What is the "future of Windows" ?


Over the years I have noticed a lot about “the future of Windows”. Back in 2012 it was clear. Thick client gone and instead we would have Windows RT with Universal Windows Applications from the store that would run on PCs, tablets, and phones.

It didn’t quite turn out like that. The next stage was Windows 10. The last version of Windows. This came with updates twice a year, several different maintenance cycles, and update options. A thing that has dwindled into a series of partially finished interface changes including both a settings app, a control panel and several remaining MMC components. Added to this are features that appear one year and disappear the next year.

Then the future of Windows was Windows 10 S. High performance and safe. Store applications only. People who had the misfortune of having Windows 10 S “on by default” quickly “upgraded” to Windows 10 when they found there was nothing they wanted in the Windows Store. This morphed into Windows 10 in S Mode. Which was still Windows 10 S but with an on/off switch.

Next, we have the return of a 2012 favourite. Windows 10 on ARM. More accurately Windows 10 on Qualcomm. It looks like Windows 10 but isn’t really something for the mainstream. The usage case seems a convoluted explanation of long battery life, thin design, and no fans.

Then we have Windows 10 X. It’s “killer feature” was dual screen devices only. Except that now it’s for any screen. It’s called Windows but may not look like Windows. It may run Windows applications, or it may not. It could run applications in an emulation or VM.

Then we have Windows Cloud. A subscription Windows that is in addition to some client that allows you to run some kind of virtual PC in Azure which will then allow you to use Windows programs that you can’t use if you have a PC with Windows on it.

I use Windows every day, at home, at work and in other places. Most users never think about “the future of Windows”. They have a vague idea it should run any app that says it needs Windows. The emphasis from Microsoft seems to make things that use the Windows name that may not run the applications people expect to be able to run with the performance they expect.

Windows 10 doesn’t seem the last version of Windows. I still don’t know what the future of Windows is. The most worrying thing is I don’t believe Microsoft do either.

Comments (36)

36 responses to “What is the "future of Windows" ?”

  1. jumpingjackflash5

    Unfortunately yes they do not seem to know. And it is a shame because in Windows 10 there are still some good parts and functions, and it is still good choice for a PC. But Microsoft does not care about Windows much nowadays. If they release desktop version of Ofiice for Linux the same way as they did with Edge, then Windows can start to finally disapper or remain for "special use only". They can still save, support and expand Windows if they want to, however. I wish that they do not abandon their once great operating system.

    • Alastair Cooper

      I don't see that happening so long as they command the majority of the desktop OS market. Office for Windows provides a valuable USP (Office for Mac is not the same in my view). If they release a full Office for Linux before they have to (which arguably they did for Android and iOS) they'll be wilfully jeopardising their ability to influence the PC as they'd like.

  2. longhorn

    To Understand The Future, Look At The Past You Must...

    (Yes, more Windows 10).

  3. jhambi

    Windows will be subsumed into other products/services(Azure/365). Nadella has alluded to this in multiple interviews. The desktop experience wont disappear overnight but it will eventually morph into something else.

  4. wright_is

    Until the US sorts out its data protection and jurisdiction overreach, there is no real future for "Cloud Windows" outside the USA.

  5. dftf

    Unless tablets and mobiles really do take-over in the future (I'd suggest when most devices offer a "Continuum" mode, like Windows Phone had, where they switch to a desktop-UI when you link them to a big-screen), then for the foreseeable I think Windows will always have a place. It's not like alternatives don't already exist: most "everyday" Linux distros, like Ubuntu and Mint, would likely be fine for many average users. macOS is a viable alternative, though more-expensive to obtain the machines to use it on, of course. And yes, Android and iOS with support for external Bluetooth keyboards and mice (though this doesn't always work as-well as on Windows as some apps don't support a desktop-style experience very-well).

