Left to their own devices many home PC users will defer installing updates for as long as humanly possible, most even turning off the auto-updating system completely in order to get rid of those annoying pop ups. Of course this means that exploits, which are routinely patched within days of them being discovered, are often not installed. This leaves many unnecessarily vulnerable to security breaches, something which could be avoided if they just installed the updates once in a while. With Windows 10 it now seems that most users won’t have a choice, they’ll be getting all Microsoft updates regardless of whether they want them or not.
Currently you have a multitude of options to select from when you subscribe to Windows updates. The default setting is to let Windows decide when to download, install and reboot your computer as necessary. The second does all the same except it will let you choose when you want to reboot, useful if you don’t leave your computer on constantly or don’t like it rebooting at random. The third option is essentially just a notification option that will tell you when updates are available but it’ll be up to you to choose which ones to download install. The last is, of course, to completely disable the service something which not many IT professionals would recommend you do.
Windows 10 narrows this down to just the first two options for Home version users, removing the option for them to not install updates if they don’t want to. This is not just limited to a specific set of updates (like say security) either as feature updates as well as things as drivers could potentially find their way into this mandatory system. Users of the Pro version of Windows 10 will have the option to defer feature updates for up to 8 months (called Current Branch for Business) however past that point they’ll be cut off from security updates, something which I’m sure none of them want. The only version of Windows 10 that will have long term deferral for feature updates will be the Enterprise version which can elect to only receive security updates between major Windows updates.
Predictably this has caught the ire of many IT professionals and consumers alike, mostly due to the inclusion of feature updates in the mandatory update scheme. Few would argue that mandatory security updates are a bad thing, indeed upon first hearing about this that’s what I thought it would be, however lumping in Windows feature updates alongside it makes a much less palatable affair. Keen observers have pointed out that this is likely due to Microsoft attempting to mold Windows into an as-a-service offering alongside their current offerings like Office 365. For products like that continuous (and mandatory) updates aren’t so much of a problem since they’re vetted against a single platform however for home users it’s a little bit more problematic, given the numerous variables at play.
Given that Windows 10 is slated to go out to the general public in just over a week it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be drastically changing this position anytime soon. For some this might be another reason for them to avoid upgrading to the next version of Windows although I’m sure the lure of a free version will be hard to ignore. For businesses though it’s somewhat less of an issue as they still have the freedom to update how they please. Microsoft has shown however that they’re intent on listening to their consumer base and should there be enough outrage about this then there’s every chance that they’ll change their position. This won’t be stopping me from upgrading, of course, but I’m one of those people who has access to any version I may want.
Not everyone is in as fortunate position as I am.
The date for the final version of Windows has been set: July 29 of this year.
The announcement comes as a shock to no one, Microsoft had repeatedly committed to making Windows 10 generally available sometime this year, however the timing is far more aggressive than I would have expected. The Windows Insider program was going along well although the indications were that most of the builds still had a decidedly beta feel to them along with many features being missing. Indeed the latest build was released just three days ago indicating that a full release was still some time away. Microsoft isn’t one to give soft dates, especially for their flagship OS, so we can take the July 29 date as gospel from here on out.
Since everyone in the Insider program has had their hands on Windows 10 for some time now the list of features likely won’t surprise you however there were a few things that caught my eye in Microsoft’s announcement post. By the looks of it Office 2016 will be released alongside the new version of Windows including a new universal app version that’s geared towards touch devices. Considering how clumsy the desktop Office products felt on touch screens this is a welcome addition for tablet and transformer devices although I’d hazard a guess that the desktop version will still be the preferred one for many. What’s really interesting though is that OneNote and Outlook, long considered staples of the Office suite by many, will now be included in the base version of Windows for free. It’s not a big of an upset as including say Word or Excel would be but still an unexpected move none-the-less.
