09 May

Tracking Microsoft and the Future of Computing

An Article By, David Tan, Chief Technology Officer 

For all the change that has happened in the tech industry in the last few years, there is no denying that Microsoft is still one of the industry leaders and a company that helps set the direction of computing for the broad majority of people and businesses.  In the 3 years since Satya Nadella has taken over as CEO the company has become much more innovative and creative, and returned to its roots as a true pioneer.  That’s why I always think it’s worthwhile to check in on them from time to time and see what some of the products or services they are delivering can tell us about the direction we are headed.  I think some of the things I’ve seen recently speak volumes and are worth talking about.

The Windows operating system still runs billions of personal computers.  Even though it seems like 1 out of every 3 or 4 versions succeeds, we all still rely on it day in and day out.  Windows 7 is still heavily installed, but Windows 10 has been a success by most metrics.  If you’re keeping score, just this week Microsoft killed off all support for Windows Vista and Windows 8 is pretty much an orphan.  Development continues as strong as ever on the Windows 10 front however and Microsoft the software company is actually doing some really creative and innovative things in the hardware arena.

Last week Microsoft released what they are calling the Windows 10 Creators Edition – a free upgrade for all Windows 10 users.  The term creator comes from Microsoft’s assertion that everyone wants to create something great.  This definitely feels a bit like an assault on Apple.  While many of the new features aren’t exactly geared towards enterprise, it’s interesting to see some of the new areas they are focusing on and what they mean for the broader market.  Of course security continues to be a huge focus.  The new version has some enhanced dashboards and reporting around the health and security of your device.  This is a natural evolution for the most secure operating system Microsoft has ever created.  There are also some nice enhancements to Windows Hello.  This is the technology that lets you use your face to unlock your device.  Clearly the future of passwords for access to critical systems is in serious jeopardy and Microsoft seems to be doing their part to help lead the change.

There are 2 other enhancements I’m particularly interested in personally.  There is a huge improvement in support for 3D and a very large bet on the mainstream use and adoption of augmented reality / virtual reality devices.  There is a new application called Paint 3D which allows you to work with and create 3D models.  There is also a built-in viewer for other types of 3D models.  This is a long way from the old versions of Microsoft Paint!  This clearly seems to be tied to the growth in popularity of 3D printers and how increasingly the manufacturing process is changing and moving to the end user.  There is even 3D support in the Edge browser, and you can natively print these 3D models to any 3D printer.  It’s nice to see Microsoft embracing it and putting more power in users’ hands.

Mixed Reality—which includes Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Holographic computing, according to Microsoft—is another big focus. “Windows Mixed Reality” is the new name for “Windows Holographic”, and it works hand in hand with the 3D support. Microsoft’s own HoloLens headset, for example, is a mixed reality headset. It allows you to see through the headset to the real world, and digital images are superimposed on that image of the real world.  With HoloLens, you’ll be able to download a 3D model from Edge or create one in Paint 3D and virtually place it somewhere in the real world.  This will create some really exciting opportunities in areas like healthcare and education.  Microsoft also announced partnerships with several large hardware manufacturers to create more mainstream mixed reality headsets.  Clearly they see this as a path forward for interacting with your computer systems.

The desktop OS is exciting, but it’s only half the story.  It’s also important to look at the server side of the equation, although really now you’d have to look at server and cloud.  The CTO of Microsoft’s cloud platform (Azure) talked openly recently about how they are making a real push into “serverless” computing.  Despite what the name says, clearly there are still servers involved.  What serverless computing aims to do is abstract the platform from the application.  Today, if an application developer wants to build and run an application in the cloud, they still need to worry about things like spinning up virtual machines, installing applications, patching the machine and so on.  In a serverless world, instead of that whole process, they would simply write an application function and feed it to the platform and all the processing and computing they need would take place.  They would be charged for the resources they consume.  This is a true utility computing model.  Microsoft isn’t alone in this quest.  Companies like Amazon, IBM, and Google offer some of these resources to developers now.  It’s telling however to see a company who built their legacy on servers and server platforms moving in this direction.  It will clearly lead to more powerful, flexible applications that can be developed and scaled at unprecedented speeds.  It’s incredibly exciting.

If you believe my earlier assertion that Microsoft is still one of the tech giants leading the way for our industry, then you can start to get a picture of the future.  Users will get increasingly powerful application and platforms delivered to them at hyper-speeds from an increasingly diverse cloud eco-system.  End users will have the tools they needs to be more productive than ever, and we will interact with computers – and our world – in new and interesting ways.  Technology is always changing and evolving and it’s always exciting to be involved with, but I think we are on the brink of some of the most disruptive changes we have ever seen and I’m looking forward to how it develops.

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