Microsoft recently unveiled an early preview of its next desktop and tablet operating system: Windows 10. Speculation has run rampant on why the company skipped naming the next version Windows 9, with pundits suggesting everything from avoiding a reference to Windows 95, to distancing itself from the lukewarm reception that greeted Windows 8. While this early preview is far from a complete, shipping OS, it was notable that the so-called "Modern" user interface no longer took center stage, being relegated to the traditional Start menu. In fact, Windows 10 looked far more like Windows 7 than its predecessor, an obvious appeal to corporate IT departments that demanded the return of the traditional desktop.
Microsoft cures its split personality?
I found Microsoft's strategy of appealing to consumers and a wide variety of devices with Windows 8 intriguing. The company took a bold departure from its desktop roots, and attempted to create a single OS that would work well on mobile devices with touch interfaces as well as traditional keyboard and mouse-bound desktops. Microsoft even offered a handful of well-made devices that offered hardware to go with the software vision, creating the Surface series of devices that worked as traditional laptops as well as keyboard-less tablets.
While this was a bold move for the company, the market obviously hasn't reacted positively, with consumer interest in Microsoft waning, and corporate customers irate at a radically new user interface that provided little benefit to users who spent more time in Excel and Outlook than touch-happy Modern apps. The first public appearance of Windows 10 seems more like an evolution of the popular Windows 7 OS, and Microsoft's presentation was clearly targeted at corporate IT types rather than consumers.
Is Windows surrendering in the mobile wars?
With a new OS that's clearly targeted toward corporate desktops, and tablet hardware that failed to catch on with consumers or enterprise customers, it appears Microsoft is returning to its corporate roots, at least when it comes to Windows. While less exciting that its previous vision of one OS that adapted to the device on which it was running, this is a sensible move. Desktop, laptop, and tablet sales are slowing, particular in the consumer market that Microsoft was attempting to capture. Corporate customers diligently upgraded hundreds of thousands of PCs each year, so appealing directly to this market at the expense of consumers is sound and savvy, if uninspiring.
Refocusing Windows on the enterprise doesn't necessarily mean Microsoft is leaving mobile. Obviously Windows Phone still exists as a viable product, but Microsoft also is refocusing on its core software business as of late, and seemingly abandoning the "must run on Windows" mantra for products ranging from Office to its cloud computing platforms. This makes sense in a world where operating systems are rapidly becoming gateways to cloud-based services and facing commodity pricing. Apple and Google are effectively giving away their desktops, and the industry is shifting away from feature-rich, resource hungry OSes to clean, lean, and mean software that spends the majority of its time launching a web browser.
It would have been interesting to see if Microsoft could gain some traction with its vision of an adaptable desktop, and it may have advanced some interesting technologies on the mobile front. However, refocusing some of that energy on cloud offerings and bringing its software to multiple mobile platforms may be the better move in the long run.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at email@example.com, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.