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What about Windows, Mr. Nadella?

Gregg Keizer | July 15, 2014
Demotion of desktop OS to second half of mission statement leads some to wonder what changes are in store

"We will invest so that Windows is the most secure, manageable and capable OS for the needs of a modern workforce and IT," Nadella wrote, sounding a very status quo note. Only in a line moments later did he spell out his goals for Windows, goals which Microsoft has worked on for decades. "Windows will evolve to include new input/output methods like speech, pen and gesture and ultimately power more personal computing experiences," he said.

More than anything else, Nadella's comments on Windows were a recognition of the operating system's new place in the computing universe. Where once it was the OS by virtue of its dominance on personal computers, the explosion of mobile devices, particularly smartphones, has relegated it to a no-or-little-growth market, far behind Google's Android as the world's most popular operating system.

Nadella said he will provide more details of his plans in the next weeks, notably at the July 22 earnings call with Wall Street, but for now, his ideas about Windows were unclear.

His deemphasizing Windows, however, could herald changes in how Microsoft sees Windows' place, and thus how it releases or even charges for the OS.

Some heard a call for even faster releases of Microsoft's products, including Windows, when Nadella talked about streamlining decision-making and taking fewer steps between product concept and launch. "My primary takeaway is that there is an absolute goal of decreasing bureaucracy and increasing speed," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy in an interview last week. "We can safely say that they will be a lot quicker bringing products and services to market."

Microsoft has already taken major steps in accelerating its release cadence, with Windows 8.1 following Windows 8 by 12 months, Windows 8.1 Update following Windows 8.1 by half that. Many expect that the next iteration, reportedly codenamed "Threshold" and perhaps officially dubbed Windows 9 when it ships, will appear next spring rather than in the fall, as would be the case if Microsoft stuck to its usual three-year cycle for Windows.

And if Microsoft believes that Windows on the desktop and notebook is less important to its future, it would make sense that pricing would reflect the new outlook.

Some company watchers have speculated that Microsoft will offer Threshold to users of Windows 8, perhaps Windows 7 as well, free of charge, discarding its usual upgrade fees if not for everyone, then at least for consumers. "It's the next logical transition," said Wes Miller, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in a recent interview. "They've done everything short of that, whether free upgrades for Windows 8 and Windows RT [to Windows 8.1] or Office built into Windows RT."


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