Many of the decidedly lacklustre default metro apps will get some new life breathed into them with an update to the universal app platform. On the surface this removes their irritating “takes over your entire desktop when launched” behaviour and makes them behave a lot more like a traditional app. Whether or not they’ll be improved to the point of usable beyond that is something that I’ll have to wait and see although I do have to admit that some of the built in apps (like the PDF reader) were quite useful to have. How the well integration between those apps, the cloud and other devices that can run universal apps, works remains to be seen although I’ve heard positive things about this experience in the past.
It seems that Microsoft has had this date in mind for some time now as all my home Windows 8.1 installs last night chirped up with a “Reserve your free Windows 10!” pop up late last night. This is the realisation of the promise Microsoft made back at the start of the year to provide a free Windows 10 update to all current consumer level customers, something I thought would likely be handled through a redemption portal or similar. However, based on the success Microsoft had in getting people to upgrade from 8 to 8.1 with a similar notification, I can see why they’ve taken this approach as it’s far more likely to get people upgrading than a free Windows 10 serial would.
What will be truly interesting to see is if the pattern of adoption continues with major Windows versions. Windows 7, which is now approaching middle age, still remains unchallenged by the previous two upstarts. The barriers to transitioning are now much lower than they once were, however customers have shown that familiarity is something they value above nearly everything else. Windows 10 has all the makings of a Windows version that consumers want but we all know that what people say they want and what they actually want are two different things.
I’ve spent the better part of the last 4 years banging on about how the hybrid cloud should be the goal that all cloud services work towards. Whilst the argument can be made that this might be born out of some protectionist feeling for on-premise infrastructure it’s more that I could never see large organisations fully giving up control of their infrastructure to the cloud. However the benefits of using the cloud, both in terms of its IaaS and PaaS capabilities, are undeniable and thus the ideal scenario is a blend between these two. Only one cloud provider has seriously considered this position, likely because of their large footprint in the enterprise space. Today Microsoft has launched the next stage in its cloud strategy: the Microsoft Azure Stack.
The Azure Stack appears to be an extension of the Azure Pack that Microsoft released a couple years ago, bringing many of the backend features that Microsoft itself uses to power the Azure Cloud to the enterprise. However whilst the Azure Pack was more of an interface that brought a whole lot of tools together the Azure Stack is its own set of technologies that elevates your current IT infrastructure with Azure features. As to what those features are exactly Microsoft isn’t being more specific than saying IaaS and PaaS currently although the latter indicates that some of the more juicy Azure features, like Table Storage, could potentially find their way into your datacenter.
The idealized hybrid cloud scenario that many have been talking about for years is an on-premise deployment that’s able to burst out to the cloud for additional resources when the need strikes. Whilst this was theoretically possible, if you invested the time to develop or customize your applications to take advantage of it, the examples of successful implementations were few and far between. The improvements that come with the Microsoft Azure Stack make such a scenario far more possible than it ever was before, allowing developers to create applications against a common platform that remains consistent no matter where the application finds itself running. At the same time supporting infrastructure applications can benefit from those same advantages, greatly reducing complexity in administering such an environment.
This comes hand in hand with the announcement of Microsoft Operations Manager which is essentially the interface to your on-premise cloud. Microsoft is positioning it as the one interface to rule them all as it’s capable of interfacing with all the major cloud providers as well as the various on-premise solutions that their competitors provide. The initial release will focus on 4 key features: Log Analytics, Security, Availability and Automation with more features to be coming at a “rapid pace” as the product matures. For me the most interesting features are the availability (apparently enabling a cloud restore of an application regardless of where it sits) and the automation stuff, but I’ll need to have a play with it first before I call out my favourite.
The Microsoft Azure Stack is by far the most exciting announcement to come out of Redmond in a long time as it shows they’re dedicated to providing the same experience to their enterprise customers as they currently deliver to their cloud counterparts. The cloud wall that has existed ever since the inception of the first cloud service is quickly breaking down, enabling enterprise IT to do far more than it ever could. This new Microsoft, which is undoubtedly being powered by Nadella’s focus on building upon the strong based he created in the Servers and Tools division, is one that its competitors should be wary of as they’re quickly eating everyone else’s lunch.
