Microsoft's Windows Phone was many things to many people. Some saw a fresh look at handling information on a mobile device and a way to break out of the ‘app silo’ of information. Others saw a last-ditch attempt to hold back Android and iOS and a lost chance to build on the US success of Windows Mobile… But almost everyone agrees that one of the biggest issues was the lack of third-party applications. As the other platforms picked up a critical mass of apps, Windows Phone was left behind.
So why is Microsoft risking the same fate with the ‘Windows Store apps only’ policy on Windows 10 S? Why is Microsoft bothering with Windows 10 S at all? I think it’s about setting a long-term goal.
While it looks and acts like the full-blown desk bound version of Windows 10, Windows 10 S is a much more limited operating system compared to the parent. But it’s also an operating system that is going to be updated as Microsoft works towards a distant goal.
The most notable machine with Windows 10 S is the Surface Laptop, but that machine also comes with an offer of a free (but one way) upgrade to Windows 10. Unlike Windows Phone, users are not going to be left in a restricted system. If they need to break out they can. That gets Windows 10 S out into the market, but it doesn’t leave power users with a crippled machine.
Windows 10 S is being pushed heavily in the educational environment. This is an area where Windows 10 S has many key traits that makes it attractive. The locked down browser, fully encrypted disk, the ability to only run apps from the Windows Store, and Windows Defender looking over the machine offers a secure environment. That will also have an appeal to the Enterprise market as well where secure machines are in heavy demand.
As for bringing developers into the system, Microsoft would love developers to use the Universal Windows Platform app system, which gets apps in the Windows Store and available on both Windows 10 and Windows 10 S (and arguably with a little push, Windows 10 for Mobile). But it will also be looking at the potential growth in progressive web apps and reminding developers that wrapping up a progressive web app in a standalone Edge web browser window is a very easy process.
Microsoft’s current strategy has its basis in the cloud. From emails and messaging to file storage and data sync, Redmond’s goal is get people using their cloud-based services. Right now, it could be from Windows 10 computers, it could be from Android- or iOS-powered handsets, but the goal is to get people in.
Drawn to its ultimate conclusion, Microsoft wants a world where its cloud is the cloud above all others, and the key to a productive digital life is through a personal Microsoft account. From data and personal information, to the operating system and the apps, it’s about bringing users in and giving them as many reasons as possible to stay there (and as few reasons as possible to leave).
Five years ago, Microsoft launched its first Surface tablet. After a number of iterations, the ‘high-powered fully-featured tablet’ is a segment of the market, and one that Microsoft has nurtured and developed. It took the time to work on its vision, and the result of that is this year’s Surface Pro tablet. Now take the ability to spend time iterating a vision and apply it to Windows 10 S. What will the end of that process look like?
I don’t think the journey is easy and I’m not sure that today’s consumers are as ready to follow as Microsoft would like. But consumers who are starting their own journey will be more amendable to Windows 10 S and many will have experienced it and potentially grown attached to it thanks to the push into the educational market.
Not only that, but Microsoft will have learned from the mistakes of Windows Phone and the iterative success of the Surface Pro ultra tablet. Windows 10 S may look like an awkward off cut, but it’s one of those projects where you need to look to where Microsoft has sent the puck to, not where the puck is at the moment.