Microsoft had an incredible year, with some epic moments. So without further ado, here’s my look at Microsoft’s 2015, the good, the meh, and the WTF.
I often hear about how negative I am, but I really just reflect what’s really happening. And on that note, Microsoft had some triumphant moments in 2015.
For all the miscues noted below, Microsoft’s 2015 will always be defined by Windows 10, which is nothing but goodness. As I noted in my review, Windows 10 is superior to both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, and its user experience works as well or better on the different Windows device types—traditional PC form factors for Windows 7 and “touch-first” devices like tablets and 2-in-1s for Windows 8.1—than do its predecessors. But Windows 10 also exceeds Windows 7 and 8.1 in other ways, with an evolved universal apps platform that all users (and developers) can embrace, cross-platform chops that are unparalleled on other mobile and desktop computing systems, and an adaptable, user-focused user interface that can be customized to your liking at every step of the way. And it respects the way you work, whether that’s keyboard and mouse, touch, pen/stylus, or any combination of those things.
No software is perfect, as the old adage goes. But Windows 10 gets pretty damned close.
Microsoft Band 2
We are awash in wearables these days, but most of them seem to serve little purpose beyond being or copying an Apple product. Fortunately, Microsoft has chosen a different path. And with Band 2, the firm is again firing on all cylinders, delivering the right mix of features and improvements. This is my favorite wearable, by far, and the one that will grace my wrist going forward.
Surface Pro 4
Surface Pro 4 is a magical, nearly perfect device that improves on its excellent predecessor with a bigger screen, a lighter and thinner body, vastly superior processing and power management, more RAM and storage options, a superior new Type Cover with a real glass trackpad, and so much more. With Surface Pro 4, the 2-in-1 form factor has in effect been perfected. And it’s awesome.
Xbox One with New Xbox Experience
It’s too bad that Xbox One stumbled out of the gate—OK, before the gate, really—because Microsoft has kept up a steady drumbeat of improvements since its 2013 launch. And with the New Xbox One Experience, things get even better, with Windows 10 underpinnings, a gorgeous and usable new dashboard, an improved and faster Xbox Guide, and Xbox 360 game compatibility. For Xbox fans, this is the perfect storm, and a dream come true. And more is coming in 2016, with Cortana and universal app compatibility.
Continuum has emerged as a key differentiator for Microsoft on PCs, tablets and now phones, offering a peek at the future today. It’s particularly useful on tablets and 2-in-1s, allowing the user experience to adapt on the fly based on the hardware configuration. But even the phone experience is pretty amazing, offering a way to turn your pocket-sized device in a real PC, with keyboard, mouse, HDTV and USB storage compatibility. Are you kidding me?
Sometimes Microsoft delivers something that isn’t actually all that bad. It’s just that no one even notices or cares.
Lumia 950/950 XL
I really like the Lumia 950 I’m currently using, and I’d consider switching to the phablet-class 950 XL. But I’m apparently in a tiny minority on this one, with even Windows phone enthusiasts complaining about the high prices, scattered availability, incompatibility with popular wireless providers, cheap case, hot running temperatures, and more. Too little too late is such a trite saying. But. Yeah.
Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 Mobile isn’t bad, in fact I like it quite a bit. It’s just that it has no good apps, no viable ecosystem support, no mobile payments, no distribution at all via new phones, no easy way to update existing phones, and no market share. In fact, it’s a sad statement for the platform that the only reasonable way to get this system is to sign up for a beta program that downloads massive full OS installs every few weeks. This, folks, is Windows 10 Mobile. And it’s too bad.
I love the idea of a streamlined new Microsoft web browser that actually adheres to web standards. It’s just that I can’t use it. As originally launched, Microsoft Edge didn’t even support PC-to-PC syncing of bookmarks and settings—yes, really—and as 2015 draws to a close, it still doesn’t support extensions like ad blockers and password managers. And if you don’t use a Windows 10 Mobile phone, which is normal, you’ll never get PC-to-phone sync either. So as I write this, Edge is absolutely worthless, and it’s driven me to keep using Chrome and Firefox instead.
