As the final days of 2016 are being marked off the calendar, it is a great time to look back on the last 12 months and review how I did last year at this time when it came to my 2016 predictions for Windows 10.
In addition, I have been pondering what we will see in 2017 from Microsoft for their flagship operating system. Over the course of 2017, we are expecting two big Feature Updates for Windows 10. The first one, known as the Creators Update, is due in March 2017 and will deliver updates centered around creators, 3D, and of course more security updates for consumers and enterprise users. The second update in 2017 is currently codenamed Redstone 3 updat. It is expected in late Summer/early Fall. We can also expect that update will deliver the rumored Cortana based Home Hub - a direct competitor to Amazon's Alexa and Google Home in the growing home based personal assistant market.
If Microsoft provides the software and services to this new Cortana based service and then partners with others to build the hardware it could be a very positive excursion into the market. We already know Microsoft is doing a similar partnership with Intel and other Head Mounted Device (HMD) manufacturers for 3D on Windows 10 called Project Evo which is expected alongside the release of the Creators Update.
Microsoft also announced updates to Windows 10 Internet of Things (IoT) at WinHEC and along with the partnership between Microsoft and Qualcomm to deliver Windows 10 on ARM based devices with x86 emulation it means Cortana and the Home Hub can be delivered on low powered, battery efficient devices throughout the home.
However, these are all things we have heard directly from Microsoft and they have a reasonable chance of coming to fruition but what is in the tea leaves for Microsoft and Windows 10?
Well before I stare at the bottom of that cup, let me go back to December 2015 and review my predictions for Windows 10 in 2016 and give myself some grades on those prognostications.
Prediction #1 -- Centralized/Synched Action Center and Notifications
Grade - D
Although there has been progress made in this area, it is all dependent on the app developer to use the right code to clear alerts from the Message Center on Windows 10; it is not handled on the system level. Some apps have implemented this capability and do a good job of not showing you the same alerts on other devices but it needs to get better. That may mean the OS needs to handle the duplication of alerts instead of waiting on app devs to update their apps.
Prediction # 2 -- Feature parity in Windows 10 Mobile Apps from Microsoft, especially when compared to their iOS and Android Counterparts
Grade - D
There has been some a small amount of movement in this area for incremental improvements but Microsoft continues to target iOS and Android for new apps first ahead of their own platform. In some cases Windows 10 Mobile never sees that service/product make its way to the platform even though it remains on iOS and Android.
In last years predictions I specifically pointed out the differences between the Microsoft Authenticator app on Windows 10 Mobile and its iOS/Android counterparts. In 2016 that app has been updated to provide one button 2FA validation which brings it up to par with the iOS/Android versions.
Prediction #3 -- Family Groove Music Subscription
Grade - F
This one is easy - no family-based Groove Music subscription was made available in 2016. Hopefully, we will finally see this in 2017 but I am not going to include it in my 2017 predictions.
Prediction #4 -- Virtual Desktop Improvements
Grade - D
While there have been a few tweaks made to the Virtual Desktop feature in Windows 10 this past year, it still lacks some elements that could really make it top notch and possibly increase usage.
My biggest prediction for Virtual Desktops in 2016 was to see a system around them for creating, managing and syncing them across devices but unfortunately, none of that was implemented.
Microsoft has not shied away from cutting under utilized features and my concern is that unless they are made more useful/persistant then this is a feature we could lose from Windows 10.
Prediction #5 -- System Reliability Improvements
Grade - D
Although Windows 10 has become more reliable in 2016, it continues to suffer from the Windows 10 Experience Variable I first wrote about in September 2015.
This may simply be the new norm because of the wide variation of hardware that is in the Windows ecosystem. However, there are still plenty of instances I see on social media of users on the same device/hardware having vastly different experiences with Windows 10 and reliability.
Bonus Prediction - More Detailed Information About Updates
Grade - B
Although Knowledge Base (KB) articles that provide details about a Windows 10 Update are now regularly released with updates, they typically arrive after the release of the patch. Ideally this should be just the opposite and details about the update released before it is made available on Windows Update.
One thing that did happen in the last year was the availability of the Windows 10 Update History Page.
This page provides a summary of updates for all released versions of Windows 10 along with details from the applicable KB articles and they now say much more that just performance and bug fixes.
OK, now that the grades are up for my 2016 predictions it is time to look into those tea leaves I mentioned earlier and see what might be coming down the road.
PREDICTION #1 -- WINDOWS AS A SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE (WaaSS)
With over 24 million Office 365 consumer subscribers, Microsoft has established/proven that a subscription model to one of their most popular suites of software works. Several years ago I am not sure anyone would have predicted that would be the case for Office.
Now consider that the retail version of Windows 10 makes for a very small portion of Microsoft's overall revenue stream these days. In addition, during the most recent financial quarter, OEM revenue for Windows was flat at 0% year over year growth between OEM Pro/OEM non-Pro revenue. Bottom line - not as many licenses are being sold to manufacturers for Windows 10 based devices.
One more tidbit to support my prediction of WaaSS stems from the return of Joe Belfiore's to the company after his one year sabbatical. Although he previously ran the Windows Phone/Mobile business for Microsoft, he is now in charge of monetizing Windows.