Microsoft has been pursuing its unified platform strategy for some time now with admittedly mixed results. The infrastructure to build that kind of unified experience is there, and indeed Microsoft applications have demonstrated that it can be taken advantage of, but it really hasn’t spread to third party developers and integrators like they intended it to. A big part of this was the fact that their mobile offering, Windows Phone, is a very minor player that has been largely ignored by the developer community. Whilst its enterprise integration can’t be beaten the consumer experience, which is key to driving further adoption of the platform, has been severely lacking. Today Microsoft has announced a radical new approach to improving this by allowing iOS and Android apps to run as Universal Applications on the Windows platform.
The approach is slightly different between platforms however the final outcome is the same: applications written for the two current kings of the smartphone world can run as a universal application on supported Windows platforms. Android applications can be submitted in their native APK form and will then run in a para-virtualized environment (includes aspects of both emulation as well as direct subsystem integration). iOS applications on the other hand can, as of today, be compiled directly from Objective-C into Universal Applications that can be run on Windows Phones. Of course there will likely still be some effort required to get the UX inline but not having to maintain different core codebases will mean that the barriers to developing a cross platform app that includes Windows Phone will essentially drop to nothing.
Of course whether or not this will translate into more people jumping onto the Windows Phone ecosystem isn’t something I can readily predict. Windows Phone has been languishing in the single digit market share ever since its inception and all the changes that Microsoft has made to get that number up haven’t made a meaningful impact on it. Having a better app ecosystem will be a drawcard to those who like Microsoft but haven’t wanted to make the transition but this all relies on developers taking the time to release their applications on the Windows Phone platform. Making the dev experience easier is the first step to this but then it’s a chicken and egg problem of not having enough market share to make it attractive for both ends of the spectrum.
Alongside this Microsoft also announced the ability for web pages to use features of the Windows Phone platform, enabling them to become hosted web pages with enhanced functionality. It’s an interesting approach for enabling a richer web experience however it feels like something that should probably be a generalized standard rather than a proprietary tech that only works for one platform. Microsoft has shown that they’re willing to open up products like this now, something they never did in the past, so potentially this could just be the beachhead to see whether or not there’s any interest before they start pushing it to a wider audience.
This is definitely a great step in the right direction for Microsoft as anything they can do to reduce the barrier to supporting their ecosystem will go a long way to attracting more developers to their ecosystem. There’s still a ways to go to making their mobile platform a serious contender with the current big two but should this app portability program pay dividends then there’s real potential for them to start clawing back some of the market share they once had. It’s likely going to be some time before we know if this gamble will pay off for Microsoft but I think everyone can agree that they’re at least thinking along the right lines.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that smartphones are still a recent phenomenon with the first devices to be categorised as such being less than a decade old. Sure there were phones before that which you could say were smartphones but back then they were more an amalgam of a PDA and a phone more than a seamless blend between the two. Back then the landscape of handset providers was wildly different, one that was dominated by a single player: Nokia. Their failure to capitalize on the smartphone revolution is a testament to incumbents failing to react to innovative upstarts and their sale to Microsoft their admittance of their fault. You can then imagine my surprise when the now much smaller company is eyeing off a return to the smartphone market as pretty much everyone would agree the horse has long since bolted for Nokia.
The strategy is apparently being born out of the Nokia Technologies arm, the smallest branch out of the three that remained after the deal with Microsoft (the other two being its network devices and Here location division). This is the branch that holds Nokia’s 10,000 or so patents and so you’d think that they’d likely just be resting on their laurels and collecting patent fees for time immaterial. However this section has been somewhat busy at work having developed and licensed two products since the Microsoft deal. The first of which is z Launcher an Android launcher and the N1 a tablet which they’ve licensed out to another manufacturer whom they’ve also lent the Nokia brand name too. The expectation is that future Nokia devices will likely follow the latter’s model with Nokia doing most of the backend work but then offloading it to someone else to manufacture and ship.
