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Can we still expect a "best on Windows" Microsoft experience?

It was also the day that Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella went on record assuring millions of enthusiasts, consumers, developers and businesses that the best Microsoft experience would be on Windows. The importance of this promise is not lost on the faithful fans. We have watched as Microsoft has launched an aggressive colonization of competing platforms by launching their flagship apps onto iOS and Android — frequently before the Windows launch.

In a cross-platform strategy to ensure a Microsoft presence where the users are, we've seen core Microsoft apps and services like Office make their way to the popular mobile platforms iOS and Android. To add insult to injury, many apps like Office Sway can be found on iOS but have yet to appear on Windows 10 Mobile.

This, along with the superior quality of some Microsoft apps on rival platforms, feels like a slap in the face to some enthusiasts who have invested their time and money supporting the platform they — we — love.

You might be recounting the apps Microsoft has launched on other platforms but had seemingly forgotten to bring to their own (or did so much later). Or maybe it's the Microsoft apps that are of better quality on iOS and Android than they are on Windows that gets under your skin. "Best on Windows" might seem to be hollow words spoken into the ether but never destined to materialize.

Promises, Promises

We sometimes hear Nadella's promise echoed when regarding dissatisfaction with Microsoft's investments in rival platforms:

That's what we are doing with Windows, we absolutely are going to have our services and our application end points everywhere, but we absolutely believe that Windows is home for the very best of Microsoft experiences.

That's the promise we remember hearing. However, twenty months later, many fans begrudgingly admit that the best Microsoft experience may be on iOS. In some respects that may be true. So a year after the launch of Windows 10 and eight months since the launch of Windows 10 Mobile, why isn't the Microsoft experience universally "best" on Windows?

Simply put: time. Well, time and the complex processes and moving parts of a large company that govern how time is spent. Yet, the seed has been sown.

Every seed planted needs time to grow. Every garden must be tilled. Some plants need to be pruned; weeds need to be removed and bugs need to be eradicated. Only after the time and effort required to nurture a young garden is invested can the beauty of the flowers and life-giving nutrients of the fruits and vegetables be enjoyed as one cohesive union. A best on Windows experience is not as simple as plunking an app in the Microsoft ecosystem. An integrated synergy, a singular bouquet of apps and OS working as one is Redmond's vision.

First-party apps and Windows are being honed for an optimal UWP experience.

So is Nadella's "best on Windows promise" still something that we can count on occurring? I think it is, but with only a year since its launch, Microsoft is still nurturing the sprout that is Windows 10. The diversity of first-party apps that are destined to be best on Windows are also being honed for this new entity: the Universal Windows Platform. I think the garden that is Windows 10 and first-party apps will be a delightful cohesion of operating system and integrated apps. Like most things in life, however, particularly things of high complexity, it takes time.

What exactly does best on Windows mean?

That's a relatively simple question with an apparently obvious answer. Most people would agree that it simply means Microsoft's apps and services will be the most feature rich, most efficiently employed and most deeply integrated on Windows when compared to their counterparts on other platforms.

OneNote, on the Surface with the integrated Surface Pen functions, come to mind as an example. Our view of what "best on Windows" means I believe is accurate in its simplicity, but we're not left to our interpretation. Given that Nadella made the promise, let's revisit his words as he described what the best on Windows experience would look like:

Simply put, Windows is the best place, it's the home for the very best Microsoft experiences. We are going to have services everywhere, but when it comes to Windows we're not bolting on apps, we're seamlessly harmonizing our experiences. The way Cortana is built in. The way Microsoft account and Azure Active Directory from an ID perspective are built into Windows. How OneDrive and the sync framework are built in. How Skype and Outlook are built in. How Xbox Live is built in. This is just built as part of Windows as a native experience where the scaffolding of the shell, as well as the applications, come together in the most seamless delightful personal ways for users.

I think that statement paints a pretty awesome and ambitious picture of a seamless integration of Windows, first-party apps/services and first-party hardware. It is a goal that is yet to be fully realized, but it is, I believe, coming.