Microsoft Office 2016
If Microsoft releases a new version of Office and no one notices, did it really release a new version of Office? The biggest selling point of Office 2016 appears to be collaboration, a message that is more than a bit undercut by the fact that only one of the desktop applications (Word 2016) even supports real-time collaboration. As far as I’m concerned, the nicest thing about Office 2016 is that it’s prettier, thanks to a new Colorful theme. And, yes, Tell Me and Smart Lookup are really cool. But Office just isn’t setting the world on fire anymore, and it’s perhaps notable that Microsoft’s approximately 1100 new productivity-oriented mobile apps got a lot more press in 2015.
This is Microsoft. Punching itself in the face. Again. And again. And again.
Surface Book reliability issues
Sorry, but Microsoft really blew the Surface Book launch, turning me from a wide-eyed-believer into a frightened little animal that jumps behind a tree at any little reliability issue. You cannot charge premium prices for a luxury product, completely screw it up with display and power management issues, and then announce you’re not fixing anything until after the holidays (typical) because it’s a “very hard computer science problem.” This is unacceptable and it would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
HoloLens is a lie
All year long, Microsoft has been lying to you about HoloLens. And all year long, I’ve been telling you the truth. Which is this: Despite all the incredible on-stage demos you’ve seen, the field of vision is far too small. That is, as you look forward out through the HoloLens headset, you can of course see peripherally, but the area in which you can see holograms is a small rectangle in the middle of your vision. It’s like looking through a small portal, or a submarine periscope. You can’t see anything that is not right in the middle of your field of vision. It’s … constraining. It’s also disappointing, given how Microsoft advertises this product. Which will not be made available to consumers anytime soon, another lie.
Candy Crush in Windows 10
Microsoft has a history of over-compensating for its mistakes, and the app bundling in Windows 10 is a typical example. Why Windows 10 ships with apps like 3D Builder (what the f that is) we’ll never know. Why Windows 10 doesn’t let you uninstall built-in apps like Groove, OneNote, and Mail is likewise a mystery for the ages. But why Microsoft choose to bundle Candy Crush Saga—a three-year-old mobile game—with Windows 10 just highlights how out of touch this company is. At least you can uninstall it.
Low-end Lumia Windows phones
I won’t belabor the point because Microsoft appears to have belatedly received the message: There were far too many nearly-identical but painfully different low-end Lumias released in early 2015. And by continuing the broken strategy for over a year, Microsoft may have stuck the final dagger in Windows phone’s back. Congratulations.
Microsoft dropped support for placeholders in Windows 10, a decision I did not agree with. But the reasoning behind this was sound, and the promise was a more reliable service. Which did not pan out at all in 2015. In fact, OneDrive was so unreliable this year that I switched to the far more expensive—but far more reliable—Dropbox for my most important work. Way to win over your fans, guys.
OneDrive unlimited storage
In what is now apparently an annual tradition, the OneDrive team dropped a bomb on its best customers in November and revealed that it would not provided unlimited storage to Office 365 customers and was killing off most of its free and promotion storage options. The firm (much) later apologized for the ham-handed way in which it handled this communication, but only took minor steps to address the concerns. Sorry, guys. You can’t win back trust that way.
Imagine that Microsoft invents a technology that lets users of Windows 10 Mobile (which no one uses) run Android apps (the most popular mobile platform on earth). Now imagine that this technology worked sogood that it scared the living beejezus out of management, so they decided to limit it to developers so that they could port their Android apps to Windows. Now imagine that even that worked too well for comfort, and that they canceled that too. Yeah. That happened in 2015. And in fumbling around for the year, Microsoft now enters 2016 with absolutely no strategy for dealing with the Android app explosion. Which, when you think about it, is pretty much Windows phone in a nutshell anyway. Directionless.