Top Windows and PC Stories of 2018

Posted on December 30, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Microsoft Surface, Windows 10 with 41 Comments

With Microsoft ending the year as the most valuable company in the world, it’s fair to say that 2018 was an incredible year for the software giant. Scanning over the thousands of articles we wrote this year, I’ve collected my picks for the top Windows and PC stories of the year.

Here they are.

1. Windows as a (dis)service

Microsoft’s controversial Windows as a Service (WaaS) scheme of updating Windows 10 aggressively entered 2018 on a high note: The previous two feature updates were deployed at an ever-faster pace, with the Fall Creators Update hitting a then-unprecedented 85 percent usage share on the eve of the launch of the next feature update, called the April 2018 Update.

But WaaS is limping out of 2018 with two major defeats behind it: That April 2018 Update was silently delayed when Microsoft found some showstopper issues at the last minute. But the problems continued even after the update was publicly released a month late. And in May, I described this release as “a disgrace.”

I should have held off on this judgment, however: The next release, called the October 2018 Update, was even worse.

This time around, Microsoft didn’t halt the delivery of the update until after it had been prematurely deployed publicly. And it was patently obvious that Microsoft had a major software quality problem on its hands. Its response? Utter silence. For six weeks.

Six weeks.

This was, I opined, a fiasco. And by the time that Microsoft finally did start deploying the update again, no one really cared anymore. Which was fine, since the software giant finally put the brakes on: The October 2018 Update is installed on some low single-digit percentage of Windows 10 PCs as we enter the New Year.

If there’s any good news to be had here, and there is, it’s coincidental. Both of these feature updates were light on new features, unlike with the previous releases. And that’s a good thing: If Microsoft could ever figure out its reliability issues, we may finally arrive at a version of Windows 10 we can all be proud of.

2. Windows demoted in major upheaval at Microsoft

In early 2018, we caught wind of a major Windows strategy shift at Microsoft that triggered some of the other top stories noted below. But before the blockbuster news about Terry Myerson broke, the software giant made it clear that Windows was no longer its priority.

And then it happened: Microsoft announced that Terry Myerson, who oversaw Windows 10 development, would be leaving the company. As part of this change, Windows core development would move to the Azure group, new Windows user experiences would be created by a much smaller team, and no one directly responsible for Windows would be on Microsoft’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

Ouch.

This triggered a lot of soul searching. For me, watching Windows 10 become something terrible because of in-box advertising, crapware bundling, and nonsense new features (the latter of which finally stopped this past year) has been rough.

I can only hope that 2019 will be better.

3. Microsoft Edge moves to Chromium

In May, I opined that “Microsoft Edge on Windows 10 should be rearchitected—created anew from the ground up—to work as it does on mobile. It should be a user experience shell, a mobile app, built on top of the web browser rendering engine, which in this case is called EdgeHTML and is ‘part’ of Windows 10.”

Then, in September, I noted that Microsoft Edge is what is wrong with Windows 10. Like Windows 10, Edge is full of nonsense features that few people will ever use. This made Edge “a complexity, a mess … full of inconsistencies.”

Then the hammer fell.

In early December, Microsoft announced that it would stop wasting its time trying to make Edge compatible with web standards—a losing battle since the browser is updated only twice a year—and rebuild it on Google’s open-source Chromium engine. Yes, there are doubters; there always are. But this was the right choice for a browser that, frankly, is an also-ran, at best.

Granted, it’s Microsoft. So the announcement was vague on details and poorly-communicated. But after figuring out a few important details separately—for example, yes, Edge will support Chrome’s extensions—even some doubters started to see the light.

“Microsoft embracing Chromium is all upside,” I wrote. “There is no bad news here, at all. And with a suddenly bright future, we can look back on 2018, for all its terribleness, as the time when the software giant finally started fighting back for Windows.”

4. Windows 10 on ARM ushers in the Always-Connected PC era

2018 was the year we finally got to try Windows 10 on ARM on real shipping PCs. And the experience was … not positive.

The problems were many-fold. The initial PCs, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset, offered stellar battery life and excellent, always-on connectivity. But the performance was terrible, and compatibility was hugely problematic.

Fortunately, Qualcomm has a plan. It released a second-generation Snapdragon 850 chipset for PCs in late 2018 with minor performance gains, and it announced a much improved Snapdragon 8cx for mid-2019 that will finally offer Intel Core i5-level performance. It worked with Microsoft to support64-bit native (but not Intel) apps. And it is bringing both Chromium and Firefox to the platform as well.

The Snapdragon 850 helps Windows 10 on ARM make some sense, assuming you can live with the compatibility issues. But the 8cx is where this platform will really take off. And that’s not happening until next year.

5. Microsoft Embraces Linux with Azure Sphere

We’ve seen headlines about Microsoft “embracing” open source and Linux many times over the past several years. But it wasn’t until the software giant announced its own Linux-based client platform called Azure Sphere that this reality really hit home. Microsoft chose Linux over Windows because Linux is more componentized and can be used on much-lower-end hardware. And of course it fits in neatly with Microsoft’s broader “intelligent cloud, intelligent edge” mantra.

