Microsoft has Awoken

Microsoft has been a mess for years. Windows 7 was a solid, but decidedly dull operating system. People that needed to use Windows liked its stability and security but I think it would be a stretch to say that anyone was excited about it. The next version of Windows took a lot of chances and really tried to change some things up but Windows 8 ended up being a bit of a disaster for them. It was too big a change and unfocused. I’ve heard very few positive reviews from users. Even the people that do like it took a while to get there. Microsoft also really missed the boat on mobile. While their phone OS has gotten really good reviews, no one seems to use it and the app ecosystem just cannot seem to get any traction. They now represent low single digit percentages of users in the smart phone world.

Compared to Apple and Google, Microsoft has had a real image problem with consumers. Aside from the Xbox, there was no sizzle from Microsoft, no sexiness. Yes, they still had a lock on the business world but it was difficult to find anyone as passionate about Microsoft as people are about Apple and Google. On January 21st, Microsoft had a special event around Windows 10 and some other technologies. History may show that event as being when consumer sentiment started to shift in Microsoft’s favor.

It’s been a while since a new version of Windows was exciting and yet that’s what Windows 10 seems to be. It shares a lot of similarities with Windows 8 as far as how it looks but Microsoft has learned some lessons. They have fixed a lot of the things that people didn’t like about Windows 8. No more charms, the start menu is back, and there seems to be a better way of switching between desktop and touch interfaces. The phone and tablet interfaces look really good. I’ve always thought that Windows phone had an interesting approach and I think that Windows 10 has taken more steps along the path to being really good. I’m not as convinced about the desktop, nor am I sold on the switching between tablet and computer mode but maybe that’s my Apple bias showing…

The big news is that Windows 10 will be on computers, tablets, phones, and even the Xbox. I’ve always wondered why Microsoft hasn’t made more hay with their Xbox branding. That is one aspect of their product mix that people were actually passionate about. Better late than never I suppose. Of course the big excitement of having the same OS on all of the devices is that the same programs should be able to be on all of them. That could be a huge deal for the phones. If Windows developers could easily port their computer apps to the phones, Windows phones might start to close the app gap it has with other platforms.

Combine Windows 10 with all of the cross platform services Microsoft has and it looks like they have a focused, unified company for the first time in a decade. Windows 10 plus Skype, OneDrive, and Office on everything is a compelling product. Microsoft as a unified product, I never thought I’d see the day. As a certified nerd, I was impressed with the way Microsoft was able to seemingly get its act together all at once.

The best was yet to come though. People that follow Microsoft already knew all about Windows 10. What nobody saw coming was the announcement of HoloLens. It’s an augmented reality headset that projects “holograms” into your field of view. It’s not a virtual reality headset that completely replaces your environment, it adds objects to your environment. The video at the top of this post gives you some idea of the possibilities. You could throw screens into your field of view either to watch TV or to carry on a video chat. You can project images onto real life objects. That could be used for fun (like the minecraft example) or for real life modeling. It really reminds me of scenes from Ghost in the Shell. Microsoft is claiming that the things you build as a hologram can be sent directly to a 3D printer and become actual objects. Yes, there are all sorts of nick knacks you could build but think about the possibilities in the construction, medical, and maintenance fields.

Members of the press were allowed to use the prototype HoloLens. Going by what they said, the video doesn’t really do it justice. They say it is absolutely, jaw droppingly amazing. They were given a real time tutorial of how to replace a light switch, complete with 3D annotations to the switch that was right in front of them. Apparently the Minecraft demo was amazing. They did something similar to what they did in the video, blow a hole in the wall of the room and see into another world. They were also able to walk on mars, just like on the video. Do watch the video to get an idea of the possibilities. Incredible stuff. Even more incredible? It’s going to ship this year.

This could very well be the next step of computing. It certainly has the possibility of completely redefining how we interact with technology. How excited am I about this? If Microsoft were the only company that offered this and you needed to use a Windows computer to use it, I’d buy one. Yes, I am that excited about this. The good news is there is talk of at least one other company making similar technology. It’s also hard to believe that other big tech companies like Google and Apple aren’t working on something like this as well. I anticipate having some choice in providers as this technology becomes mainstream.

I never thought I would be interested, let alone excited, about what Microsoft does. It’s awesome to see a massive tech company flex its muscles and give us a view of the future. It’s even more amazing to have them bring it to us. Well done Microsoft.

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