    Focusing my thoughts on Windows specifically:

    I think "Windows on ARM" will eventually be successful (not being able to use 64-bit "classic apps" on it right-now is one of the biggest issues, given some apps no-longer ship 32-bit versions).

    I think more-clarity is needed around Windows 10 being "supported for the lifetime of a device" -- I've never been sure how "lifetime" is defined. It would be good to have a clearer idea about which CPUs, chipsets and so-on will end when.

    For all the people who predict "eventually Windows will just become a UI running on-top of Linux" I'd say this is unlikely. It's so-different code-wise that app-compatibility would be a nightmare. I mean, good-luck trying to run many Windows 9x apps on 64-bit versions of Windows thesedays -- and it's a straight no-no for any 16-bit apps. If "old Windows" doesn't currently run under "new Windows" is it realistic to expect "old Windows" to run under "Linux Windows"? (I also have to add I do find it odd that when it comes to a new Xbox console, there is always talk about which old Xbox 360 or OG Xbox games will be made to run on the new console; yet with Windows, no-one ever seems to mind that old DOS games or Windows 9x apps won't run).

    As a follow-on from the previous point: when oh when will Microsoft finally ditch the 32-bit versions of Windows? Sure, OEMs can no-longer preinstall 32-bit Windows 10 as-from Version 2004, and Windows Server has been 64-bit only since 2008 R2 (I think?) but otherwise all the current Windows 10 SKUs are still available in 32-bit versions. At the very least, some sort of transition plan should be made: left to me, I'd suggest making Enterprise, Education and LTSC the only ones available in 32-bit, and move Home, Pro and "Pro for Workstations" to 64-bit only. (That last one is especially daft: "Pro for Workstations" was deliberately created for users who need more power than regular Pro can offer: up-to 4 physical CPUs, not 2; up to 6TB of RAM and you can install on the successor file-system to NTFS. So why bother to release it in 32-bit? Does that not entirely defeat the entire point?)

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to dftf:

      One small benefit I have as an observer of technology are the repairmen who come to the house from time to time to keep out old range and drier and newer clothes washer, dish washer and refrigerator working. They're from serveral different firms. The guy who works on the clothes washer and drier has something like a Panasonic ToughBook, i.e., a clamshell much thicker than while collar workers would find acceptable these days with a real keyboard. He can finish up in less than half the time the others need with their virtual keyboards on tablets. Which leads me to conclude that no one who TYPES for a living would accept using a pure tablet. As for tablets with keyboard covers, that keyboard would need to be quite good. The last time I was in a store with Surfaces on display, pre-pandemic, that did NOT describe the Surface keyboard covers.

      Which leads to the next point: if tablets are useless for people who need to type, do pure tablets offer enough benefits over phones to make them preferable to phones? For watching videos, reading ebooks, and playing games, maybe. For anything resembling work, I suspect not. In the wild, again pre-pandemic, most tablets I saw were menus in airport restaurants or on the back of headrests on airplane seats.

  6. dftf

    So here's some thoughts on how Microsoft could change the SKU line-up:

    32-bit only -- two new SKUs:

    • Windows 10 for Legacy Home PCs
    • Windows 10 for Legacy Pro PCs

    Certain features from the 64-bit versions should not be available to ease development and testing.

    For example: no Cortana, no Xbox Game Bar (or many of the other Xbox apps); apps that rely on the GPU (3D Builder, Print 3D, Mixed Reality, 3D Viewer, etc.); limit on the highest DirectX version supported (possibly DirectX 10, as that seems to fully also include DirectX 9), no support for authentication methods like "Windows Hello"; don't allow install on a machine clearly capable of running 64-bit Windows (so fail install on say: devices with more-than 4GB of physical RAM; ones which use UEFI, not BIOS; ones with drive-connection methods newer than SATA; or where the CPU ID matches a blocklist; or where any USB generation above USB 2.0 is detected, etc.). Probably more I could think of but essentially -- let people have a Windows 10 that will run-better on older PCs, but don't include features they are clearly not capable of running to reduce development pressures. (Though unlike the LTSC version, I'd still include the Windows Store app).