Seamless

Microsoft, of course, would not be the first company to bring a tight integration of OS, software and hardware to market. Apple designs their own chip to optimize iOS's performance, tightly weaves AI technology throughout its OS, and ensures a seamless and speedy app experience has made such synergy a standard expectation on the iPhone.

Microsoft would not be the first company with deep OS and hardware synergy.

But Microsoft's a third-party developer on iOS and Android and their apps don't get every bit of what's built into the platforms. They are, as Nadella says, "bolted on". Microsoft's app experiences will be tightly harmonized within the Windows as well as across the diverse form factors of the Universal Windows Platform, providing a unique modern personal computing experience. The UWP and family of Windows 10 devices add a dimension to this "best on Windows" experience that not even Apple's tight OS /hardware synergy but disparate operating systems ecosystem has brought to the industry.

So best on Windows doesn't only mean best on Windows phone or Windows PC. It means the best Microsoft experience across all Windows 10 devices including Surface Hub, Xbox, Windows phone, Surface, HoloLens and any new category of Windows 10 device Microsoft brings to market.

What's the holdup?

So what's taking so long? Frankly, what Microsoft is doing has never been done before. Love them or hate them, Redmond's Universal Windows Platform and family of first-party devices are an industry first. The fact that this is uncharted territory alone presents unique technical, strategic and infrastructure challenges.

Furthermore, Microsoft did not embark on this UWP course with a clean slate. They are working to shift the direction of a ship that has been on one course for many years. Internal shifts, company culture, reorgs and more have all had to align to bring this multifaceted vision to fruition. Software and hardware had to be developed from the rudimentary level or core to ensure a cohesive and optimal experience across all form factors. Had all of this been occurring in a perfect world it would have been a challenge. The fact that none of these shifts have happened in a vacuum makes it all that more difficult.

Best on Windows encompasses all Windows 10 devices.

Technological barriers, bugs, market challenges, competition, pressure from investors and more have all contributed to a slow, methodical, calculated and sometimes delayed implementation of some feature, update or new hardware release.

It is also evident that not every aspect of the UWP that will showcase a "best on Windows" experience is as mature as another. Windows 10 for desktop was released on July 29, 2015, for instance. Its mobile counterpart was not ready for general release (though installed on the Lumas 950/950XL) until months later.

Furthermore, the consensus seems to be that the 950/XL did not get the "Panos Panay Surface treatment." His team was not entirely responsible for those devices. Consequently, we're still waiting for a true showcase phone that will highlight the best of Windows 10 and Continuum on Windows 10 Mobile and premier first-party hardware.

Other components of the Window 10 family of devices are also barely out of the womb. HoloLen's and Windows Holographic are industry leaders in augmented reality and are firsts for Microsoft. The hardware has only recently gone out in "mass quantities" to interested parties and the Holographic platform, which is part of Windows 10 is in its infancy.

These few examples reveal a very complex picture of many moving parts that are being developed, managed and introduced, at various stages, in a very competitive space. Nonetheless, the first-party app experience that Nadella promised will be "best on Windows" is being integrated into each of these disparate form factors and varying stages of development. This small snapshot of a very complex environment gives a picture of the challenges inherent to bringing an optimal and uniform experience to the entirety of Windows when the family of devices showcasing the experience are at different stages of development, deployment and position in the market.

I get it now, but "best on Windows" is still hard to believe

As a tech enthusiast and Microsoft fan, I can empathize with those who express frustration with the current "not as good as iOS and Android" Microsoft experience in some areas.

For example, I love Microsoft Office Sway. I was one of the early adopters permitted into the beta release. I've also interviewed General Manager of the Sway team and OneNote creator Chris Pratley and Program Manager Nathan Freier. Moreover, I was one of the featured authors on docs.com (opens in new tab), where I publish many of my Sways. So the fact that I can't build and edit a Sway on my Lumia 1520 running Windows 10 because there is no Windows phone app is a disappointment.

