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We're only one-third of the way through Microsoft’s 10-day tour (appropriately numbered) promoting the future value of Windows 10 and the new model of deploying server-side applications (new for Microsoft, at least). 

Next Monday begins a second round of keynotes and demonstration sessions, this time from Chicago at the company’s Ignite 2015 conference.

Act II will focus more on infrastructure and the cloud, and CMSWire will be on hand with daily reports and updates for the entire week.

The Story So Far

Build 2015 in San Francisco made the case for developers to adopt the new “Universal” development model for Windows applications on all devices. By “development model,” I mean a way to write, compile and deploy new applications that deals more with the tools and facilities developers use than the languages they write with.

Microsoft intended Windows 8 to provide a multi-device development platform, but in 2011, the cross-platform part of it was not ready for prime time. Microsoft published what it could get out the door: a model at first called “Metro” that could almost run almost all Windows apps on PC and tablets and on Windows Phone devices. Almost.

Microsoft had been planning to make up the difference along the way to Windows 8’s stellar success. Instead, it bombed spectacularly in the market, becoming literally one of history’s least well-received revised products since New Coke.

At Build 2015, Microsoft executives and product managers found themselves positioning Windows 10, and its “Universal” model (like that name hasn’t been used by anyone) not just as a replacement for Windows 8 but an upgrade to Windows 7.

What’s more, with more business apps being deployed to the cloud and run from browsers anyway, Microsoft had to pivot away from “Universal” almost with the same gesture as introducing it. Microsoft is positioning its Edge browser (the replacement for Internet Explorer formerly known as “Project Spartan”) to run HTML5 apps from the cloud … as well, if you can believe it, applications in the Office 16 suite.

Bridging Objectives

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Just as soon as Microsoft catches up with its product goals from four years ago, they’re being obsoleted by the objectives of the cloud. So CEO Satya Nadella had to build a bridge between the two ideals.

“Windows 10 represents a new generation of Windows built for an era of more personal computing,” said Nadella during last Wednesday’s Build keynote.

(He takes the stage Monday from Chicago as well.) “From Raspberry Pi to the holographic computer, the mobility of the experience is what matters, not the mobility of the device.”

It’s the start of something, but the outline is still fuzzy, so it’s hard to tell what it’s the start of.

Next Week’s Flash Points

Some folks at Microsoft may think they don’t need to sell Windows 10 to consumers all that hard, since the company plans to give the system away (at least to registered Windows users). 

But the truth is, with Windows 7 so well-designed and Windows 8 so poorly remodeled, the company now faces the challenge of proving this giveaway has any long-term value.

With each of these conferences, I’ve provided a short list of what I call Keys to the Conference: flash points which we intend to watch throughout the show, and which we’ll pick back up again, one-by-one, to see where the host succeeded and where it failed. With Ignite 2015 already having had a lead-up, its keys will be delivered in mid-stream:

Can the new Windows popularize cloud applications?

In Windows 8, the app store (which, after years of research, Microsoft opted to name “Store”) was intended to feature mainly “Metro” apps, with a few applications written on the classic Win32 platform for good measure. This week at Build, Microsoft said it would extend the Windows 10 store to include more classic Desktop apps.

But in both cases, the focus has been on the client, the client, the client. If, as Nadella says, “the mobility of the experience is what matters,” then the new Store should not be rooted to clients. Its success will depend, in very large measure, upon whether a user can purchase an app on one device and run it on every other Windows 10 device on the planet.

Will Windows Server “embrace and extend” Docker or will Docker “slice and dice” Windows Server? 

After VMware locked up most of the virtualization platform market, the last applicable role that Windows Server had left was to run server-side Windows business applications and SaaS platforms from within virtual machines. As Wednesday’s Build keynote already demonstrated, the containerized apps platform Docker has already obsoleted Windows Server’s very last arguably relevant role.

Microsoft appears to have a plan to pivot on this point, and make a huge loss for Windows Server into a huge win for Azure. If the company plays its cards right, it can deploy an entirely new and different (for Microsoft) way of orchestrating Windows and Linux applications, on a subscription-based cloud platform that’s already robust and well-developed.

Just what is Microsoft’s communications plan this year?

The company’s absorption of Nokia’s handset business left it with a mess of nice, but otherwise undistinguished, entry-level smartphones at a time when it needs to prove Windows 10 — the platform for those devices — is worth the investment. Windows 10 may not roll out for phones at the same time it’s being released for PCs and tablets, forcing developers to resume their regularly scheduled skepticism.

Meanwhile, the company’s absorption of Skype left it with a messy, but nice, P2P communications channel that was wholly incompatible with its existing Unified Communications systems. Rather than fix the inconsistencies, it chose to name everything “Skype,” in a move reminiscent of naming the different kinds of Windows for phones, small tablets, and PCs, “Windows 8.” If the company seriously wants to remain in the communications business, its communications platform needs to be unified with something more than a made-up brand name.

These are the three key issues we’ll be following here in CMSWire throughout next week. We’ll see you online.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by Christian Gonzalez.