New Surface Laptop From Microsoft Could Challenge Google – Forbes

What will Microsoft be pushing at its recently announced big spring event on May 2nd? These events allow CEO Satya Nadella and his team to talk strategy, but it also offers an opportunity to announce new hardware.

One option this year might be a revision of the popular Surface Pro hybrid of tablet and ultraportable. With Intel’s new Kaby Lake processors available and no hardware updates to the Pro line since late 2015, there is certainly an opportunity to bump the specs up and release a Pro 5 to stay in the game.

That choice would be seen as an iterative update, but does not suggest any innovation coming from Microsoft. Keeping up with the latest specifications ensures the potential Surface Pro 5 relevant, but it doesn’t generate much excitement. Unlike Apple, Microsoft does not need hardware sales to keep it going – it has an army of manufacturers covering the hardware side for that – but it does need to promote the use of its software and the compelling solutions it can offer.

Which is where the idea of Windows 10 in the cloud should be considered in any new hardware.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addresses shareholders during the 2016 Microsoft Annual Shareholders Meeting. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Microsoft’s current consumer focus is built around increasing the adoption of its cloud-based services. From the traditional Outlook and Office suites to OneDrive’s storage and Groove’s music subscription, Redmond’s cloud covers most of the traditional bases. It’s easily accessible through alternative operating systems such as iOS, Android and macOS, but of course it is tightly integrated into Windows 10. Increasing the adoption of Windows 10 also increases adoption of the cloud.

A new variant of Windows 10 has been spotted recently. References to Windows Cloud can be found in the code of the latest Windows 10 Creators Update. Noted Microsoft reporter Paul Thurrott had some hands-on time with an early build in February, while Forbes’ Gordon Kelly reported on the OS variant earlier this year:

In a nutshell [Windows Cloud is] a stripped down version of Windows 10 designed only to run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps – aka apps designed to run on both desktop and mobile devices. Any attempt to run standard desktop programs on Windows Cloud results in the warning message: “The app you’re trying to run isn’t designed for this version of Windows”.

If you look at the areas of growth in the industry one area is cloud-based computing, which Microsoft has covered. The other is in the low-cost computer that ties into the cloud such as Google’s Chromebook platform. Yes, Windows 10 can run on low-end hardware with many sub $200 clamshells available, but Windows 10 still places a heavy demand on resources and storage that limit these laptops.

Windows Cloud would be an opportunity to trim down the hardware requirements, to offer manufacturers another product line and to bring more users towards its cloud. It would also offer an alternative to the increasing prominence of the Chromebook, which not only threatens the Windows OS platform but ties users to Google’s cloud instead of Microsoft’s.

Microsoft Surface 3 (Image: Ewan Spence)

Ewan Spence

Microsoft Surface 3 (Image: Ewan Spence)

Microsoft has been down a similar route before. The original Microsoft Surface was powered by Windows RT, a variant of Windows 8 that ran on ARM architecture. Limited by the ability to only run new ‘Metro-style’ apps that had been specifically coded for Windows RT (as opposed to the entire back catalogue), the Surface line rapidly moved back towards Intel architecture for greater compatibility to find critical acclaim.

Five years later and the ability to work in the cloud has become a practical alternative. If Microsoft is looking to push the cloud and create a ‘new spark’ for consumers and manufacturers to gather around, then a ‘Surface Cloud’ would make for an interesting launch next month.

Now read my review of Microsoft’s Surface 3, the last ‘lightweight’ Surface device…

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