I've tried editing a Sway with the Edge mobile browser on my Lumia and that's just not a good experience at all. I'm sure there are iPhone users that are quite pleased with the Microsoft experience that they enjoy via the iOS Sway app. And I'm glad that that part of Microsoft's strategy of reaching/enticing users where they are with Microsoft services is in place. But, alas, I don't use an iPhone.

The process of ensuring a "best on Windows" is far more complicated than just getting an app on a phone.

As a Windows phone user for several years now, I've been with the platform through highs and lows, and I get it. I also understand that the process of ensuring a "best on Windows" experience is far more complicated than what app I want on my phone right now. Steve Ballmer spoke on the scope of this unified platform endeavor three years ago (opens in new tab):

"As devices proliferate, it has become clearer that consumers crave one experience across all of their technology…Going forward, our strategy will focus on creating a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most.To take advantage of our critical competitive assets, we will center our work on…A business model based on partner and first-party devices with both consumer and enterprise services… A family of devices powered by a service-enabled shell… No technology company has as yet delivered a definitive family of devices useful all day for work and for play, connected with every bit of a person's information available through one cloud.Our devices must share a common user-interface approach tailored to each hardware form factor.

Of course, the promises of those words coupled with Nadella's "best on Windows" assurance may betray the complexity of the process for the end user who simply wants his Windows phone, laptop or 2-in-1 to run all Microsoft apps in a way that elicits envy from users of their iOS and Android counterparts. We're not there yet for all Microsoft apps. But in what may sound like a mantra or the Microsoft's fan's anthem: "It's coming."

Is there a middle ground?

One weakness that seems to have plagued Microsoft for many years is poor communication. This is not only true of my perception of their marketing in comparison to that of Apple and Samsung. I think it is also true in how they communicate or fail to communicate to their current and potential fans.

I've heard the concerns of Microsoft's core supports and share some of them myself. Some of these can be addressed by providing information that someone less plugged into the pulse of the industry may have missed. Other concerns are best or only addressed satisfactorily by Microsoft. Would Nadella candidly meeting users where they are, with a direct address to the status and challenges of the "best on Windows" strategy, be helpful?

Is there a middle ground that can be bridged for fans who have championed the platform amid plunging market share, app exoduses and a deluge of negative press that has declared the death of their beloved platform? Admittedly, as they have waited for the manifestation of the "best on Windows" experience, encouraging progress has been made toward ambitious goals such as Nadella's 2014 vision of an all-encompassing cloud-based platform{.nofollow}:

Microsoft has a unique ability to harmonize the world's devices, apps, docs, data and social networks in digital work and life experiences so that people are at the center and are empowered to do more and achieve more with what is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity – time!

Though by no means complete, Microsoft's platform approach strategy has seen celebrated success in the cloud and its cross-platform endeavors. That said, I am confident that Microsoft is forging forward with a "best on Windows" strategy. I understand as many fans do, the complexity and challenges involved in the process.

The platform, though obviously moving forward has a perception problem.

Still, Windows phone is losing support from fans. Developer support of the UWP is underwhelming. The goal for one billion Windows 10 installs has been pushed out to some undetermined point. Apps are leaving the platform seemingly as fast as they roll in. And many users perceive that Microsoft has a greater interest in rival platforms than their own. The platform, though obviously moving forward in many respects, has a perception problem.

Moreover many mobile consumers who enjoy Microsoft apps on iOS and Android are woefully unaware that "best on Windows" is even a goal.

We are perhaps at a critical junction in Microsoft's history where their unprecedented ambition and goals, unique challenges and obvious progress requires something equally unprecedented, ambitious and unique. Perhaps a "State of the Ecosystem" address that speaks directly to the "best on Windows goals," challenges and progress is in order. Can Microsoft meet current and potential fans in the middle with a bold, candid and clear message?

Microsoft cannot continue "communication" as usual.

The UWP, Microsoft's cross-platform pursuits and the best on Windows experience require a cohesive message to retain the industry's confidence as Microsoft's unique strategy endures unique and growing challenges. That confidence, though present for some OEMs, fans and developers, is waning for others. Redmond, in my opinion, cannot continue "communication" as usual.

