Like many others, I recently got nagged by Microsoft into upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10.
I resisted this because I don't like being nagged; I don't like having updates forced on me; and I don't like "phone-home" telemetry that can't be fully turned off. It feels like Microsoft is trying to exert control over my data on my computer -- even if I only license the use of their operating system from them -- and I don't appreciate it.
But that's raised a question: why would Microsoft become so aggressive about controlling their operating system? What's behind this increase in protectiveness following the appointment of Satya Nadella as CEO?
I believe I have an answer to that question. The short answer is "Google." The real answer is the particular threat that Microsoft perceives as represented currently by Google, and what Microsoft considers to be its strongest strategic interests and corporate strengths.
CONTROL THE INTERFACE
My working theory about MS for many years has been that they see their reason for existence -- the one thing they think they do better than everyone else that makes money for them -- as offering the best product for allowing users to access their data.
MS-DOS was that interface when nearly all user data resided in the storage device inside a desktop PC. Later, Windows was created as a response to Apple's perceived threat to Microsoft's monopoly over that interface. MS considered the desktop OS so important that it tried to force Windows on users even if they wanted a different OS on a new PC. That had to be stopped by a legal battle ending (more or less) in a 1995 consent decree.
As for applications, their only value was in creating more need for Microsoft's operating system... even if that meant making Windows detect and work better for what would become MS's Office products than for competing applications. This was another lockdown tactic from which MS had to be legally enjoined.
THE INTERFACE MOVES
In the early 1990s, user data began migrating to other desktops connected via Local Area Networks (LANs). MS saw this and decided to offer their own LAN product, Microsoft LAN Manager (based in part on IBM's OS/2 operating system). But they were too late to the party. Novell NetWare and, in gov/mil contracting, Banyan VINES, already ruled the LAN world.
At this point I believe the not-stupid people at MS said something like: "OK, this isn't going to work. But we can see data fleeing the desktop, so let's aim to control whatever the next user/data interface after LANs is going to be. What's this World Wide Web thing we've been hearing about?" Enter Internet Explorer.
(Side note: Microsoft's LAN Manager lives on by name as an artifact in the NTLM authentication protocol: NT LAN Manager.)
Internet Explorer quickly eclipsed Netscape in part because IE was bundled with Windows. It remained the most popular Web browser for several years even after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's repeated "findings" and decisions claiming monopolistic practices by Microsoft.
But as more and more data accumulated on the Internet, it became harder to find what you needed. Thus began the Search Tool Wars. With little contest from
Microsoft, Google won.
As Google began visibly building on this victory, going so far as to create and promote a rival OS (Android), MS concluded that Google was their new primary competitor for control over the user/data interface.
THE NEXT INTERFACE
Which is why I think the current, seemingly frantic effort to lock people into Windows 10 is in fact only a stopgap measure. MS looks at Google and decides, rather than fighting them in costly trench warfare on existing ground as with Novell and Banyan, to strategize past Google in order to control the next form of the user/data interface.
That would be "the cloud." That's where data are moving.
Thus we see Microsoft Azure getting a hard push. And here I'll make a prediction: I think there's a better than even chance that Windows 10 is in lockdown mode because it's going to be the last pure desktop OS Microsoft makes. There will be no Windows 11. What there will be is a new product, with a new name, that is designed from the ground up to function as a cloud-based operating system (COS).
Desktop-based data will still be a part of that, but an increasingly smaller part. A bellwether for this will be the storage manufacturers. If we start to see a slowdown of new products providing local storage for desktop PCs and game consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox, and more storage products for cloud data centers, this will be a strong hint that MS have passed the word.
I would not even be surprised to see MS supporting (as Valve have done with their Steam Box) third-party manufacturing and marketing of what's basically a dumb terminal like the kind we used in the mainframe days. (See the "cycle of reincarnation." http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/W/wheel-of-reincarnation.html) Who needs to store data locally, anyway? Buy our inexpensive (or free) terminal, put your data in our cloud (for a small recurring fee), and we'll even back it up for you!
And for bonus points, recall that Microsoft's new-ish CEO Nadella was previously Executive Vice President of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise group. Ending Windows in favor of a Cloud Operating System not only leverages Nadella's expertise, it serves as a personal marker that Microsoft is under new management by taking its primary competence in a bold new direction.
Except that it's not a new direction. It's the same strategic goal that Microsoft was formed to achieve 40 years ago: make money by controlling the interface between users and their data, wherever it happens to live.
WILL IT ALWAYS BE ABOUT THE INTERFACE?
The one thing that's hazy in my crystal ball is whether Microsoft's new COS will only support Azure, or if they'll design it to handle Azure or Amazon Web Services or any other well-defined cloud system. I think there's at least a chance that the Reality Distortion Field encompassing Microsoft's corporate HQ may be weak enough that they'll make their Cloud Operating System cloud-agnostic.
If, as I suggest, it really is controlling the interface and not where data live that MS consider their raison d'être, then Azure, like the Office suite, is just a very useful encouragement to users to run Microsoft's cloud OS. What really matters to Microsoft, what has always mattered most to Microsoft, is selling the most popular interface between users and data. A cloud operating system is the next logical battleground in the long strategic contest to own the interface.
I've no idea what happens after that. :)