    32-bit and 64-bit offered:

    • Windows 10 LTSC (enterprise customers should transition 32-bit installs to this SKU; SMBs and Home users should consider one of the two new editions above)

    64-bit only:

    • Windows 10 Home
    • Windows 10 Pro
    • Windows 10 Education
    • Windows 10 Enterprise
    • Windows 10 on ARM


    • wright_is

      In reply to dftf:

      I really think they need to get rid of the Home/Pro/Education/Enterprise definitions.

      I want Windows and I want it to be the same, whether I am at work or at home. The same features in the same locations. I don't want to do something at work and come home and find I can't do it there, because the feature is missing.

      (An exception might be things like advance SCCM features in Enterprise/Education, but they need to get rid of the differentiation between Home and Pro, at least. The hardware I want is generally only sold with a Windows 10 license and I have to upgrade it to Pro each time, which adds a hefty wedge to the overall cost of the device.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to wright_is:

        I want Windows and I want it to be the same, whether I am at work or at home.

        Thus MSFT's conundrum. Since MSFT's enterprise customers account for a substantial majority of MSFT's revenues, thus profits, those enterprise customers' preferences would be given priority over the preferences of pesky home users who generate revenue maybe once every 3 years if not less frequently. Meaning MSFT is going to give home PC users the same Windows they use at work, not the reverse. If home PC users want anything substantially different but still Windows, they may be out of luck.

        Implications: home PC users may want frequent upgrades, but enterprise customers surely don't. MSFT's solution: disappoint them both with too frequent upgrades for enterprise customers who want stability, and too infrequent upgrades for home PC users.

        they need to get rid of the differentiation between Home and Pro, at least.

        You clearly don't understand MSFT's decades-long quest to minimize the economic concept of consumer surplus. That is, including a few extra features in Pro which support pricing it US$100 higher than Home. In blunter terms, dream on if you believe MSFT will do ANYTHING to decrease its own revenues. If you understand how MSFT does business, then the existence of Home and Pro make perfect sense. If you can't accept the logic of Home and Pro as separate SKUs, you don't understand how MSFT does business. Don't hold your breath waiting for this to change.

        • bkkcanuck

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          The majority of revenue comes from either enterprise licenses or from manufacturers putting the Home (not so much pro) license on computers they manufacture. For retail copies for home it is now a single sale license with updates bundled into the future. Having one version of Windows but with different license terms (enterprise licenses for business - higher than consumer) [it is done with software licenses already differentiated pricing - same product] will continue to have the same revenue stream from enterprises. For manufacturers they could adjust the installed price by a small portion to offset the rather small slice that have Pro upgraded as an option (would not be much of an increase to offset it). Retail consumer licenses of Pro are not that great of a revenue stream in my estimation. There are ways to restructure while having the same software.

  7. txag

    It is embarrassing that MSFT cannot produce an RT type Windows that works on 64 bit software.

  8. navarac

    Reading some of these interesting replies, I feel that there is a little forgetfulness as to what Windows is meant to do. It is an operating system; there to facilitate the interaction of "software" between it (the software) and the hardware. The OS is not the be all and end all. It should be transparent and not get in the way of "the software". We get far too wrapped in what the OS is and what it looks like. Half of what is in Windows in 2020 is no more necessary than what was in it in 1995.

  9. geoff

    Whenever I see one of these "Where is the Windows Roadmap" discussion, two thing immediately come to mind.


    There *is* a published roadmap for Windows. There are also events like Ignite and others that step through in great detail what is coming in the short term, and in less detail, the long term. There is a formalised 'early development' channel so you can take a look and get involved, if you choose to. Feedback is encouraged (but I suspect, mostly ignored). There is a Trillion-dollar company with full custodianship of Windows, and a decades long history of doing that.