I wonder if Satya Nadella, outside of the context of a scheduled conference or keynote speech, is open to such a unique, and in my opinion, needful address. Given the ecosystem's perception problem, I sincerely hope that he is.

What are you thoughts? Sound off in comments and reach me on Twitter!

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

286 Comments
  • Well folks, as usual thanks for reading! Obviously Microsoft's goal is a deeply interwoven app/OS experience. Such integration is not easily achieved in the midst of a new and evolving platform. Deeply integrating an app experience with the OS is different than "plunking" an app in an app store. To make an experience best on Windows the OS and app have to be grafted for the fit. I know it's difficult watching iPhone and Android get great Microsoft experiences while we wait. But I do believe that as the OS evolves MS is likely aggressively working on this optimal Windows experience. That said, many people are frustrated and disappointed. And as i mention in the piece, iOS and Android users of Microsoft apps have now idea that best on Microsoft is a goal. Of course, ads highlighting best on Windows features may be on the roadmap but until then there's a core of supporters, industry watchers and writers who have lost sight of best on Windows strategy as challenges have arisen. Would a communication on this issue from Satya Nadella be helpful? Well you know the drill - LET'S TALK!!!
  • I like the direction everything is going. The anniversary update brought some nice core functions, gave the action center a much needed makeover, and on the mobile side of things we finally have an NFC payment method that google can't just buy and snatch from us, and eliminated my need to have a separate app for loyalty/rewards cards. We've been dealing with a flat tire of a Wallet app since the conception of Windows Phone, and I'm so glad to see it get so useful so fast. The next step is definitely making sure that the Windows platform has the best of their owned property. They still have a long way to go before Windows 10 is perfect, but it's definitely the best Windows.
  • Someone else said the article is an apology and I tend to agree. We shouldn't fool ourselves that Microsoft just needs time. Microsoft's primary goal is to take its products to where the customers are. So like any smart company, they are protecting themselves by making their products available on iOS and Android. Essentially they are hedging their bets. So as a consumer, I have to protect myself and limit my continued investment in a dying platform until there is demonstrable evidence that something has changed for the better (not just statements). In summary give me a best in class surface phone or give me the additional apps I desire. Anything short of that by this spring I have no choice but to switch given that I've waited long enough. I'm not mad at Microsoft at all, I just need to get on with enjoying the best that technology has to offer and stop waiting around for a specific vendor to catch up. Microsoft has clearly showed their cards by letting us know what their priorities are and win 10 mobile isn't one at the moment. When a vendor makes such a declaration, we have to hear it clearly and move past being annoyed at every app that launches with a better experience on other platforms etc. Btw, the waiting game rarely works but I really want to see what a surface phone looks like.
  • Agreed beta release.  That is the reason I jumped off the microsoft ship.  they are only worried about enterprise and not consumers.  I moved on,  and have been much happier with my technology.  Its like coming from a rotary dial phone to the smartphone.  The iphone is awesome,  as are the other mac products I have now.  MS had many repeat users ready to buy up lots of different devices,  if they followed through onwhat they promised.  The Mclaren would be in my hands now,  if they released it with the 41mp senor,  and made the engine faster.  Ditch the 3d stuff sure,  but don't trash the entire phone.  Dumb mistake.  
  • @SAdams I just can't get with Apple as much as I envy their market position, their plethora of apps and their incredible design. I have no rational explanation other than "I hate apple" :) It would be like switching from being a Yankee fan to a Red Sox fan. It just isn't done. I dislike Google but I can compromise there and pick up an Android device without feeling too much pain. Sometimes I wished that I didn't look at some technology as "us vs them". It would be cool to embrace it all but unfortunately I tend to pick sides. There is still hope for me. One day lol.
  • It's hard to believe that Nadella still has a job there. Everything has become so lethargic with half baked ideas lately.
