Productivity and continuity
By this time tomorrow, January 21, Microsoft will have revealed its battle plan for the future of Windows. Meanwhile, rivals Apple and Google have been updating and refining their operating systems with clear strategies in mind - long before Redmond's latest was even announced.
Sure, the marching orders regarding Windows 10 were issued a long time ago. Regardless there are three clear fronts on which Microsoft should be fighting this battle, given its position and resources: productivity in the browser, continuity across platforms and home entertainment.
If there's even the tiniest chance that Microsoft isn't already prepared to exchange blows on these three fronts, then I'm terribly underpaid. Here are the three key ways in which Microsoft is finally prepared to face off with Apple and Google in the OS wars.
Office 365 vs Drive vs iWork – ready … fight!
Microsoft has been plugging away on Office 365, the web-based version of its productivity suite, for years now publicly. Yet still, amid increases to storage and new or improved features like document co-authoring, the service doesn't quite stack up to Google Drive.
You could argue that Office 365 was Microsoft's retort to Google's collection of browser-powered productivity apps, but it's still lacking something. That thing is integration. What makes Google Drive so simple to use is its deep integration with Chrome, Google's Internet Explorer competitor.
It's high time that Microsoft leverages its users' accounts at the app level - beyond a customized MSN homepage upon login. Like Chrome, the new IE (known currently as "Spartan") should prominently feature Office 365 apps and integrate them across the ecosystem.
Since Windows already supports Microsoft accounts for login, there should be no need for the same login when opening IE and Office 365. Plus, the Office apps should have their place either on the menu bar or a default homepage.
Frankly, there isn't much to be done for Microsoft to bring Office 365 and Internet Explorer to 100% parity with Google Drive and Chrome. Meanwhile, Redmond is already way ahead of Apple's iWork for iCloud in this regard. The Cupertino firm seems to see web-based document creation and editing as an extension of its core apps, not the end game like Google already has and Microsoft should.
Continuity? Why not just one OS?
Apple made waves during its Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 announcements last year over an initiative it's simply calling "Continuity". The idea is for MacBooks and iMacs to work more seamlessly with iOS devices.
So far, this is has boiled down to picking up where you've left off in an email or Safari webpage on your iPhone from your MacBook when they're nearby, or answering phone calls to your iPhone from your MacBook.
Meanwhile, Google is working on allowing Android phones to unlock Chromebooks simply through proximity, bringing Android apps to Chrome OS and pushing Android notification to the Chrome OS desktop, among other projects. It's safe to say that Apple and Google have similar ideas for how mobile devices and laptops or desktops should work together.
Continuity continued and the almighty Xbox
Microsoft, on the other hand, wants it all in the family - one OS to rule them all. Windows 10 is expected to work the same way (or close) across PCs, tablets and smartphones. For all intents and purposes, all Windows 10 devices will be using the same operating system.
Basically, this would mean that apps written for a Windows tablet would work just the same on a Windows Phone 10 device or laptop, of course optimized for each where it makes sense. But ultimately, that's up to the developer, which leads me to the key - or what should be the key - in Microsoft's one OS plan.
If there's a single operating system, there only need be a single app store. Ideally, Microsoft would offer one store in which we, the users, could purchase a single app and expect it to work on our Windows 10 phone in addition to our Windows 10 laptop. And if all apps are built on the same codebase, the onus is then on the developers to create cross-platform solutions - not sit around and wait for Microsoft to write in the functionality they need.
There's a clear trend toward creating a circular computing ecosystem starting and ending with the desktop or laptop and mobile devices everywhere in between. With its single OS plan, Microsoft is in an excellent position to capitalize on this trend faster than its competition without having to do much at all beyond releasing the thing. It's like the great Steve Ballmer once said: developers, developers, developers, developers, develop ... you get the point.
X(box) marks the spot
Not to overstate it, but Microsoft's secret weapon in its bout with Apple and Google could very well be what almost was a flop: Xbox One. Well, not the device specifically, but what Microsoft can, and should, do around the services and software available on the console.
Basically, Microsoft would be sorely remiss not to bring Xbox Live - the company's online gaming network for the console - to Windows 10 in some form or fashion. For too long has Microsoft let services like Valve's Steam and EA's Origin gobble up the PC gaming pie when it had the whole kit and caboodle all along.
Expanding Xbox Live's store, party chat, matchmaking et al to work across PC and Xbox One would be a boon to gamers and game makers. Imagine buying a game on Xbox One and, if it supports it, PC for one price - with cloud-stored game saves working between both. Or what about taking an Xbox Live party from a PC-only game to an Xbox One-only game without even disconnecting?
Here's another scenario: Say you're watching a movie on your Windows 10 tablet through Xbox Video on the commute home from work. The train arrives at your stop before the movie is through and you need to pause. While there are similar solutions, it would be convenient for your Xbox One's Xbox Video app to pick up on that video where you left off through information sent over your Wi-Fi network upon entering the door.
Catering to the gamers is one thing that neither Apple nor Google has any means of doing on a remotely serious level (the film crowd is another story). With some serious integration with Xbox Live, Xbox Video and more, Windows 10 could become a home entertainment powerhouse.
But frankly, only on all of these fronts combined does Microsoft have a chance of winning back those jaded by Windows 8.1 - or winning over the Mac OS crowd or Google lovers. We'll see soon enough whether Redmond and I are on the same page.