    The often-quoted alternative, even on these forums, is Linux.

    Linux has no roadmap and no owner. There might be10 people developing Linux right now, or there might be 10 million. Or some other number. Who knows? And what exactly, are those people doing? Why are they doing that? Are they all duplicating each other's efforts? Are they all developing conflicting software? What deadline are they aiming for? Will it break X or Y or my code? If they find a paying job, will that stuff be abandoned?

    There is a clear double standard happening here.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Sorry, where is this published roadmap for Windows? :)
    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Geoff:

      Re Linux, since it runs more more servers than any other OS, you don't believe server hardware makers provide any financial support? If they did provide financial support, they wouldn't voice their preferences for where Linux should be going?

      Then there's the division between kernel, drivers and applications, with drivers needed for lots of 3rd party hardware with which neither kernel nor application developers should have much involvement. Actually, that section of Linux development is quite similar to Windows driver development.

      As for breaking stuff, games from pre-Lucid times no longer run without a lot of backports and other tweaking, but I haven't had much trouble with everything else. In my own experience, there's more old Windows software that no longer runs under the latest Windows version. In contrast, wine runs older Windows software reasonably well, except for MSFT titles (I don't use any Adobe software, so no idea about it).

      • geoff

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        I agree that many hardware vendors make the effort to ensure that their hardware works with Linux. Fair enough. That makes good business sense for them.

        But that is not the 'where are we going' roadmap that the original poster was talking about.

  10. jchampeau

    I think we're already living the "future." Windows will continue its downward trend in terms of relevancy and become something that's only used at work--or at home by enthusiasts or hobbyists. Whereas Windows was once the center of the computing universe for businesses and consumers alike, it now seems a bit player in the eyes of consumers, but remains very relevant in the enterprise. I think this will continue for the foreseeable future, if only because ripping and replacing existing infrastructure would be a herculean effort. I think the future of Windows is x86 apps running natively on desktop PCs with Intel and AMD processors. Microsoft will continue to screw around with side projects like Windows on ARM, 10X, etc., but none will stick because of internal-to-Microsoft policies, egos, and wrongheadedness mean they aren't done well or in a sustainable way.

    Just my two cents worth.

  11. StevenLayton

    In the short and medium term, maybe it’s all of those things? Long term, I think it’s some future form of Windows (or maybe a new OS) running in the cloud for both business and home.

    • wright_is

      In reply to StevenLayton:

      The US will have to gets its legal house in order first... Until the Cloud Act, Patriot Act and FISA Court disappears, using cloud services belonging to US companies or companies that do business in the USA is a no-no over here.

  12. ghostrider

    I'm not sure MS know - they've tried so many things. I can tell you what they'd like though - DaaS, and everyone paying a monthly subscription for the privilege, along with Microsoft 365, OneDrive, Xbox Live and whatever else you buy from their store. Along with this, of course, we'll all be walking around with Microsoft mobile devices. That's the holy grail for MS, but it's not going to happen, never in a million years.

    • navarac

      In reply to ghostrider:

      Whatever MS thinks is the future of Windows, I have about had it, and I'm not interested in Apple stuff either. I started trying Linux last January and have basically gone over "to the dark side" on all my PCs except one which is kept for gaming. Everything else is catered for on Linux and it not a major re-install every 6 months.

      As I said above, I have had it with Microsoft - the company is not consistent and seems to be run by kids and idiots.

      • jamie_webster

        In reply to navarac:

        Have you tried gaming on Linux yet? It has come along way

      • wright_is

        In reply to navarac:

        Yes, I tried to go over to Linux in Q1 this year, but I have a Ryzen 1700 with nVidia 1060GTX and it wasn't compatible with Linux, long pauses when opening windows (YouTube would freeze for 20 seconds when opening the email client, for example, 8 cores, 16 threads, 32GB RAM and 3 SSDs, just Firefox and Evolution running).