  • On the contrary. He has done an outstanding job by all corporate standards. We may not love that mobile is not where we want it to be but I think that he has saved Microsoft from being the old IBM. I get why you feel they're lethargic but that's really because they haven't delivered on mobile to our satisfaction. Frankly I think they've been trying to figure it out themselves and have come to the realization that they will have to reinvent the category to have a shot. Playing catchup is a losing proposition so redefining the category MIGHT be their only shot. I'm all in on Win 10 on my pc's but I'll likely bolt in the short-term for a better mobile experience.
  • I was exactly like you.  I dispised everything but microsoft,  Up until they annouced they retracted the 1020 from the w10m update patch after stating numerous times that ALL 8.1 phones running denim will update to w10m (not through insider programs).  That was the straw that broke the camels back,  and then I started moving away from them.  Continuing on,  the direction of MS now is a joke really.  I was going to get the new galaxy s7 edge.  But the wife said,  why don't you just goto the store and try an iphone.  She don't like android because our note 1s were laggy after a couple of months.  So,  I did.  And I actually enjoyed it ALOT.  The build quality is better than any other phone,  and static apps do not bother me a bit.  Touch 3d is awesome!....plus the way EVERYTHING works with iphones,  as I mentioned before,  Its like coming from a rotary dial phone (Windows Mobile,  Yes I was using w10 on my 1020),  to having a real smart phone.  
  • The 1020 isn't the best example. I had one for over 2 years and whilst I really loved the phone, the specs were extremely poor. They needed something with the 1020 camera sensor along with the 930's specs. Unfortunately the 1020 was running the max specs supported by the OS at the time of it's release so they couldn't have done much there. That could/would have been McLaren and I really wish they'd released that. I don't even think that phone would have turned the tide and got people buying Lumia's but it may have moved the industry along as a whole by now as other manufacturers copied and built on Nokia's ideas, there was some awesome intuitive stuff in there that could have made it to numerous high end phones by now
  • 100% agreed! That's the broad reason why I could never buy a windows phone, and from the looks of it, the HP Elite X3 ain't gonna save anything 'cause its only strength, Continuum, has already been implemented on Android via Andromium OS. What we need is something like the Sync Phone that natively runs x86 applications when connected to a monitor or Tablet/Laptop dock, while providing a neat Smartphone UI (like Windows 10 Mobile) when detached from a dock. The Sync Phone was the closest materialization to this my smartphone wish: http://www.dereferer.org/?http2F2Ely%2F1Pe8PAu
  • I really want to see what a surface phone looks like It will look like a smartphone running Window 10 Mobile.
  • Personally hoping their next flagship phone is the best across multiple classes - Saying there's a focus on business and not offering a camera at least as good as the 950/XL, along with a dedicated camera button, glance and many other good features will be a bit of a cop out IMO. I need a phone for personal AND business use, and I don't want to have to carry two around with me. If the next phone out of Microsoft drops the things like made Lumia's good phones it will be a big step back. I accept that the HP Elite x3 doesn't have a camera anywhere close to the 950, and that's okay but it doesn't mean every phone aimed at business should cop out on the camera. Even if they take the exact same camera from the 950 and stick it in the next phone I'd be more than happy. Cameras have reached a point where there's really no HUGE difference between different phones and the 950 is good enough. With a focus on business they don't need THE best camera in a phone, but it makes sense to make it as good as the 950 as a minimum when they already have that in the current models. So many people use iPhones for both personal and business use and that's what I'd like from MS, because I don't want to carry two phones around. Continuum (way way)down the line will be at it's best when we can truly just carry one device, if we need to also carry a second phone for personal use because we want a half decent camera we may as well just carry an Android phone and a Surface as the two devices.
  • believer since WP 6.5... haha
  • You and I both brother. Rock on!
  • i've been staying with 7.5/7.8 since none of the features i want such as zune, hardware keyboards, etc, have never made it over since then.
  • 6.1 here. Been rocking WM since the HTC TyTn P4550!
  • 6.1 on an HTC Tilt then Touch Pro. Lol