Here is the reporting from Brad Sams on this:
"Joe will be running the consumer-focused Windows Shell and will be reporting to Terry Myerson; his objective will be to find new ways to make money with Windows 10 as the traditional licensing model of the OS goes away, especially in the lower-priced segment."
We have seen in app, console, and OS based ads play a larger role since the release of Windows 8/8.1 and that has continued in Windows 10. This this new tasking for Joe Belfiore leads me to believe we will soon see some type of subscription based service for Windows on the consumer side.
The big questions relate to how this will work with OEMs and any impact on retail sales of new/upgrade versions of Windows 10. Since most users get Windows 10 through the purchase of a new computer this entire scenario revolves heavily around the OEMs.
If you think privacy and a pushy upgrades of Windows 10 caused consternation for users - just wait to see what happens if this becomes reality.
PREDICTION #2 -- DIGITAL REASALE MARKETPLACE
In 2016, we saw an increase in the growth of the digital marketplace for app stores, gaming consoles and even desktop software purchases through the Windows Store on Windows 10.
While there are ways to get refunds for these purchases if there are issues, most of them are final and you are stuck with them once you hit that Buy button. My digital library has more than a few games/apps that I abandoned for various reasons, but I am sure others would love to pick them up at a slight discount.
The Digital Marketplace desperately needs a resale option that would basically duplicate the physical process of walking into a Gamestop and trading in your games for credit to be used on future purchases. The difference of course would be you are selling digital copies of that game or app instead of just removing it from your device.
The big complaint about the old physical process of selling of a game on disc was that devs and manufacturers never received any money from that resale. In a digital resale marketplace that could be solved by figuring out a process that would see all parties get some portion of the resale value. It would benefit everyone involved and encourage more users to digitally download their new product purchases instead of purchasing physical discs.
Of course, the infrastructure would need to be developed to transfer the license to the buyer and revoke the same license from the seller but that should certainly not be a showstopper.
Although my prediction here is focused on Windows 10 - this could be beneficial for those users on Google Play and the iOS App Store.
PREDICTION #3 -- MICROSOFT EDGE EXTENSION SUBMISSIONS GO PUBLIC
I recently wrote about the fact that there are only 22 extensions in the Windows Store for Microsoft Edge and that public submissions for new extensions are not yet possible.
The limited number of extensions have only been available to all Microsoft Edge users since the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update back in August. At that time there were just 13 listed extensions which means only nine have been added in the almost four months since their debut.
That is much too slow and keeps Windows 10 users from adopting Microsoft Edge as their browser for daily use. The one way Microsoft can shift more users over to the default browser for Windows 10 is build up that library of extensions by opening submissions up to all extension developers.
The tools are already available to convert existing Chrome extensions and build new ones from scratch so I would expect the growth to really hit a spurt once the doors are opened for everyone to submit their work.
This needs to happen sooner rather than later, so I expect the floodgates to open alongside the release of the Creators Update in March of 2017.
PREDICTION #4 -- A NEW WINDOWS 10 FREE UPGRADE OFFER
This is my bold prediction for 2017 and one that will get a very mixed reaction.
Microsoft's Chris Capossela, the companies Executive VP and Chief Marketing Officer, appeared on Windows Weekly last week and admitted that the Redmond company pushed too hard with the year long Windows 10 upgrade effort -- including modifying the default behavior of the red X button in an upgrade dialog. The company knows they took it too far.
Here is the thing - Microsoft seems to have learned their lesson about the in your face upgrade and how those aggressive methods were not very popular and probably added to many users not making the move from Windows 7/8.1 to Windows 10. Why not offer a nicer, gentler upgrade program for Windows 7/8.1 users to encourage them to make that move on their existing systems?
According to Microsoft's Windows and Store trends data as of August 2016, Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 account for 42% and 15% of the operating system install base. That is a total of 57% of users who could still take advantage of a free upgrade offer.
However, in order to be a kinder/gentler upgrade offer there needs to be some ground rules:
1. No system based apps or helpers to advertise the upgrade to eligible users. That means do not bring back the Get Windows X app. Simply put, its history is way too fresh in the mind of users. This also means do not offer the upgrade through Windows Update.
2. Must be a completely user initiated download/upgrade process. Let users grab the Media Creation Tool to start the process as it already provides users options to perform an in-place upgrade or create installation media.
3. Continue to validate eligibility for the Windows 10 upgrade through the product keys embedded in system BIOS or let users enter the product key that is on the COA sticker on their device. The less hurdles to this process the better.
4. Make it a perpetual free upgrade to any Windows 7/8.1 user - in other words no expiration. The more users in the Windows 10 ecosystem means there will be even more secure systems across the globe and that is a plus for everyone.
When Windows 10 was a fresh release no one really understood Windows as a Service (WaaS) or the whole concept of Feature Updates however, with the OS on the market for over a year and two delivered Feature Updates, it is better understood. The upcoming Project Evo and integrating reasonably priced 3D capabilities and HMDs into systems running the Creators Update is a great opportunity to encourage upgrades for those new capabilities that are in high demand.
So what predictions do you have for 2017 and Windows 10?