Future of Windows is all about collaboration — for businesses and consumers

The history of Windows has, in a sense, always been about getting things done, whether it's writing a term paper, doing an Excel document, doing supercomputing, or just good ol' Minesweeper. But the world that Windows grew up in has radically changed since the mid-1990s with the growth of the internet.

Back in February, our Senior Writer Zac Bowden reported that the Surface Hub 2 – along with unannounced products like HoloLens 2 and "Project Andromeda" – are part of a concerted effort built around collaboration in the modern workspace, along with productivity and 3D Mixed Reality. The Surface Hub 2 official reveal thisw week affirms that the primary concept behind the device is getting people to work together for idea-expression, whether they are in the same room or across the planet.

Breaking down barriers

Hip jargon, like "dynamic and immersive collaboration", or more recently from Microsoft Build, "planet-scale apps" (opens in new tab), may sound like PR buzz, but it seems to be all part of a plan for Windows, Azure (Cosmos DB), Xbox, Kinect for Azure, and Surface.

Microsoft Whiteboard – which is still in early preview – Microsoft OneNote, Office 365, Microsoft Team, and Skype, are all about letting people break down barriers. Some of that is language (Microsoft Translator), some of that is distance ("Holoportation" (opens in new tab), and some is personal (My People on the Windows Taskbar).

All these apps, software, and now even hardware, are very different from the legacy of the desktop PC. The old concept of a terminal that workers slaved behind in isolation (save for the annoying buzz of email) is thankfully dying. A new world where our phones, laptops, wall computers, speakers, and tablets are all connected with instant access to people is the new mission. Sharing information instantly, naturally connecting with co-workers, and busting down those walls is now driving Microsoft.

Future purpose of Windows 10 is clearer

With stable (but not growing) sales of PCs, and the rise of mobile smartphones and dozens of connected devices, Microsoft has been struggling to find its place since 2010. These are not the '90s where the goal was to get a PC into every house and then get people on the world wide web.

Finding the purpose of Windows in 2018 (and beyond) is a challenge. No longer can the OS just run Photoshop or some enterprise software. Those use cases are still important, but those markets are also flat and going nowhere.

For all the haranguing around Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella focusing only on the cloud and not Windows, he and the rest of the company appear to be finding a purpose for the OS: letting people connect in new ways. This focus is not just chasing social for fun, but to better express ourselves — and, yes, get work done.

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Surface Hub 2 does not have an immediate consumer angle. However, many of the comments and reactions on our stories about Surface Hub 2 seem to suggest people understand where all of this is going. It's not just about whizbang hardware, it's about a theme of letting us do new things with technology (and specifically, Windows PCs) that we first saw in the movies, but no one had the gall to make – until now.

The idea that in a few years a more affordable version of a Surface Home Hub might hit the consumer market seems more plausible after this week's announcement.

Reason to be optimistic about the future

Reactions on YouTube to Surface Hub 2 show that people get what Microsoft is attempting.

The concept of a modern office stocked with a HoloLens 2, Surface Hub 2, foldable tablets (Andromeda), and Surface Laptops seems not only desirable but increasingly likely. The reason is such technology – and the software behind it – will let humans do new things built around teamwork.

Microsoft is now creating technology that inspires us. That's not an inconsequential thing in a world that has become so cynical. Putting aside innovation in the workplace, Microsoft's recent focus on inclusive design and bringing gamers with all abilities to the living room is also progressing just as quickly, if not faster.

None of this is to suggest Microsoft has everything figured out. But for the first time, it is starting to feel like the company has a master plan for Surface hardware, morphing Windows into a cloud OS, and making ubiquitous computing happen. That's a significant change for a company that used to create products in isolation, with no grand theory behind them.