Kind of makes you wonder if embracing Linux more broadly makes even more sense.

6. Microsoft lied about the number of Windows 10 users

Microsoft has a rich history of getting the numbers wrong when it comes to Windows 10—consider the early boast about 1 billion active devices within three years—but this one is particularly disappointing.

In April, Terry Myerson said that there were “nearly 700 million” Windows 10 PCs in use worldwide. And then that figure didn’t change. For months. Finally, by October, the software giant said that the 700 million figure was correct.

Had Windows 10 usage sat still for six months?

No. As it turns out, Microsoft had been artificially inflating usage by including virtual machine installs, most of which are just used for testing. It stopped counting VMs in early 2018, and it wasn’t until October that reality caught up with fiction.

On a related note, I spent a lot of time in 2018 trying to figure out how many Windows PCs there were in use worldwide. But Microsoft finally came clean in October: There are 1.5 billion Windows-powered PCs (all versions) in use around the world.

7. Windows 10 S fails, and then so does S mode

In January, I reported that Windows 10 S had been renamed in a then-recent Windows Insider build, to Windows 10 Pro in S mode. A few weeks later, we discovered this was part of a broader overhaul to the Windows offerings. And that “S mode” would be something that could be offered for Windows 10 Home, Pro, or even Enterprise.

Windows 10 S, of course, was a major failure. And there’s no reason to think that S mode won’t be any less of a failure. But don’t worry: Windows 10 Lean proves that Microsoft hasn’t given up on this silliness yet.

8. Go time: Microsoft finally offers another affordable Surface PC

With rumors suggesting that Microsoft was set to re-enter the affordable PC market with a low-cost Surface Pro-type PC, I celebrated the move. But the resulting product, called Surface Go, under-delivered on the basics: The performance is terrible, the battery life is terrible, and the keyboard isn’t full-sized.

Naturally, Brad loved it.

9. PWAs fail to make a difference in 2018

I’ve been promoting Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) as the future app platform for Windows and elsewhere since 2017, and with PWA supporting coming to Windows 10 in the first half of 2018, I figured we were on the verge of an apps renaissance.

That never happened.

To date, there are only a handful of high-quality PWAs in the Microsoft Store, like Twitter. And rival cross-platform toolsets like Google Flutter, which targets Android and iOS only, threaten to further undermine Windows.

Put simply, the PWA revolution is off to a slow start. And that’s not what I expected at all.

10. Microsoft’s bizarre relationship with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

Charting Microsoft’s inability to grasp the importance of both USB-C, which is a port type, and Thunderbolt 3, which makes that port more versatile than any other, is painful. So I’ll just summarize it here.

Microsoft ended 2017 by supporting USB-C—but not Thunderbolt 3—on Surface Book 2, giving us all hope that we’d finally see the rest of the lineup moved over to this not-so-new technology in 2018. Surface Go, released late in the summer, had a USB-C port. And then Microsoft announced Surface Pro 6 and Surface Laptop 2. Neither of which include USB-C.

What the what?!

Ah boy.

 

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Comments (41)

41 responses to “Top Windows and PC Stories of 2018”

  1. Avatar

    dnationsr

    allllll-in-all i think 18305 is pretty decent OS

  2. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Using Chrome, I can install PWAs from web sites. Could one of the reasons PWAs not have caught on much under Windows be due to PWAs needing to be installed from the MSFT Store for use with Edge?

    • Avatar

      NazmusLabs

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      No, the plan was ability to pin PWAs directly from the

      Edge Browser, just as you do on Chrome, according to my understanding of their developer roadmap thst I looked through. The Store install was an ADDITIONAL way of getting PWA for easier discoverability and a bit of editorial curation (think how the Chrome Web Store have listings for certain web apps).


      PWAs, I believe, are a replacement for the non-standard Chrome Apps (not the aforementioned web apps) that you can get from the Chrome Web Store today on Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS. Support for these non-standard chrome apps will end, according to Google, on Windows and MacOS. It makes sense to assume that Google expects PWAs to take their place, as, PWA’s goal is to be able to do everything that Chrome Apps did and more.


      Hope this helps, insha’Allah!

  3. Avatar

    Stooks

    The only thing in that list that even makes a difference is Edge move to Chromium. If it is done right, which it does not have to do much for me, I will never use Chrome again. Unless Google breaks it on purpose somehow. I see this move as all the compatibility (websites, extensions, bookmark management....etc) of Chrome with NONE of the privacy stopping layer of Google slathered all over it.


    I NEVER thought Windows 10 on ARM, Windows 10 S or PWA's were going to amount to anything. Much hyped here but I had ZERO doubt they would fail.


    The rest of that list is blogger fill. I have never had an issue with Windows 10 updates but then again I do not install them on day one.


    If Microsoft's completely moves to Linux under the Windows hood as long as all my apps run the same I would not care to be honest. I use the apps on top of the OS and not the OS for the most part.


    USB-C I could take it or leave it to be honest. I have a 2017 15inch Macbook Pro that has significantly cost me more money because of all the dongles I have now. So far I have not gotten a single benefit out of USB-C.

