Even as Microsoft last week launched Office for iPad, and new CEO Satya Nadella talked about delivering great apps that run across different platforms, he reassured listeners that, still, “Windows is a massive agenda for us.”
That Nadella would have to spell that out is an indication of how far the perception of Microsoft has shifted in just a few weeks, from that of a predominantly Windows-centric company to one more focused on mobile and cloud, with the role of Windows up in the air.
At Microsoft’s annual Build conference for independent developers, running Wednesday through Friday in San Francisco, the company will aim to clarify where Windows fits in Microsoft’s new — as Nadella puts it — “mobile first, cloud first” era.
“I’ll be back [in San Francisco] at Build, and many other leaders from our company will be here talking about the innovations in Windows, because one of the questions right up front I wanted to address is: ‘What about Windows, where does Windows fit in with all of this?’ ” Nadella said during the Office for iPad launch last week.
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“Windows is a massive agenda for us,” he said. “We will innovate, and you will see us talk [at Build] about the great innovations in the operating system and great innovations in devices.”
Microsoft hasn’t released any details about what’s on the agenda at Build.
At the very least, it’s likely the company will talk about an update to Windows 8.1.
The update is reportedly focused on making the Windows 8.1 experience better for mouse-and-keyboard users, according The Verge, which said Microsoft itself had apparently provided a way — circuitous and backdoor though it was — for users to download the update early. That method has since been disabled by the company.
Microsoft would not confirm whether it will be talking about any larger upcoming Windows versions — a Windows 8.2 or Windows 9, say — but it is expected that Nadella and other top executives will discuss their broad vision for Windows and Windows Phone, as well as what that means for developers.
Also expected are official debuts of the next update to the Windows Phone system — Windows Phone 8.1 — and news about the imminent merger of Nokia’s phone division with Microsoft.
The company’s acquisition of that business is expected to close sometime next month, at which point Microsoft will become one of the largest handset-makers in the world.
Nokia already has scheduled an event in San Francisco to coincide with Build. It’s expected the event, taking place Wednesday evening, will likely include the introduction of the new Lumia Windows Phone handsets — possibly including the rumored Lumia 630 entry-level phone and the rumored Lumia 930 — given that the invitation includes the hashtag #moreLumia.
Beyond announcements about specific products, what analyst Will Stofega with research firm IDC hopes and expects will be discussed is how Microsoft will make it easier for developers to create programs and applications across its various platforms.
The company has been promising such a thing for years — the holy grail of being able to write a code once, say for Windows, and being able to easily port that over to Windows RT (the version of Windows that runs on battery-saving ARM chips), Windows Phone or even Xbox.
The end result ought to benefit consumers because theoretically they would be able to have more apps that work together seamlessly across the various devices.
While Microsoft may not have completely reached that holy grail, “I think they would be getting closer to where they need to be,” Stofega said. “I do think we’re going to hear more about integration and how the story around device mobility is going to play out. I would suspect that common code base is where that is.”
Clear message needed
Microsoft also needs to clearly convey where Windows is headed: “How well prepared are they to make the apparent flaws in Windows 8 — how do they fix that and make sure that mistakes that have happened in the past are not going to happen in the future,” Stofega said.
For Windows Phone, still struggling to gain more than a tiny market share, Microsoft needs to make people understand: “Why should I buy a Windows Phone?” he said. “And what should that experience be in relation to the other Microsoft devices that I have?”
Overall at Build, Stofega said, Microsoft will need to “address what they’re going to do differently this time. With Windows primarily. But also everything else.”
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @janettu.