There’s no doubt that Nokia had something of a cult following among Windows Phone users as they provided some of the best handsets for that platform. Their other smartphones however had no such following as their pursuit of their own mobile ecosystem made it extremely unappealing to developers who were already split between two major platforms. Had Nokia retained control of the Lumia brand I could see them having an inbuilt user base for a future smartphone, especially if came in an Android flavour, however that brand (and everything that backed it) went to Microsoft and so did all the loyalty that went with it. Nokia is essentially starting from scratch here and, unfortunately, that doesn’t bode well for the once king of the phone industry.
Coming in at that level you’re essentially competing with every other similarly specced handset out there and, to be honest, it’s a market that eats up competitors like that without too much hassle. The outsourcing of the actual manufacturing and distribution means that they don’t shoulder a lot of the risk that they used to with such designs however it also means they have little control over the final product that actually reaches consumers. That being said the N1 does look like a solid device but that doesn’t necessarily mean that future devices will share the same level of quality.
Nokia is going to have to do something to stand out from the pack and, frankly, without their brand loyalty behind them I’m struggling to see what they could do to claw back some of the market share they once had. There are innumerable companies now that have solid handset choices for nearly all sectors of the market and the Nokia brand name just doesn’t carry the weight it once did. If they’re seriously planning a return to the smartphone market they’re going to have to do much more than just make another handset, something which I’m not entirely sure the now slimmed down Nokia is capable of doing.
Windows 10 is fast shaping up to be one of the greatest Windows releases with numerous consumer facing changes and behind the scenes improvements. Whilst Microsoft has been struggling somewhat to deliver on the rapid pace they promised with the Windows Insider program there has been some progress as of late and a couple new features have made their way into a leaked build. Technology wise they might not be revolutionary ideas, indeed a couple of them are simply reapplications of tech they’ve had for years now, but the improvements they bring speak to Microsoft’s larger strategy of trying to reinvent itself. That might be awfully familiar for those with intimate knowledge of Windows 8 (Windows Blue, anyone?) so it’s interesting to see how this will play out.
First cab off the ranks in Windows 10’s new feature set is a greatly reduced footprint, something that Windows has copped a lot of flak for in the past. Now this might not sound like a big deal on the surface, drives are always getting bigger these days, however the explosion of tablet and portable devices has brought renewed focus on Windows’ rather large install size on these space constrained devices. A typical Windows 8.1 install can easily consume 20GB which, on devices that have only 64GB worth of space, doesn’t leave a lot for a user’s files. Windows 10 brings a couple improvements that free up a good chunk of that space and bring with it a couple cool features.
Windows 10 can now compress system files saving approximately 2GB on a typical install. The feature isn’t on by default, instead during the Windows install the system will be assessed to make sure that compression can happen without impacting user experience. Whether current generation tablet devices will meet the minimum requirements for this is something I’m a little skeptical about so it will be interesting to see how often this feature gets turned on or off.
Additionally Windows 10 does away with the recovery partition on the system drive which is where most of the size savings comes from. Now instead of reserving part of the disk to hold a full copy of the Windows 10 install image, which was used for the refresh and repair features, Windows 10 can rebuild itself in place. This comes with the added advantage of keeping all your installed updates so that refreshed PCs don’t need to go through the hassle of downloading them all again. However in the advent that you do have to do that they’ve included another great piece of technology that should make updating a new PC in your home a little easier.
Windows 10 will include the option of downloading PC updates via a P2P system which you can configure to download updates only from your local network or also PCs on the Internet. It’s essentially an extension of the BranchCache technology that’s been a part of Windows for a while now but it makes it far more accessible, allowing home users to take advantage of it. If you’re running a Windows home (like I am) this will make downloading updates far less painful and, for those of us who format regularly, help greatly when we need to get a bunch of Windows updates again. The Internet enabled feature is mostly for Microsoft’s benefit as it’ll take some load off their servers but should also help out users who are in regions that don’t have great backhaul to the Windows Update servers.
