As Mehedi noted yesterday in Top 10 Thurrott.com Stories of 2018, it’s been a big year for the tech industry. It was also a big year for Thurrott Premium, with hundreds of new Premium articles. As the author of most of those articles, it’s fascinating to look back and see which resonated most with readers. So without further ado, here they are, they top 10 Thurrott Premium stories from 2018 based on page views, and in reverse order.
Note: I’m not marking this post as Premium deliberately so that everyone can see which of the Premium posts were most popular and not need to use up a monthly credit. –Paul
One of the ongoing refrains from the past few years is my disappointment with Microsoft undermining Windows 10 with crapware, advertising, and nonsense new features. But using Windows 7 and 8.1 again in 2018 is a helpful reminder that these previous versions had problems of their own, and those problems still dwarf any issues I may have with Windows 10. “Windows 10 is still the champ in my book,” I wrote at the time. “For all its problems—and there are many—I still prefer it, and by a wide margin, over anything else.” Exactly so.
I’m happy to see that a smartphone post made it into the top 10, especially since this particular topic is dear to my heart. I’ve always loved that Google makes its own smartphones, and while the current and previous Pixel generations have had reliability issues, Google’s efforts here, like Microsoft’s with Surface, are ultimately a valiant effort. This article addresses why Google had to kill its partner-centric Nexus efforts and go its own way with Pixel, and while we only saw the first “true” all-Google phone in late 2018 with the Pixel 3 lineup. Hopefully, the 2019 Pixels will finally solve the reliability issues too.
This is an interesting topic because I don’t think that many people understand that using a custom domain (like Thurrott.com) with Gmail requires you to join G Suite, Google’s version of Office 365 commercial, and that in doing so you are severely limiting how that account works with Google services. “There are, in fact, two levels of Google services availability,” I wrote. “There is the full meal deal, which all Gmail customers get. And then there is a far more limited set of services that Google provides to G Suite users. That paying customers get less is nonsense. But there it is.” Sadly, this is an issue I’m still struggling with. But with my unrelated move from Google Inbox to Microsoft Outlook/Outlook.com, perhaps I can finally move fully off of G Suite—or more so than today, anyway—in 2019.
When rumors about a low-cost Surface tablet PC emerged in May, I was ecstatic: Microsoft needed a mainstream success, and its premium-only strategy, while friendly to its PC maker partners, was not establishing Surface as a mainstream PC brand. “A $400 Surface tablet isn’t just a good idea,” I wrote. “It’s necessary.” I still believe that. But the resulting PC, the Surface Go is a huge disappointment because it fails in an astonishing three key ways: The performance is terrible, the battery life is terrible, and the PC itself is too small for most adults to use comfortably. It’s clear to me now that a future Surface Go revision will be based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, and that should solve the first two issues, while probably adding a few compatibility problems too. But that is still a PC to eagerly anticipate. The first one is a non-starter.
Microsoft has a rather ignoble history of testing the limits of its users’ collective patience with terrible design choices in Windows 10, and these often appear first in Windows Insider Preview builds. In March, it tested an ugly new change in which hyperlinks in an email that were clicked on in Windows 10’s Mail app would always open in Microsoft Edge, regardless of which web browser the user had configured as the default. I had a rather strong reaction to this, which I still defend as both right and correct. But this post focuses on why Microsoft would even try such a stunt, and that it was “really part of a wider continuum of change that Microsoft is making over time.” The strategy, I wrote, was a combination of modernizing Windows 10, which is understandable, and totalitarianism, which is not. “Microsoft very specifically doesn’t want Windows to be like Android anymore,” I wrote. “It doesn’t want Windows to be like the Windows of the past and present. It wants something that is more secure, more reliable, simpler, and something that provides better performance up-front and over time. It wants Windows to be like iOS.” The good news? Microsoft backed off. The bad? For now.
The tech blogosphere is full of younger people who mix speculation with fact without fully explaining which is which. And within the Windows community specifically, there’s been a lot of bloviating about a Microsoft on-again-off-again project called Andromeda about which there’s been a lot more speculation than fact. So this was one of my attempts this past year to set the record straight and just state plainly that none of the rumors matter for a single and obvious reason. “No matter how ‘cool’ this thing looks, no matter how innovative the hardware design is, none of it matters if the device has no real purpose. And Andromeda makes no sense if it is not backed by a reasonable software and services ecosystem.”
Few events at Microsoft have hit me as hard and as personally as Terry Myerson leaving the company this past year. Terry wasn’t perfect, but he was tasked with the impossible job of making Windows 10, a disaster of often decades-old legacy code fit within Microsoft’s new “intelligent cloud and intelligent edge” operating model and somehow support an aggressive and unsustainable updating and upgrading model. That he succeeded is incredible. That he was summarily dismissed upon achieving this is heartbreaking. But the real tragedy is that Windows continues to be a major component of Microsoft’s profits and revenues, but is not represented in the company’s senior leadership team and is given far fewer resources than less successful and riskier new businesses, most of which are cloud-based. This marked the end of an era.
Back before Windows 10 version 1809 proved that anything can always get worse, that release’s predecessor, Windows 10 version 1803 was a shit show of its own. We now know what happened—Microsoft found issues with the release right before it was supposed to ship but silently held it back and never explained what happened. But at the time, none of this was clear. As for the title of the article, it concerned the why of the delay, the timing of the release, and, well, the WTF. “As in WTF has Microsoft been so quiet about all this stuff?: I asked, non-rhetorically. “It’s not a state secret. It’s just a minor feature update to Windows 10.” Put simply, this is yet another example of Microsoft not communicating effectively or at all at a time when doing so, and being more transparent, would have been the right thing to do. This is a problem that Microsoft creates for itself again and again.
While the issue of Microsoft Edge and its supposed battery life advantages over Google Chrome, in particular, has been a theme of sorts for the past few years, this particular article is really about another topic that is near and dear to my heart: Qualcomm and its efforts to enter the PC market with its Snapdragon chipsets and Windows 10 on ARM. The point is that this platform has only one distinct advantage over traditional Intel-type PCs, battery life. And that this one advantage never helped Microsoft Edge gain share in its own market. More broadly, this is really about consumers and how they choose products, and that, in this case, this one high point wasn’t enough to overcome the other issues inherent in the product. This is a big deal for Qualcomm and ARM in the PC space for a number of reasons, key among them that many Intel-based PCs actually get pretty great battery life. And if a user can choose pretty great battery life and get 100 percent application compatibility and better performance as part of that deal, all the better. As we enter 2019, this issue is very much at the forefront of my mind, and I think this will ultimately make or break Windows on ARM in the coming year.
For all of the complaints about Windows 10, and for all of the reliability issues that Microsoft has experienced with the past two feature updates, 2018 will still be marked, mostly—at least by me—by a far happier topic: Microsoft has finally stopped pretending that anyone will ever get excited by major new features that few users will ever use and is instead focusing mostly on fit and finish and basic quality. That I wrote this post about Windows 10 version 1803 is interesting only in that this trend continued with the next release as well. And as we look forward to next year’s Windows 10 19H1, we can see this trend continue forward to 2019 as well. “It seems that some sense of normalcy is returning,” I wrote of this strategy shift for Windows. “I’m not suggesting that some nonsense won’t make its way past the decision-makers, they can’t all be winners … But by and large, things are looking pretty good, especially when you consider all the doom and gloom around Windows 10 this year.”
What a great way to end the year, on a good note.