That sense of purpose for Windows – and Microsoft – has been missing for the last few years. But that makes seeing it for the first time even more exciting.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Where would Xbox fit into this?
  • Why would Xbox fit into this?
  • It possibly could, and by default does. It's part of the W10 ecosystem, and W10 is part of it... Asking why is kinda short sighted, don't you think?????
  • Many games have collaborative play options. I guess you aren't technically wrong. I don't think anyone is going to be collaborating on a Word document through their XBox though.
  • Made me think of WebTV which made me laugh, so thanks for that.
  • Xbox though is primarily a consumer brand will still fit into the direction of collaboration through Mixer where co-streaming and their creators do a productivity work as players, streamers, and host of their own channels. We could also include Clubs and Tournaments, though these are really more into social spectrum as a whole.
  • Greatness!... Yesterday some ignorant tard face gick said that Windows was irrelevant, nobody wants it, or cares to use it anymore... Well, these trolls obviously work at Putt Putt, playing on their ultra low end Android "smartphones", because if you are at places like the airport everyday, and are surrounded by litteraly millions of professionals a week, you will understand just how relevant Windows, PC, and Surface, are.... Please. Surface is king with professionals. At the Airport spoting a Surface device is as easy as spoting an iPhone... Give me a break. A device like Andromeda, I will see multiple people a day with.
    Some kids here need to graduate from the playground to see what devices adults are really using in 2018. SMDH
  • While Surface is fairly common at the airport and I add to that number, EVERYONE you see has an iPhone. The same certainly isn't true for the Surface. Surface are actually a sales failure. Microsoft has been creating lower priced Surface options since last year and are now rumored to create a $400 model hoping to increase sales. Here is Thurrot mentioning Surface sales issues. "New Surface PCs like Surface Book and Surface Laptop have sold poorly, much more poorly than Microsoft had expected. And the entire product line collectively has very low single-digit market share. This just isn't a big business for Microsoft." https://www.thurrott.com/mobile/microsoft-surface/159684/400-surface-tab...
  • No
  • Yes Rodney. It is time to drop the Surface/WP and pick up a MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. You don't have to wait any longer for a complete and mature experience. No more disappointment and hoping for support. Apple has you covered.
  • Apple is a joke with malfunctioning keyboards, crippled speeds on older devices, bricked iPhones, and a general sense of meh all over
  • No... If those are the products you like so much, then why don't you buy them, and leave WC? What, you can't afford new devices, and you're stuck with sorry old Windows, so to show how immature, and bitter, you are you go around trolling?... Well, you're not proving any points except how childish you are. Just go to school, get a decent job, and handle your frustrations like a man. Quit blaming your worthless life on us. Do your own thing.
  • .
  • Macs/Mac OS I like, but they are so over priced, but IOS I can not stand. So even if I ever did get a Mac, I would never get an Iphone. If i really wanted to i could get a pretty complete experience on Windows and my Android phone or pretty close to it, but this cloudy stuff and connecting devices to each other is not me.
  • You're annoying. Why are you here?
  • Mature? Maybe. Functional? Ugh I wish. MacOS is good, not iOS. I traded my WP for iPhone 2 years ago, and I've used plenty of iPads through work etc. Yes there are apps for everything, but also you NEED apps for everything. Every single function is so compartmentalised into apps that the whole experience is disjointed and inconsistent. I know this has been a complaint for a long time and apple has done numerous things to improve this, but nothing has worked. Notifications are a mess. Trying to use anything other than Apples default apps and services is a mess. iOS is only worth it if everything else in your life is Apple imo. Windows has major issues with modern apps, but it also has its pros and a lot of microsofts surface devices are truly forward thinking. I like the idea of a surface hub like device as a Microsoft hub for the home. I don't see the benefit of a home hub (homepod or assistant speakers) without a screen. There is no benefit over just pulling your phone out of your pocket. A screen allows much more rapid communication of information and rather than being linked to the account of a single individual could link the accounts of all individuals in the home, acting as a proper 'hub'.
  • Do you have a source stating that Surface has failed? Because as far as I know it's been profitable since the Surface Pro 3 or 4. The lower-priced Surface is likely to be a Surface 3 successor - long overdue.
  • He's failed in life. That's his only source. Saying other things have failed makes him think relatively higher of himself, but that's not saying much.
  • Not everyone wants an iPhone. I had one but no, no more. my GF was a iPhone user but now understand why I said iOS is inefficient.
    iOS is inefficient for pros. And tbh, Apple doesn't really know how to design APIs. Right now I prefer 1st party Android phones cause I don't like tampered OS (they cause troubles, no joke), and I'll drop Android for Portable Win10 when it's available.
