Computex is an annual trade show held in Taiwan. It’s sponsored in part by local industry ( through the Taipei Computer Association) and in part by the Taiwanese government (through its Taiwan External Trade Development Council, aka TAITRA). Much to my surprise, I learned from its Wikipedia article that the show has been going on since 1986 (a precedessor event goes back to 1981). These days, it’s the second largest computer expo in the world (second only to CeBIT). Thus, it’s become a decidedly global affair, one that involves a slew of huge companies including the likes of Intel, AMD, Nvidia, and even Microsoft. This information comes by way of explaining why and how a trio of Microsoft executives would give a presentation at Computex this year, and write an accompanying blog post called “Enabling innovation and opportunity on the Intelligent Edge.” This all happened yesterday, and the MS staff involved included Nick Parker, CVP of Consumer and Device sales, Roanne Sones, CVP of OS Platforms, and Rodney Clark, VP of IoT Sales.
Paragraphs of Particular Interest
I’m not sure who delivered this material onstage yesterday. But I found two paragraphs in the blog post to be of particular interest. This goes double for those who, like me, spend a great deal of time thinking about, working with, and solving problems around the Windows 10 operating system. I’m guessing that Ms. Sones and her team are the parties responsible for what’s about to follow, because of her title at MS. I’m going to reproduce both paragraphs in full, and then try to tease some further meanings out of them in the discussion that follows. I’ll use headings to let readers know where stuff comes from and when I move from one paragraph to the next. Buckle up! Here we go … (note: all emphasis in the following block quotes come from Microsoft itself):
Paragraph 1: Meet “the modern OS”
These new modern PCs and innovative devices the ecosystem will continue to build and bring to market in the future require a modern operating system. An OS that provides a set of enablers that deliver the foundational experiences customers expect from their devices, and includes a set of delighters that deliver innovative human centric experiences. Enablers include seamless updates – with a modern OS updates are invisibly done in the background; the update experience is deterministic, reliable, and instant with no interruptions! A modern OS, is also secure by default, the state is separated from the operating system; compute is separated from applications; this protects the user from malicious attacks throughout the device lifecycle. Always connected -with a modern OS Wifi, LTE 5G will just work – and users never have to worry about a deadspot. All of a users devices are aware and connected to each other. A modern OS provides sustained performance, from the moment a user picks up their device – everything is ready to go – without having to worry about the next time the PC needs to be charged. These enablers will satisfy customer’s basic needs, but to truly differentiate we must also delight them. A modern OS does this by enabling cloud-connected experiences that use the compute power of the cloud to enhance users experiences on their devices. These experiences are powered by AI, so a modern OS is aware of what a user is doing tomorrow and helps them get it done, and it enhances applications making them more intelligent. A modern OS is also multi-sense. People can use pen, voice, touch, even gaze – what ever input method a user wants to use works just as well as the keyboard and mouse. Finally, a modern OS provides the ultimate in form factor agility. A modern OS has the right sensor support and posture awareness to enable the breadth of innovative form factors and applications that our partner ecosystem will deliver.
Here the stage is set of what kind of OS support new and innovative devices like those on display at Computex this year might (and do) need. The copy talks about a “set of enablers” intended to “deliver the foundational experiences customers expect from their devices.” I think this means the basics that any OS provides: a run-time environment, the ability to run programs, access files, send/receive information from a network an so forth. Later in the paragraph, more specific examples of enablers are offered up, and include “seamless updates” that feature capabilities many Windows users will endorse and fervently wish for “deterministic, reliable and instant with no interruptions!”
Other enablers include “always connected” with network access via WiFi and/or LTE 5G built-in and continuously ready for use; “sustained performance” that guarantees device functionality is ready to go when and as users need them. Interestingly “cloud-connected experiences” are also positioned as enablers (and possibly also as delighters) to provide access to cloud-based computer power “to enhance users experiences on their devices.” Ditto for AI, which is intended to understand what users seek to accomplish, and can “enhance . . . applications making them more intelligent.” This paragraph goes on to cite multi-sense, a set of technologies that incorporate pen, voice, touch, and even gaze (where the users’ eyeballs are pointing) along with keyboard and mouse for input and interaction. It also talks about “form factor agility” which means that devices must include a battery of sensors and user awareness that includes posture and motion to foster and enable more innovative and valuable uses for technology. Sounds pretty interesting!
This paragraph also talks about “a set of delighters” intended to “deliver innovative human centric experiences.” It doesn’t really distinguish between enablers and delighters in the subsequent conversation, so it’s still a little difficult to understand what separates one kind of thing from another. The discussion seems very much like a work in progress, more of a “report from the bleeding edge” that a real plan or blueprint for future OS (and application) development. Even so, it’s still pretty interesting.
Paragraph 2: The “Vision for a Modern OS”
This next paragraph provides some examples of what Microsoft is working on to realize its vision for what such a Modern OS might do. It’s long on buzzwords but short on details and related nuts and bolts. Like the previous paragraph it suggests and evokes a great deal more than it actually says. Here it is:
These enablers and delighters underpin our vision for a Modern OS, they will provide the foundational elements for an evolution of the PC ecosystem and enable partners to deliver the more human-centric experiences of tomorrow. Microsoft is investing to enable these modern OS experiences, and to deliver new ones that take advantage of silicon advancements, powerful PCs, the cloud and power of AI. Experiences like an Asian Inking platform, cognitive recognition services that help with photo tagging and new Your Phone capabilities that let users mirror their Android phone screen on their PC and use the PC mouse and keyboard to interact with phone apps and content using either Wi-Fi or LTE.
As I look at this information further, I see it as a restatement of the preceding paragraph, this time more in the sense of a set of marching orders, to explain where the company is heading with all this investment and planned new capabilities. In simpler terms I’d restate it as “Using advanced chips and specialized processors, we will take advantage of data and computer power in the cloud (especially machine learning and AI) to add remote, cloud-based capabilities and insights to what users can do purely locally on their computing devices, including mobile and more conventional PCs and such.” They go on to mention, by way of examples, three specific items:
1. An Asian Inking Platform: I’m guessing this will build upon and extend existing DirectInk capabilities in the Windows ecosystem, designed to work with and around the Windows 10 Input platform, to bring sophisticated inking capabilities to UWP apps. Idiographic languages, such as various dialects of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and others, can no doubt benefit from AI- and big data-driven assistance with inking and character/idiograph/idiogram handling. This could provide a big leg up into Asian markets where language handling is far more complex and interesting than for purely alphabetic handwriting/writing systems.
2. Cognitive recognition services that help with photo tagging: uses advanced image recognition techniques and user-centric and -focused collections of “known individuals” to automate and simplify the efforts involved in tagging individuals, locations, and so forth in digital photographs and images.
3. Android mirror onto PC, with PC access via keyboard and mouse: If there’s one thing that drives certain users (especially digital non-natives like your humble author) into a frenzy, it’s trying to use a smartphone for sophisticated or complicated process tasks and searches. This latest MS development promises to help relieve that frustration, and let users more easily get serious with information and apps on their smartphones.
Again, this all sounds like good stuff, of great potential interest and value to users of all kinds, backgrounds, and usage profiles. I’ll be very interested to see how this unfolds, and to follow the progression from this initial expression of a Microsoft vision for the “Modern OS” into some kind of increasingly real and capable implementation. Stay tuned. There may be some real meat here, and some emerging capabilities of great value. Right now, it’s still too early to tell. But it should be fascinating to see how this initiative advances, and what kinds of deliverables it lets slip along the way.
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.