In the course of this year, we’ve seen a number of very interesting new PC designs and in the past few weeks, Microsoft and its partners have made strides toward making Windows and the PCs that run it more exciting.
On the hardware side, I’ve been impressed by many of the 2-in-1s, particularly, as well as at how we’ve started to see relatively inexpensive 2-in-1s for the consumer market. Touch, in general, is a great feature: once you’ve used a touchscreen on a laptop, you may wonder how you ever did computing without it.
That doesn’t seem to be enough to make the PC market exciting. So Microsoft has created some new form factors, notably the, with its large display that can be laid flat, as well as receive input from a pen or the new Surface Dial. On the software front, next year’s version of Windows will be called the Creators Edition. (In some respects, this reminds me of but with newer technology and with Windows 10 better tuned for this environment.) And Microsoft’s Hub seems to be getting some attention as a collaboration solution in a few big organizations.
Earlier this month, Microsoft teamed up with long-time partner Intel to try to move PCs forward with what the pair call, designed to add mixed reality, better voice activation, and better security to PCs. On mixed reality headsets, this includes not only but a variety of other headsets at lower price points. For voice, this means support for far-field communications (such as that popularized by the ) and having such communication integrated with Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, so you’ll be able to wake the computer by speaking alone. Other hardware features discussed include better support for 4K monitors with High Dynamic Range (HDR) and spatial audio, as well as improved security features.
It’s not just Intel, which for the past few years has had the processor market for high-end PCs pretty much to itself. AMD looks to be much more competitive in the year ahead, with the launch of itsbased on the new . Both AMD and Nvidia have some terrific new GPUs, able to power more immersive games and virtual reality experiences.
Perhaps most interesting, Microsoft also announced a partnership with Qualcomm to bring Windows to. This has been tried before— and Windows Phone are both cautionary tales—but this time, Microsoft is adding an emulator designed to let such machines run legacy Windows desktop apps in addition to new “modern” or “Windows store” applications. That’s important, because most of the great Windows apps are still most powerful in their desktop versions, from Office to Photoshop. There are limitations here—it seems limited to 32-bit, and thus won’t be available on the more powerful 64-bit versions—and it’s hard to know how well such applications will perform. But the concept of emulation has worked in the past. Apple famously emulated the PowerPC environment to run old apps when it first .
It’s an open question whether this will prove to be successful in the market. After all, if you want a really inexpensive Windows machine, you can already find Intel-based machines (usually running a Pentium or Celeron Atom variant) for under $200. Instead, the real excitement should be around better battery life and an integrated modem, two areas where Qualcomm’s chips—originally aimed at the mobile phone market—have excelled. (I’m still surprised that Intel has yet to release a laptop chip with an x86 processor and an integrated modem almost six years after it acquired Infineon’s wireless division. The company did create a few chips with Infineon modems and Atom cores for phones and tablets, but they weren’t built in Intel fabs and aren’t prevalent.)
Meanwhile, Microsoft is promising a number of important security and other enhancements for enterprise users in the, including a new security center and new and improved mobile device management. This adds to a number of new security enhancements, including Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) that the company discussed at its . All of this is crucial for getting enterprises to more quickly adopt Windows 10. Nearly every CIO I’ve talked to says they are planning to move to Windows 10, but the migration has been slower than Microsoft would like.