        A real shame. I have long used Linux as a secondary system (and from 2003 through 2007 as my primary workstation).

        • Alastair Cooper

          I think what is probably happening is your system is using the free nouveau driver for your GPU which only has limited support and in my experience can lead to serious performance problems.

          If you are using an Ubuntu-based distro you can get the proprietary nVidia driver from the graphics-drivers PPA:

          sudo add-apt-repository -y ppa:graphics-drivers/ppa

          sudo apt update

          sudo apt install -y nvidia-driver-450

          Reboot to switch drivers.

          (there is a newer 455 driver but a lot of people, including me have encountered a bug with that that causes lock-ups)

          • wright_is

            In reply to Alastair_Cooper:

            I had installed the official nVidia drivers.

            • Alastair Cooper

              That's interesting. In theory the compatibility picture with Zen should be extremely good (lots of people running it), so it makes me wonder where the issue is. Maybe a more obscure piece of hardware in the system or the firmware and Linux don't get on.

              The main issue I have is with my sound card - for some bizarre reason I get distortion in Zoom calls in Linux .and nowhere else. This doesn't happen with my Bluetooth or monitor audio, nor in Windows. It's very weird.

              • wright_is

                In reply to Alastair_Cooper:

                I suspect firmware, although it was running the latest (at the time) Asus firmware.

                Apart from the nVidia graphics, it was a stock Asus motherboard and a BlueTooth dongle, otherwise everything was "onboard".

                Unless the LVM over 3 SSDs was causing it to throw a fit.

  13. hrlngrv

    Re Windows RT, it failed because Windows PC users didn't want it. Indeed, Windows PC users wanted to run old software they'd been using for years, maybe decades, but Windows RT wouldn't run it. Windows RT also failed because the apps failed to appear. Why? Because Windows RT plus Windows 8.x together represented fewer customers than people still using Windows XP back in 2012, and far fewer than those running Windows 7.

    Re Windows 10 and both Settings and Control Panel, a similar problem. Windows PC users wanted to keep using peripheral hardware they'd been using for years, maybe decades, but those peripherals only came with Control Panel configuration applets. That's one big reason Control Panel isn't going away, but it's no excuse for MSFT failing to move its own bundled applets from Control Panel to Settings, e.g., Administrative Tools (since all this does is open a different Explorer window showing everything in the Start Menu's Windows Administrative Tools; this one really is utterly pointless to leave in Control Panel), Color Management, Date and Time (Settings contains all the settings available in the Date and Time applet), etc. Other than 3rd party hardware configuration applets, Control Panel should have nothing else except those settings which appear in the same Control Panel windows, e.g., Credential Manager. Anything which appears in a different window/dialog should be in Settings only.

    The MSFT Store has failed because many major ISVs don't like it, and many other businesses whose profit centers aren't software but could provide apps to access their good or services, e.g., banks and stock brokers, just don't see the point when most PC users seem to prefer using web sites in browsers. That the Office mobile apps (I keep Excel on my Insider Build VM just to see how useless it is vis-a-vis Excel Online much less Windows desktop Excel) still represent MSFT's only attempt to implement Office using UWP is sufficient to dissuade any ISV from trying the same thing with any serious piece of software.

    The really cynical answer is that MSFT's path to revenue growth for Windows, now that the world is saturated with PCs and smartphones eliminate the need for more than replacements for existing PCs, requires finding some way to get Windows PC users to pay the equivalent of multiple Windows license fees per year. For some reason Windows PC users have proven resistant to that MSFT imperative.

    What MSFT does it does to try to wring more money out of its user base. That's business, and it really sucks transitioning from a growth business to a business serving a mature market.

    As for the future of Windows, VMs on demand, not just to run single Win32 applications, but to run multiple Win32 applications with interprocess communication and scripting. Until some secure replacement for Win32 can let me use a script (currently VBScript) to pass data back and forth between Excel, a DBMS and the 2 mainframe applications I still need to use each quarter, I'll be sticking with Win32-capable versions of Windows at work. At home, I'm already running Linux over 80% of the time (like now).

