By Ian Sherr
A little over two and a half hours into Microsoft’s Build conference this week in Seattle, I tuned out the live coding session, taking place on stage in a downtown convention center crammed with 6,000 software developers, and started playing a game in my head.
It was sort of like Where’s Waldo. Except I was thinking “Where’s Windows?”
According to my AI-created transcript of Microsoft’s three-and-a-half hour opening keynote on Monday (which I sat through — all of it), the word “Windows” was mentioned just a little more than a dozen times. And even then, it wasn’t to extol the virtues of the monopoly-making software that powers nearly nine out of 10 PCs around the world. Instead, it was typically in relation to calling people “Windows developers,” or describing how Microsoft’s coding tools work across “Windows” PCs, Apple Macs and Linux-powered computers.
It was even worse for “PC.” That term came up a whopping seven times, and usually only in passing. “It works on my Windows PC,” “You’re working on a PC” and so on.
The PC, and the Windows software that powers it, came across as mere window dressing (sorry).
For anyone who’s followed the tech industry over the past couple of decades, Windows sitting on the sidelines at the developer conference of the company that made billions off of it speaks to the fact that we — you, me, the tech industry at large — just don’t care about computers like we used to. Or tablets. Or most smartphones, even.
What we do care about is AI and the web. Or we will very soon.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella knows this. Microsoft declined to make him available for an interview, but I’m guessing that’s why he and his team pitched themselves as the company whose stuff you use no matter what device you have. They see Microsoft as one of the key AI and web companies of the future. A company that will touch your life, whether you know it or not.
“The world is becoming a computer,” Nadella said during his opening speech. “Computing is getting embedded in every person, place and thing. Every walk of life — in our homes, in our cars, in our work, in our stadiums, in our entertainment centers; in every industry from precision agriculture to precision medicine; from autonomous cars to autonomous drones; from personalized retail to personalized banking — are all being transformed.”
And in this new age, the tech in your pocket and on your desk just doesn’t matter as much anymore. Everything else is the new hotness.
And it’s pushed Microsoft to make more of its technology available to everyone.
“We’re finally being freed from dependence on specific devices,” said Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research, who’s been tracking tech trends and the PC industry for two decades. “Hardware’s important, but it’s become a tool through which we experience these services.”
So you’re welcome everyone. A decade after Apple blanketed the the airwaves with those Mac vs. PC ads lampooning Windows as a well-meaning but inept and insecure technology, and after Microsoft responded with a series of ads about how awesome PCs actually are, the war over devices has come to a stalemate.
Now Microsoft’s beginning to spread innovations across the tech industry, like its Timeline feature that helps you keep track of apps you used, documents you wrote and websites you visited, no matter what device you were using.
We’re all benefiting, regardless of whether we have an Apple iPad, GoogleAndroid-powered phone or an Alienware PC.
This is good for the industry. In the end, we’re all going to win.