If Microsoft continues to release features like this for Windows 10 then it definitely has a bright future ahead of it. Things like this might not be the sexiest things to talk about but they address real concerns that have plagued Windows for years. In the end they all amount to one thing: a better experience for the consumer, something which Microsoft has fervently increased its focus on as of late. Whether they’ll amount to the panacea to the ills of Windows 8 remains to be seen but suffice to say I’m confident that it’ll line up well.
It’s not widely known that Microsoft has been in the embedded business for quite some time now with their various versions of Windows tailored specific for that purpose. Not that Microsoft has a particular stellar reputation in this field however as most of the time people find out that something was running Windows is when they crash spectacularly. However if you wanted to tinker with it yourself the process to do so was pretty arduous which wasn’t very conducive to generating much interest in the product. Microsoft seems set to change that however with the latest version of Windows 10 to run on the beefed up Raspberry Pi 2 and, best of all, it will be completely free to use.
Windows has supported the ARM chipset that powers the Raspberry Pi since the original 8 release however the diminutive specifications of the board precluded it from running even the cut down RT version. With the coming of Windows 10 however Microsoft is looking to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) line of Windows products which are specifically geared towards low power platforms such as the Raspberry Pi. Better still the product team behind those versions of Windows has specifically included the Raspberry Pi 2 as one of their supported platforms, meaning that it will work out of the box without needing to mess with its drivers or other configuration details. Whilst I’m sure the majority of users of the Raspberry Pi 2 will likely stick to their open source alternatives the availability of a free version of Windows for the platform does open it up to a whole host of developers who might not have considered the platform previously.
The IoT version of Windows is set to come in three different flavours: Industry, Mobile and Athens; with a revision of the .NET Micro framework for other devices that don’t fall into one of those categories. Industry is essentially the full version of Windows with features geared towards the embedded platform. The Mobile version is, funnily enough, geared towards always-on mobile devices but still retains much of the capabilities of its fully fledged brethren. Athens, the version that’s slated to be released on the Raspberry Pi 2, is a “resource focused” version of Windows 10 that still retains the ability to run Universal Apps. There’ll hopefully be some more clarity around these delineations as we get closer to Windows 10’s official release date but suffice to say if the Raspberry Pi 2 can run Universal Apps it’s definitely a platform I could see myself tinkering with.
These new flavours of Windows fit into Microsoft’s broader strategy of trying to get their ecosystem into as many places as they can, something they attempted to start with the WinRT framework and have reworked with Universal Apps. Whilst I feel that WinRT had merit it’s hard to say that it was successful in achieving what it set out to do, especially with the negative reception Metro Apps got with the wider Windows user base. Universal Apps could potentially be the Windows 7 to WinRT’s Vista, a similar idea reworked and rebranded for a new market that finds the feet its predecessors never had. The IoT versions of Windows are simply another string in this particular bow but whether or not it’ll pan out is not something I feel I can accurately predict.
Microsoft’s hardware business has always felt like something of an also-ran, with the notable exception being the Xbox of course. It’s not that the products were bad per se, indeed many of my friends still swear by the Microsoft Natural ergonomic keyboard, more that it just seemed to be an aside that never really saw much innovation or effort. The Surface seemed like an attempt to change the perception, pitting Microsoft directly against the venerable iPad whilst also attempting to bring consumers across to the Windows 8 way of thinking. Unfortunately the early years weren’t kind to it at all with the experiment resulting in a $900 million write down for Microsoft which many took to indicate that the Surface (or at the very least the RT version) weren’t long for this world. The 18 months that have followed however have seen that particular section of Microsoft’s business make a roaring comeback, much to my and everyone else’s surprise.
The Microsoft quarterly earnings report released today showing that Microsoft is generally in a good position with revenue and gross margin up on the previous quarter of last year. The internal make up of those numbers is a far more mixed story (covered in much better detail here) however the standout point was the fact that the Surface division alone was $1.1 billion for the quarter, up a staggering $211 million from the previous quarter. This is most certainly on the back of the Surface Pro 3 which was released in June 2014 but for a device that was almost certainly headed for the trash heap it’s a pretty amazing turn around from $900 million in the hole to $1.1 billion in revenue just 1.5 years later.
