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The Lightness of Windows

 

The Lightness of Windows

Courtesy of Ben Thompson, Stratechery

From Ian Sherr, writing about last week’s Windows 11 announcement for CNET:

When you choose a computer or smartphone to buy these days, you have to pick between several factions. There’s Apple world, which includes the Mac computer, iPhones and iPads, all designed to work together to help you share files, video chat and watch TV as easily as possible. There’s also Google land, whose Android software powers an array of phones, tablets and computers. But with Windows 11, Microsoft wants to break that mold.

The software giant said Thursday that its next major version of Windows will launch as a free upgrade this fall, offering a host of new features that in some ways appear designed to position Microsoft as the company whose products work with ones from Apple, Google and pretty much anyone else.

The company’s expanding its support for the Android app for example, allowing people to more easily run phone apps on their computer. Microsoft’s building its Teams software into Windows in a similar way as Apple’s FaceTime is built into Macs — except Microsoft doesn’t want it to be exclusive. There’s already a Microsoft Teams app for Mac, iPhones and Androids. (Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella even told a reporter he’d be happy to accept FaceTime onto Microsoft computers.)

I really enjoyed this event; coming in at a tight 44 minutes and 51 seconds, it had a sort of playfulness and lightness that felt like a big contrast to Apple’s COVID-era commercial-like presentations. It feels like a bit of a role reversal from twenty years ago when Microsoft would have grand over-produced events at CES while Apple put on budget productions at Macworld.

That’s not a surprise, when you think about it: back then new versions of Windows meant new experiences for basically everyone who used a computer, new opportunities for developers, and new reasons to worry for competitors scared that this might be the year Microsoft made their products a feature. Apple, on the other hand, had nothing to lose.

Today is the opposite: Apple reigns supreme over the computing landscape. iOS 15 will bring new experiences to a billion users, new APIs provide new opportunities for developers, and Apple isn’t just building in features that hurt competitors, but creating new ones (i.e. Facebook and app install advertising); it is Windows that feels like it has nothing to lose.

The End of Windows

Of course Windows remains essential software, with a billion-plus userbase of its own, and a critical part of the enterprise landscape in particular (although, as the company highlighted in the presentation, COVID re-established the importance of the PC for consumers as well). What gives Microsoft more freedom-of-movement, though, is that Windows is no longer the core of its business. This remains CEO Satya Nadella’s biggest triumph; I recounted how he shifted the company away from its Windows-centricity in 2018’s The End of Windows

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