  • I'm one of those professionals you might be talking about. When I travel I normally carry my SP3. However, this new Andromeda device doesn't stoke my interest for one second. It's not a PHONE! So what's the big deal?! When on business I carry my work phone which is an iPhone. I can tether my iPhone to my SP3. Heck I can tether my SP3 with my personal phone which is a Nokia 830. The Andromeda so called device can't replace any one of those. It won't be as big as my SP3 and it won't be able to compete with any of my phones - because it's not a PHONE! So what actually is it bringing to the table? I mean like let's put some thought into this. What is it bringing to the table? And for sure you can't classify me as some troll. I probably own more Microsoft devices than half the people who visit this site. And I'm not talking about some low end devices either. I'm sure to get down voted for my statement. But who the heck cares. Most of the people who will down vote me wouldn't be able to afford the Andromeda device and certainly they wouldn't have a use for it. No phone = FAIL! TO ME. For those who thinks this will be a great device for them then have at it. I will go on the record and say most people who purchase one will eventually regret it. But who knows? Only time will tell. Again, if it's suppose to be some type of Trojan Horse get it out in the public and then add phone capabilities later then it might get my attention. But if it doesn't hit the ground with a phone built in, then it's a nonstarter for me. Hope those who wants this loves it.
  • When you say about people not having a use for Andromeda, you hit the nail on the head. I would have no use for any such device, I do not run a business, I am just a normal worker.
    I think people think they have a use for all this stuff and then when they get it find they don't. Like when people pay for Office and then realise that what they do with it minimal and could do the same thing in one of the cheaper or free packages.
    Strangely enough I know someone who keeps saying to me they thought i would have office 365, to which my reply is i do not require it, so why would I want to keep paying for it? A lot of people on this site could afford andromeda, myself included, but as you said, what use would it be to most of us. I use a desktop computer and an Android phone and that is all I need and my phone is nomally use for calls and text, with the odd bit of browsing.
  • It's not even out yet, how are you judging its usefulness based on what is still speculation.
  • You're completely wrong... I couldn't "live" without my office subscription... You use a desktop computer? You must be a manager at Burger King. Don't speak for others.
  • If it's not a phone and you need a phone then this isn't a device for you. That's like saying a tablet is a failure because you needed a laptop in the first place. It has already been explained many times this isn't a phone.
  • Like no duh. I know they said this isn't a phone. And my point is, that's the issue. It should be a phone. Great! Another mini-tablet. Wow! That's what was around the bend?! Really?!! A mini tablet? Forgive me if don't see or share your enthusiasm. I'll go on the record as a naysayer. BUT.... If you think it's a device for you, then GREAT! Get as many as you need once it hits the stores. I'm not saying this isn't for anyone. I'm saying it's not for me! I don't see the point. But obviously you see potential. Only time will tell.
  • Right you are. Without a decent phone infrastructure this is a fail. Really smart of MS to make sure the user base has gone and then release a product that will have no infrastructure to fall back on.
  • I agree. Surface was a 2-in-1 and it worked because it replaced both laptops and tablets. It could do both. I don't see this with Andromeda -- it isn't a 2-in-1 phone-tablet. No one is going to give up an iPhone or Galaxy Pro for this. The app gap would be even worse than Windows Mobile. Ok... so if it isn't a 2-in-1, and we expect people are going to carry their phone plus another device... why would you pick Andromeda over an 8" devices (iPads, Galaxy Notes, or Windows tablets) or any good 2-in-1. iPad and Galaxy have more apps designed for that small form factor and 7"-8" Windows tablets didn't to well. Win32 apps aren't really usable on such small devices and UWA are unimpressive for any productivity application unless you have a keyboard and mouse. We know the 2-in-1s crushed the 8" tablet market simply because the extra size and weight is an order of magnitude more productive -- keyboard, mouse, and large screen to display and manipulate large amounts of data and the horsepower to run useful applications. Sorry... I love Windows Mobile and hope Andromeda could work... but I don't see why anyone would carry it? If it can replace your phone plus offer a light-duty tablet work, it can replace a phone + tablet. Great. If it can't... and I need to carry a phone anyway... why couldn't I carry an 8" tablet -- or a 11" 2-in-1?
  • For a lot of joe public windows is irrelevant, I bet I could go on the street and ask people if they use Windows and the majority of people would say no.
  • Then why are you on Windows Central if Windows is so irrelevant to you?
  • When Surface come near normal laptops in functionality sure. So far surface 2,3, and 4 has failed to live up to our demands when the IT department had them for tests over a couple of months. Windows is of course far from death but the Surface alone wont make Windows relevant.