The question that interests me then is: What was the driving force behind this comeback?
To start off with the Surface Pro 3 (and all the Surface Pro predecessors) are actually pretty great pieces of kit, widely praised for their build quality and overall usability. They were definitely a premium device, especially if you went for the higher spec options, but they are infinitely preferable to carting around your traditional workhorse laptop around with you. The lines get a little blurry when you compare them to an ultrabook of similar specifications, at least if you’re someone like me who’s exacting with what they want, however if you didn’t really care about that the Surface was a pretty easy decision. So the hardware was great, what was behind the initial write down then?
That entirely at the feet of the WinRT version which simply failed to be the iPad competitor it was slated to be. Whilst I’m sure I’d have about as much use for an iPad as I would for my Surface RT it simply didn’t have the appeal that its fully fledged Pro brethren had. Sure you’d be spending more money on the Pro but you’d be getting the full Windows experience rather than the cut down version which felt like it was stuck between being a tablet and laptop replacement. Microsoft tried to stick with the RT idea with the 2 however they’ve gone to great lengths now to reposition the device as a laptop replacement, not an iPad competitor.
You don’t even have to go far to see this repositioning in action, the Microsoft website for the Surface Pro 3 puts it in direct competition with the Macbook Air. It’s a market segment that the device is far more likely to win in as well considering that Apple’s entire Mac product line made about $6.6 billion last quarter which includes everything from the Air all the way to the Mac Pro. Apple has never been the biggest player in this space however so the comparison might be a little unfair but it still puts the Surface’s recent revival into perspective.
It might not signal Microsoft being the next big thing in consumer electronics but it’s definitely not something I expected from a sector that endured a near billion dollar write off. Whether Microsoft can continue along these lines to capitalize on this is something we’ll have to watch closely as I’m sure no one is going to let them forget the failure that was the original Surface RT. I still probably won’t buy one however, well unless they decide to include a discrete graphics chip in a future revision.
Hint hint, Microsoft.
The rumour mill has been running strong for Microsoft’s next Windows release, fuelled by the usual sneaky leaks and the intrepid hackers who relentlessly dig through preview builds to find things they weren’t meant to see. For the most part though things have largely been as expected with Microsoft announcing the big features and changes late last year and drip feeding minor things through the technical preview stream. Today Microsoft held their Windows 10 Consumer Preview event in Redmond, announcing several new features that would become part of their flagship operating system as well as confirming the strategy for the Windows platform going forward. Suffice to say it’s definitely a shake up of what we’d traditionally expect from Microsoft, especially when it comes to licensing.
The announcement that headlined the event that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for all current Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 customers who upgrade in the first year. This is obviously an attempt to ensure that Windows 10’s adoption rate doesn’t languish in the Vista/8 region as even though every other version of Windows seems to do just fine Windows 10 is still different enough for it to cause issues. I can see the adoption rate for current Windows 8 and 8.1 users to be very high, thanks to the integration with the Windows store, however for Windows 7 stalwarts I’m not so sure. Note that this also won’t apply to enterprises who are responsible for an extremely large chunk of the Windows 7 market currently.
Microsoft also announced Universal Applications which are essentially the next iteration of the WinRT framework that was introduced with Windows 8. However instead of delineating some applications to the functional ghetto (like all Metro apps were) Universal Apps instead share a common base set of functionality with additional code paths for the different platforms they support. Conceptually it sounds like a great idea as it means that the different versions of the applications will share the same codebase, making it very easy to bring new features to all platforms simultaneously. Indeed if this platform can be extended to encompass Android/iOS it’d be an incredibly powerful tool, although I wouldn’t count on that coming from Microsoft.
Xbox Live will also be making a prominent appearance in Windows 10 with some pretty cool features coming for XboxOne owners. Chief among these, at least for me, is the ability to stream XboxOne games from your console directly to your PC. As someone who currently uses their PC as a monitor for their PS4 (I have a capture card for reviews and my wife didn’t like me monopolizing the TV constantly with Destiny) I think this a great feature, one I hope other console manufacturers replicate. There’s also cross-game integration for games that use Xbox Live, an inbuilt game recorder and, of course, another iteration of DirectX. This was the kind of stuff Microsoft had hinted at doing with Windows 8 but it seems like they’re finally committed to it with Windows 10.
