tablet market, they are in it to win it. Microsoft is encouraging developers to create new solutions and hardware using the new app model, for consumer apps and business apps. They’re also continuing to push for consistency across devices with the concept of universal apps. Microsoft’s goal is to give you the ability to buy an app one time and use it on every device—laptop, tablet, phone—with the exact same experience, functionality, and performance. And as usual, it’s all about the push into the Cloud.

Our Assignment

Whew, that’s a lot of change! As usual, Microsoft has a few jobs for us in order to help them achieve some of these lofty goals. First, convert XP users. There are TONS of XP users still out there, and you might recall that earlier this year Microsoft announced that they are no longer going to support XP. Second, build an enterprise mobility practice. How can you sell it if you aren’t doing it? And finally, develop a compelling Windows app. Experiment with the tools available to you to develop a universal app. Try something that no one else is doing, or improve upon something that they are. Either way, take advantage of the services of scale that are being presented to you and break off a piece of the Cloud while the pickin’s are still good!

Topics: Microsoft Partner, Windows, Worldwide Partner Conference

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