  • I said it on twitter and I'll say it here... Surface Hub 2, Surface Andromeda, HoloLens v.Next will all be shown off at Ignite this year to show what the modern office will look like.
  • There are two main problems remaining undressed, and both relate to small businesses. These companies survive by handling data relevant to their business and the software they use runs on Windows. As Microsoft pushes into the cloud, they are also making shifts that disrupt small scale networking ( as evidenced in the 1803 upgrade ), and fail to see that not everyone has fast, reliable, internet connectivity. In many places, cloud solutions simply are not viable at this time. Collaboration is great for the theoretical, and perhaps large corporations, but it is not the mainstay of a small business. They are involved in heavy data entry and retention, with only local analysis being relevant. As a developer who serves this marketplace, the steady series of problems arising as Microsoft abandons QA, and a solid operational platform, to pursue their vision of the cloud and groups standing around postulating solutions based on graphics increases the frustration level of people with narrow margins who simply want to have a reliable system to handle their daily tasks. People who wish to argue otherwise first need to spend some time working in a small business to actually understand their reality. Far too often people approach them with theoretical ideas about how they could use technology to improve their tasks, but in reality, those are of no value. It's easy to write reviews and work in the theoretical, discovering new IT magic in a development group, or setting a vision for how we can all get together in the cloud, but in reality these people simply want to serve their clients, get through a long day without problems, and go home to their families. On this, Microsoft used to be the stable platform, but now it is heading off into it's own artificial intelligence and leaving behind those who had to depend on them. Of course, maybe it's my perception that MSFT has absolutely no problem abandoning a good thing as I still miss my Windows Phone and Band 2, with the cultural belief it's ok to create something really good, entice people to invest in it, and then simply walk away leaving everyone behind thinking "we really don't matter to these guys".
  • Small business is in the same boat as consumers. The focus remains entirely on enterprise.
  • That is because "Enterprise" is where all the money is. Medium to Large Enterprise businesses are falling all over themselves in a mad rush to move all their assets to Azure/OneDrive/Office 365/Skype (soon to be Teams), simply because it provides CIOs with the one thing they desperately need; Predictable Costs Year-to-Year.
    It doesn't matter it is MORE expensive, it is PREDICTABLE and that is the holy grail in Business Budgeting. It will be a major PITA for the company IT teams, and the company users, but CIOs don't care about that. They have budgeting targets to meet or the company Board will go get another CIO who will meet them (that is the reality of Businesses bigger than 300 employees.)
    MS will leave the Consumer Space to the OEMs just like it has for over 30 years, who will take what is available in the Enterprise space and adapt it to the Consumer Space, on their own dime. MS doesn't want to fight with Android or iOS, and doesn't need to. They can innovate in the Enterprise space and let it organically spill out into the Consumer Space.
    If it is not directly tied to Azure/Cloud and Enterprise, it won't get any R&D $$$ at MS.
    The only innovation they will continue in the Consumer Space is in XBOX (which is heavily tied to Azure already via XBOX Live) and peripherals (mice, keyboards, controllers, etc.) where they do quite well already.
    They ARE a Software Company first and foremost and SaaS is right up their power ally.
  • I haven't seen much evidence of this spillover so can you educate me please. Not throwing stones, just want more info.
  • Hey, small business owner here! Well not me, a friend of mine, but I joined the team since day one. We might be lucky with our Internet speeds, but we're using Office 365, PowerBI, MS Teams, Skype, PCs, MS To Do, LinkedIn, and soon jumping on Azure. So yeah, small businesses can definitely benefits from Microsoft services. PS, this is for a small, local coffee shop. Not exactly the most tech-involved industry to most people.
  • Hi, I just updated both Windows 10 and office 365 and it took 8 hours on my internet speed. If my internet speed is typical of 80% of the world then why should i follow the ms path? Seriously, the current path seems to be unwieldy and not so vood for me if I lose 5% of my working month on every machine I own. With these line speeds i am very uncomfortable letting stuff update overnight as line reliability is similarly dodgy. Herein lies the flaw in nadella's ill conceived plan.
  • MS is in a transitional phase in terms of their engineering processes, which is why there's been a bit of a back slide in QA, but it has been steadily improving. A lot of it has to do with the large amount of refactoring they've been doing and the need to properly establish robust test case coverage. Those are pretty much one time hits though. And they're putting quite a bit of focus into local processing and are really the only cloud player that's doing much work on local and hybrid scenarios, so I hardly see them ignoring those scenarios. Azure Stack and