  4. Avatar

    bbold

    Happy holidays, Paul, Brad and the rest of the gang at Thurrott & Petri! Hope you all have a fantastic new year :)


    BB

  5. Avatar

    Randall Lewis

    Good god, this wasn't top Microsoft stories of 2018, it was Paul reliving all of his favorite "insights" of the year. Click bait.

  6. Avatar

    infloop

    "Naturally, Brad loved it."


    Oof, haha.


    Happy new year to Thurrott, Sams, and everyone at BWW. Another year has gone by...

  7. Avatar

    jlmerrill

    Why doesn't Microsoft just convert to Linux and be done with it?

    • Avatar

      skane2600

      In reply to jlmerrill:

      Presumably because no business case can be made for doing that. Why would they want to give away their dominant position in the PC market to join the commodity Linux OS market? It would be like Apple dropping the iPhone in favor of producing Android phones.

  8. Avatar

    nanaik

    very good article, Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work.

    Best online Game for Free 2019

  9. Avatar

    Michael_Miller

    Thurrott, you are one angry guy. Maybe a career change? Or maybe switch to Apple exclusively. LOL.

  10. Avatar

    ednamodes

    Thank you for sharing them! I hope you will continue to have similar posts to share with everyone!

    bullet force

  11. Avatar

    jimmy1982

    Thank you for sharing them! I hope you will continue to have similar posts Level 124

  12. Avatar

    hakaneadrezaa

    Thank you for sharing such a meticulous opinion, the paragraph is nice, so I've read it completely.

    zombs royale & unblocked hacked games


  13. Avatar

    david.thunderbird

    So 1803 broke home/workgroups which broke my business model. Somewhere in July I started converting over to Zorin Linux and Scientific Linux then I was at 27 out 55 done. Then December patches hit and one by one the remaining w10 pro machines over a week went to 1809. Amazed at no problems they just worked, but (you knew there would be) still no groups. So, I'm at 38 of 55 Linux installs and groups work fine in Linux.

  14. Avatar

    glenn8878

    PWAs will take off with Chromium as will Windows on ARM, which will happen once we convert to Chrome.

    • Avatar

      Stooks

      In reply to glenn8878:

      My prediction....NO it wont. Just like Windows 10 on ARM wont take off unless there is a massive move to port applications to that platform. Neither is likely to happen. They are both solutions looking for problems.

    • Avatar

      skane2600

      In reply to glenn8878:

      PWAs at best would provide value to developers and at worst an inferior experience for mobile users. Of course the advertised one codebase on all platforms capability will fail as all such schemes have failed for the last 40 years.


      Windows on ARM will be successful only if it reaches the point where its performance running Win32 apps (32 and 64 bit) matches or exceeds x86/64 processors at the same price point. Longer battery life and the ability to run 64 bit ARM-compiled applications won't be sufficient for the platform to reach the tipping-point.

      • Avatar

        hrlngrv

        In reply to skane2600:

        PWAs will be the last attempt at write once-run everywhere, if we're lucky. From my perverse perspective, it makes more sense to have client apps to DISPLAY software running on remote servers. Run something in one place, interact with it everywhere may be the better approach.

        • Avatar

          skane2600

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          I think the allure of WORE is hard to resist and it seems every generation of developer has to learn the hard lesson themselves.


          As far as your idea is concerned, if one has to use a diverse set of OS's, a local display and remote servers makes sense. Otherwise it seems like collocated compute engine and display is more efficient. Then there's the problem of client device size. The bad ergonomics of running desktop programs on small devices persist no matter where the computing takes place.

  15. Avatar

    Winner

    Outstanding list Paul.

  16. Avatar

    skane2600

     "I’ve collected my picks for the top Windows and PC stories of 2017."


    Picky but 2018. Copy/Paste error from last year?

  17. Avatar

    skane2600

    I think USB-C is important to a subset of tech enthusiasts and dongle makers but pretty much irrelevant to the average user. It has the advantage of being able to handle data at a much higher rate than any equipment the average person will own in the next 3-5 years.

  18. Avatar

    dcdevito

    2019 = The Year of Desktop Linux...


    ...brought to you by Microsoft.


    I mean, could you imagine that? What a world we now live in!

  19. Avatar

    F4IL

    Still haven't gotten 1809 but I certainly didn't expect deployments to be so low.

  20. Avatar

    brettscoast

    Thanks Paul

    What I am most interested in this coming 2019 is what Microsoft can do with Windows 10 on ARM with the right hardware of course the future could be quite exciting. The lack of a decision or decisiveness from Microsoft to include USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the most recent surface systems makes no sense really but I am assuming we will see these ports included in the next round of surface releases (dare I hold my breath.) Happy new year 2019 to all at www.thurrott.com



  21. Avatar

    skane2600

    Azure Sphere has a rather narrow focus and is really in a different category than Windows. For those embedded systems that actually require a OS, it's not clear whether Sphere offers significant advantages over other Linux-based embedded OS's.

  22. Avatar

    johndude835

    I hate not having back up power in my house.

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