Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Windows 11: Microsoft reaffirms the importance of PCs

It is an incredibly strong statement about the ongoing importance of PCs and the PC market. Practically speaking, as with virtually every other Windows OS update, Windows 11 provides a good reason for people to look at upgrading their existing PCs – or to make a new purchase.

Even Microsoft didn’t think things were going to go this way. After all, when it released Windows 10 back in 2015, the company said it was going to be the last version of Windows. Clearly, however, things have changed.

The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that PCs are not only here to stay, but they’re also arguably more important than they’ve ever been. In fact, though chip shortages may keep the end of year numbers lower than they might have otherwise been, many PC industry observers believe 2021 could have been (and might still be) the biggest year of PC shipments in the nearly 40-year history of the category.

Given this robust return to relevance, it’s also not the least bit surprising that Microsoft chose to keep the Windows operating system – which powers about 90% of the world’s PCs – as fresh and modern as it could with the announcement of Windows 11. In fact, at the end of the Windows 11 launch event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described Windows 11 as “the first version of a new era of Windows.” In other words, it’s clearly not the last version either.

What’s great about Windows 11 is that not only is it a very attractive looking refresh of Windows, with important but easily accessible enhancements to the basic user interface, it’s also an incredibly strong statement about the ongoing importance of PCs and the PC market. Practically speaking, as with virtually every other Windows OS update, Windows 11 provides a good reason for people to look at upgrading their existing PCs – or to make a new purchase.

Between the move to hybrid work environments, the recognized importance of remote learning, and even the Jetsons-like ability to easily partake in video calls with family, friends and colleagues, having a connected, modern PC per person (and not just per household) has never been more important. With Win11, Microsoft is acknowledging that importance, while at the same time making adjustments to accommodate the different ways we now think about and use PCs.

Integrating the Chat functions for Teams directly into the Windows 11 Start bar, for example, provides a good example of this new thinking. Of course, fans of Zoom, Google Meet, Webex and other videoconferencing and collaboration platforms may have a different opinion on this point. However, building support for multiple methods of modern communications directly into the OS clearly shows that Microsoft has adjusted its thinking on how people use PCs. (Plus, the company hinted at the possibility of letting other platforms get access to the same level of integration in the future, but we’ll see how that plays out.)

The ability to run Android applications on Windows – in part via a collaborative effort with Amazon’s Android app store – also highlights the shifting usage pattern of PCs. Microsoft first introduced better smartphone to PC integration with the Your Phone app a few years back. The Android support on Windows 11, however, takes things to a new level. To put it simply, it should make your Android-based smartphone and Windows 11-based PC work much better together.

Another important change in how many people have been using PCs is by connecting to large monitors, especially those who are doing work at home. Thankfully, Microsoft made some important changes to accommodate this in Windows 11 through features called Snap Views and Desktops. What Snap basically does is allow you to freely connect laptop PCs (or desktops) to monitors of various sizes and have your application windows automatically adjust and take best advantage of the improved screen real estate.

Desktops extend the capability by letting you save various combinations of Windows settings, backgrounds, and more to move from, say, work mode to personal mode or school mode and back. Though that may sound simple and somewhat trivial, I can tell you unequivocally as a user of a large widescreen monitor since right before the pandemic, it makes a surprisingly large impact on productivity and the overall usefulness of Windows.

From a business model perspective, Microsoft also made some important statements about where it believes things should be going in the computing market. For one, the company made it clear that Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for consumers and that, while new PCs with OS installed will arrive by this holiday season, most PCs from about the last 5 years or so will be upgradeable from Windows 10 to Windows 11 at no cost. (The fact that all Windows 10 apps are expected to be compatible with Windows 11 certainly helps.)

In addition, for application developers, Microsoft clearly threw down the gauntlet versus Apple, and even Google to some degree, by saying that for software companies that have their own commerce engine, Microsoft will charge no fees at all when their apps are purchased in the “enhanced for Windows 11” Microsoft Store. Companies that don’t have that can use Microsoft’s commerce engine, but they’ll only be charged 15%–half of what Apple currently charges its developers.

Realistically, these better business terms aren’t going to get app developers to dramatically change their strategies and abandon efforts on other platforms. However, it is one of many steps that Microsoft is taking to try and make the 1.3 billion installed base of Windows devices as attractive as possible.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not consumers choose to upgrade their existing Windows 10 PCs, buy new Windows 11-based machines or do nothing at all will come down to people deciding how important PCs are in their personal and professional lives. The good news is, by providing some new flash and substance to the PC computing experience, Microsoft is offering Windows 11 as a powerful incentive to make that decision a fair bit easier.


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