Microsoft is also expanding its consumer electronics business with new Windows 10 enabled devices. The Microsoft HoloLens is their attempt at a Google Glass like device although one that’s more aimed at being used with the desktop rather than on the go. There’s also the Surface Hub which is Microsoft’s version of the smart board, integrating all sorts of conferencing and collaboration features. It will be interesting to see if these things see any sort of meaningful adoption rate as whilst they’re not critical to Windows 10’s success they’re certainly devices that could increase adoption in areas that traditionally aren’t Microsoft’s domain.
Overall the consumer preview event paints Windows 10 as an evolutionary step forward for Microsoft, taking the core of the ideas that they attempted with previous iterations and reworking them with a fresh perspective. It will be interesting to see how the one year free upgrade approach works for them as gaining that critical mass of users is the hardest thing for any application, even the venerable Windows platform. The other features that are coming along as more nice to haves than anything else, things that will likely help Microsoft sell people on the Windows 10 idea. Getting this launch right is crucial for Microsoft to execute on their strategy of it being the one platform for time immaterial as the longer it takes to get the majority of users on Windows 10 the harder it will be to invest heavily in it. Hopefully Windows 10 can be the Windows 7 to Windows 8 as Microsoft has a lot riding on this coming off just right.
Microsoft isn’t a company you’d associate with open source. Indeed if you wound back the clock 10 years or so you’d find a company that was outright hostile to the idea, often going to great lengths to ensure open source projects that competed with their offerings would never see the light of day. The Microsoft of today is vastly different, contributing to dozens of open sourced projects and working hard with partner organisations to develop their presence in the ecosystem. For the most part however this has usually been done with an integration view towards their proprietary products which isn’t exactly in-line with the open source ethos. That may be set to change however as Microsoft will be fully open sourcing its .NET framework, the building blocks of all Microsoft applications.
For the uninitiated Microsoft .NET is a development framework that’s been around since the Windows XP days that exposed a consistent set of capabilities which applications could make use of. Essentially this meant that developing a .NET application meant you could guarantee it would work on any computer running that framework, something which wasn’t entirely a given before its inception. It’s since then grown substantially in capability, allowing developers to create some very capable programs using nothing more than the functionality built directly into Windows. Indeed it was so successful in accomplishing its aims that there was already a project going to make it work on non-Windows platforms, dubbed Mono, and it is with them that Microsoft is seeking to release a full open source implementation of the .NET framework.
Whilst this still falls in line with Microsoft’s open source strategy of “things to get people onto the Microsoft platform” it does open up a lot of opportunities for software to be freed from the Microsoft platform. The .NET framework underpins a lot of applications that run on Windows, some that only run on Windows, and an implementation of that framework on another platform could quickly elevate them to cross platform status. Sure, the work to translate them would still likely be non-trivial, however it’ll be a damn sight easier with a full implementation available, possibly enough to tempt some companies to make the investment.
One particularly exciting application of an open sourced .NET framework is games which, traditionally, have an extremely high opportunity cost when porting between platforms. Whilst everything about games development on Windows isn’t strictly .NET there are a lot of .NET based frameworks out there that will be readily portable to new platforms once the open sourcing is complete. I’m not expecting miracles, of course, but it does mean that the future of cross-platform releases is looking a whole bunch brighter than it was just a week ago.
This is probably one of Microsoft’s longest bets in a while as it’s going to be years before the .NET framework sees any kind of solid adoption among the non-Windows crowd. However this does drastically increase the potential of C# and .NET to become the cross platform framework of favour with developers, especially considering the large .NET developer community that already exists today. It’s going to be an area that many of us will be watching with keen interest as it’s yet another signal that Microsoft isn’t the company it used to be, a likely never will be again in the future.