Build keynote day one–Steve Ballmer

[Updated: Now with proper spelling…]

I do not get to go to Build this year as I am min Madrid speaking at TechEd Europe, which to be honest, feels pretty great. No, we didn’t get two tablets and a presentation by Steve Ballmer, but TechEd has been at the top of my list of places I wanted to speak at for quite some time. So I’m ok with that…

Instead, I downloaded the keynote from day one, and thought I would reflect a bit on what was said. Starting out with Steve Ballmer’s part

Steve walks out on stage as comfortable as he always does. I must admit that there are a lot of people seeing him as a clown, and not worthy of taking over from Bill Gates, but I am not one of those. Sure, he is far from Bill, but that’s because he is something completely different. And on top of that, he is Steve Ballmer, not a Steve Jobs wannabe like some other people who used to work for Microsoft…

Ballmer starts out by announcing that he has, and I quote, “quite a bit to show”, and that he is obviously “excited”. Having seen Microsoft presentations a few too many times, I am super excited about the fact that Ballmer did not say he was “super excited”…just saying…

Unfortunately, he also follows up with saying that there won’t be a lot of Office 365 and Xbox news, as that is covered through other outlets. Ok, it makes sense, and I really don’t care too much about Office 365 news, but I would have loved to see some funky Xbox One stuff. Especially since they have had some marketing problems around the new box… On the other hand, they have loads of stuff around Windows, of course, Windows Phone and Azure. All of this is to be expected I think…

Next up on the list of things to cover is Microsoft’s new release cycle changes, which are awesome. They are moving towards a MUCH faster release cycles for pretty much everything they have. A move that I guess is necessary considering how fast the competition is moving. And with that faster release cycle in place, Windows 8.1 comes out in a preview already 8 months after the release of Windows 8.

The question from my point in this case is how much new stuff they have managed to get into that .1 release. It is easy to up the cadence if you just release tiny changes. But I guess we will see more of that throughout Build, and throughout the coming months…

With that said, the preview can now be downloaded and tested at http://preview.windows.com. A word of caution though. There have been no word that I have heard about an in place upgrade to the RTM version. So either install on VM, or on a machine that you can re-install without loosing too much…

After the 8.1 stuff, it was time to talk about WP8, and the “incredible range of new Windows Phone devices” coming out. I don’t know if there are more devices coming out that couldn’t be shown, but on stage were 5 different models, which to me isn’t really “an incredible range”. But having that said, the devices did look nice. The new Nokia devices are much less curved, and “cleaner/simpler” (if that is possible…). Nokia is also releasing a WP device to be sold in countries where phones aren’t subsidized. And with a price under $150, that would make for quite an attractive offer I guess.

And also, Sprint is adding WP devices to their offering, which apparently is a big thing. Being from Sweden, phones aren’t offered like they are in the US. But I guess that in the US, you can only use phones specifically offered by your carrier, or at least get them subsidized or something, which means that not having Sprint offering a WP device hurts the ability to gain market shares. But that is now not a problem anymore.

And then Ballmer went on to the form factors being enabled by Windows 8. And I must admit, Windows 8 has really transformed the PC market by enabling all of these awesome new form factors. I’m pretty sure that some of them will die, either really fast, or slowly, but hopefully some of those new form factors will survive and usher in a new way of using PCs.

There was a lot of talk about how much happier people are with touch enabled devices, even if it is in a notebook form factor. And then he “unveiled” the Acer Iconia 8.1, which is a small tablet. And then carried on by announcing that all those lucky bastards attending Build would get one. And no, I am not jealous at all. Why would I want a free tablet when I get to buy an older one discounted at TechEd… Blinkar

Ballmer also used the expression “all Windows, all the time” to explain the vision of all these different form factors all being powered by Windows 8. The fact that it doesn’t matter if you are at work, or at home on the couch, the device next to you will still be running Windows 8. And offering input using keyboard, touch and stylus depending on what you are doing, and what you need.

“All Windows, all the time” is a lofty goal. It is a mighty high thing to aim for, but I do believe Ballmer is selling it well. His enthusiasm shines through and you do believe him. And I do believe the goal is reachable. Unfortunately, there is quite some way to go until we got it, and the road there might not be down-hill all the time if we put it like that. The 2-faced Windows 8 is a testament to this. But I don’t care. I think there are moving boldly to a better future, and that there will be some casualties along the way. But it has always been like that…

However, it saddens me to see that they are not sticking to their guns. Don’t go back. Just push forward. Adding the start button back in…bad move according to me. Going back on the new Xbox One feature due to people complaining about having to be connected to the internet…bad move… Just stick with it. In the long run, when reaching the goal of “all Windows, all the time” will make people forget the road there, and not want to go back to what we have today. At least that is what I believe…

And mentioning the start button. First Twitter was full of tweets about how removing it was idiotic, and that they should just enable a “classic” mode and add it back in. Adding it back in, albeit not as it worked previously, Twitter is now full of people asking for a way to hide it. As you can see, pleasing one set of people will just piss off another, so stick to your guns and go boldly forward…please!

What else…? Well, they announced some new Store apps like Flipboard, Facebook and some NFL stuff, which to the world outside of the US is less than interesting. Well, the Facebook one is I guess… He also announced that there will be over 100 000 apps in the store within this month, which is really impressive 8 months after launch. The problem is no just finding your apps. And that problem will get worse over time.  But that is being worked on, and I will get back to that in another blog post…I hope…

One thing that made me extremely happy, and that is a change from previous Build’s is that Ballmer is saying that “desktop applications have over the last few months shown to be VERY important”, and thus, a lot of work is being made in this area as well. And that these apps a extremely important as well. Instrumented Windows machines across the globe are reporting that as many as 2-3 million different desktop apps are in use on any given day.

And I also just noticed that they are now talking more about “desktop apps” instead of “legacy apps”, which is what I have heard a lot more of previously…

Besides adding back the much discussed start button, they are also adding a feature to boot to desktop, as well as a refined start menu experience. On top of that, you will be seeing more multitasking options with multiple apps open. Not just the two you had before. It is still snapped store apps, but now you can have as many as you want, taking up any portion of the screen that you want. So pretty much snapped mode on steroids. And they are also doing it on all your monitors, not just the main monitor.

Another interesting move is the integration of Bing in the OS. Not just as an app, but it seems to be much more. It also opens up APIs to let developers make use of the Bing features, which could be really cool. And the effort going into Bing seems to be paying off. At least in the US, where Ballmer says that Bing beats Google for search results in blind tests. In Sweden, this is definitely not the case, but I will admit that in the US, Bing has some really cool features. But the question is if the Bing OS integration, and developer APIs will be great for US devs, and suck for non-US devs…

And the last point I took away from Ballmer was the comment that the OS has gained market shares consistently since its launch. But to be honest, I would be VERY surprised if it had not. Starting out with a 0% market share makes it fairly easy, and bundling your OS with most computers being sold doesn’t make it harder… But still, it is good to hear that it is getting adopted throughout the world…

I think that was it! I will try to get some time in the next few days to cover the other parts o the keynote, which to be honest, where much less inspiring and solid.

Cheers!

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