    • dftf

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      Windows RT: agree. If an everyday-person gets a machine with "Windows RT", as it "just looks the same as any-other Windows device I've been on" they expect it to do the same things. Whereas on say macOS, or a Linux distro or Android or iOS people expect it to be different to Windows as it clearly looks different. (You could go way-back to the days of Windows Mobile and before that Pocket PC and again see how-limiting they were, despite UI-wise trying to make them replicate the desktop Windows-of-the-day).

      Control Panel and Settings: I really do not see either what takes them so-long to move stuff over, especially stuff only added into Control Panel in recent-years, like "Credential Manager" which is just a list of stored usernames and passwords with import/export ability. Surely not too-hard to move-over? Sure, due to old drivers things like the old "Keyboard" and "Mouse" applets can never fully go; but there is no-reason why the old dialog-boxes cannot be launched from inside Settings via a link. Then at-least their icons can disappear from Control Panel.

      Microsoft Store: I've posted on the forum here before with a list of example software I use, and only around 30-40% of it exists inside the Store last time I checked. And even then, a handful are only in there as unofficial, fan-made packages, which I'm not sure I'd want to trust. As I've said before, I fail to see why Microsoft doesn't just let companies add the .MSI versions of their installers into the Store: it would be a quick way to fill it up.

      Make Windows users pay each year to use Windows: kinda difficult when they gave Windows 10 away for free to suddenly then start charging for it later. It has never been advertised as a "free trial". Even now, if you use the Media Creation Tool on a Windows 7 or 8.1 computer and choose the "Upgrade this PC now" option it'll still give you a fully-activated Windows 10 digital-licence at the end (assuming your Windows 7 or 8.1 device is current activated beforehand). And if you check the competition, again, that would be difficult: you don't pay an ongoing fee to use macOS, most Linux distros (some do require a paid "support fee"), Android or iOS. Enterprise customers will pay each-year, but that's because they get support as part of the deal. Maybe if Microsoft actually offered proper support more home-users and small-businesses would pay -- anything would be better than the "Microsoft Answers" site, where random people just try to help, or Windows 10's "Feedback Hub" app where most issues just get ignored.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to dftf:

        At the risk of dead horse whipping, perhaps the fatal flaws in Windows RT were (1) Internet Explorer, Office and the usual bundled applets running as desktop software, but (2) no way for 3rd party developers to make other desktop software for it. This led to MSFT exploiting its greatest weakness: its inability to provide clear explanations, in this case WHY is wasn't providing any tools to develop desktop software for Windows RT.

        Re Control Panel, it itself runs in an Explorer window, and many of its bundled components also run in the same Explorer window, with the back button being usable for those. I suspect it may be harder than it looks for MSFT to move ALL OF THAT to Settings. Actually, Keyboard and Mouse already have entries on the right in Settings which launch the same 3rd party applets that Control Panel does. Monitor setting should also be simple enough to move to Settings. It's nonessential peripheral hardware which needs Control Panel, plus ancient stuff which may not make sense moving to Settings like dial-up networking or Infrared.

      • wright_is

        In reply to dftf:

        The Store will always be a problem. At every company I've worked at, since Windows 10 was released, the Microsoft Store has been disabled by policy. No apps can be loaded from it and no installed apps can be updated.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to wright_is:

          no installed apps can be updated.

          Picky: the organization's standard image could have the policy changed temporarily, certain store apps upgraded, the policy revert to disabled, and the new image, or perhaps deltas, distributed to client machines.

          At home the only Store apps I use with any frequency are Excel Mobile to see just how far behind it lags Windows desktop Excel, and the live tile for the Weather app, which, in its class, is pretty good for an almost entirely non-interactive, information-only app. At work, I don't use any Store apps. Why would anyone?