  • Yes, believing since THAT version. "Simply put: time." You know what that means? It means "even though the enthusiasts and 'believers' have kept waiting allllllll this time, the STILL need to wait for God knows how much more." Everyone should ask themselves: why am I waiting? Is the OS on my phone usable? Barely. Does it have a consistent design language? Nope. Does it at least have all the features on competing platforms, even if not working properly? Nope. Is the hardware awesome in comparison? Nope. Are the apps that are made by THIS comapany available or functional on the same company's OS? Nope. Then why the hell am I *waiting*?!
  • I think that usage of a technological product should be based on current experience and not what expectations you have in the long run as you would probably will using another phone anyway in some years. But I strongly disagree with your current claims of the OS. I have an iPhone 6S and a Lumia 950 and my take is opposite: "Is the OS on my phone usable? Barely"; it is very usable. I find it superior as iOS in plenty of ways (back button, universal search, live tiles, Continuum, settings customization and shortcuts, ...) like Android is superior to iOS while having a polish closer to iOS than Android and the update support / lack of slowdown over time that some Android users are experiencing. "Does it have a consistent design language? Nope": not less than disparate iOS applications and OS. "Does it at least have all the features on competing platforms, even if not working properly? Nope": compared to iOS at least, it definitily does have most and even addtional features. What are you referring to when saying that? "Is the hardware awesome in comparison? Nope": again, I have an iPhone and I fail to see what is "awesome" on this 870€ phone where the 500€ 950 has a better screen (bigger, AMOLED, higher resolution), a much better camera, quick and wireless charging, glance, double SIM, SD card support... If there is one reason to choose Android or a Lumia, it is indeed for the better hardware than the iPhone. "Are the apps that are made by THIS comapany available or functional on the same company's OS? Nope.": here, there is no black or white. Yes, there is no Sway. But Outlook is better on Windows (formatting options), all apps work with Continuum, Groove is better, Office Remote is unique, MSM Meteo is gorgeous, Cortana is more integrated (obviously)... So yes, indeed, many Microsoft app and services are, fortunately, better on Windows.
  • I'm only still rocking Windows Mobile because I enjoy the experience of using it, I don't get that same feeling with Android or iOS. Not saying Windows Mobile is perfect or that I don't have serious issues with it, I just don't get frustrated all day and every day while using it. With iOS I can't even type a message without getting frustrated, and there's a simple reason for that, I type on a smart phone with both thumbs and when I press shift on Windows Mobile, all the keys change to uppercase so even though my thumb covers my view of the shift key I know that it had been pressed, with iOS that doesn't happen, the shift key gets highlighted but the keys are already uppercase so I see no indication at all that I pressed the shift key or not. I prefer Android over iOS simply for the fact that I can replace the OS with Cyanogenmod etc, I can develop apps for it without a Mac and in general its nice to mess around with and obviously get access to virtually any app, the problem with it for me has always been the home screen or whatever you call it, I miss live tiles when I use it and while I did use widgets for a while when I had a GS3 it quickly seemed outdated and nothing really looked great together, no consistency etc. If Windows Mobile didn't have live tiles I don't think I would stay using it. Personally I'm not waiting for anything on mobile, there's thing I'd like to see and some apps I would appreciate but currently nothing that ruins my day.
  • Most annoying thing on the iPhone is the upper case keyboard keys. Not sure why they think this is better. They are upper case on physical keyboards because it makes sense on a hardware key. On-screen keyboards have the luxury of showing the actual case that will be output when pressed. With their focus on UX you'd think it would have been changed years ago.
  • My fear is when you have Windows as a service (WAAS), it suggests to me that it will never be good and will always be a work in progress. I hope we are not constantly wiping our machines and reloading due to the next update.
  • I'm hoping it means they get better with updates, especially the bigger ones. 
  • The anniversary update installed as an update, that was a huge difference with the fall update which installed as a new build version of Windows (including a Windows.old file) so they have already improved up on the way they deliver major updates to Windows 10!