HoloLens: Abracadabra! Microsoft unveils a great distraction

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Credit: Shahan Bedrosian, via Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Microsoft invited all of us to ooh and ahh at the introduction of HoloLens. But pay no attention to what the company’s other hand is doing with Windows as a Service.

Oh my gosh! The world’s first holographic computing platform! Is this or is this not the best thing ever?

Crowd around, yells the Microsoft barker, and marvel at HoloLens. See worlds leap up in your mind’s eye and settle onto your kitchen counter. Never mind that dorky headset. This is just too cool for words!

OK, you grabbed me, Microsoft. 3D computing is pretty cool. But all I really wanted from Windows 10 was Windows 7’s Start Menu. I didn’t want to have to wear googles. Oh, I’m sorry — I mean goggles, of course. Whatever was I thinking?

Can we all please calm down and look at this product glimpse rationally? Sure, HoloLens will find a home in some markets. I can certainly see design verticals such as CAD and CAM embracing the technology. And I’m sure that gamers will love it. Halo in 3D? I’m there!

But outside of those niche markets, does this new headlining feature really offer anything to the ordinary home or corporate user? I don’t think so. My word processor and spreadsheet won’t work any better for being in 3D. As a writer, I want people to become immersed in my prose, but I don’t want to rely on a 3D trick to accomplish that.

Indeed, HoloLens reminds me of 3D movies: a neat trick, but when all is said and done, not really a game-changer.

HoloLens grabbed all the headlines, accompanied by images that were far more eye-catching than you normally see in articles about an operating system iteration. And now that I’ve had time to think about that January press event, I’ve come to think that was Microsoft’s plan: If we wave something shiny in front of all those reporters, they won’t pay any real attention to what we’re doing with our other hand.

One thing that got only muted attention was the news that Microsoft won’t be charging customers who upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. I don’t find fault with that, though, because I don’t think this news is all that exciting. That’s because, while I change operating systems more often than some people change their underwear, most enterprises don’t upgrade their PCs’ operating systems. They buy new PCs. I can see home users replacing Windows 8 with Windows 10, but businesses? I honestly don’t know of any that did a mass upgrade cycle from Windows 7, or XP for that matter, to Windows 8.x.

But I think Microsoft’s sleight-of-hand was meant to distract us from something, and I think that something was Microsoft’s plan to offer Windows 10 as Windows as a Service. I have to wonder whether anyone will end up buying Windows 10. I think what Microsoft is doing with its “free upgrade” is getting us ready to rent Windows from here on out.

Microsoft unerringly knows where the money is. If you look closely at its last quarterly report, you might see it too. Windows OEM sales continued to decline, this time by 13%. Even Microsoft Office saw a decline of 1%. What grew? Office 365 Home and Personal went up 30%, and “commercial cloud revenue grew 114% driven by Office 365, Azure and Dynamic CRM Online.”

Clearly, this is no longer Bill Gates’ Microsoft. I see the company changing its business model from selling licenses to becoming a services company based on the cloud and — oh the irony! — open-source software.

I might be wrong. Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, for instance, told Computerworld’s Preston Gralla that “Windows as a service is about how it’s a conduit to customers, about how Microsoft is delivering Windows 10, not the business model.” I think it’s both.

The one thing I do know for certain is that Windows as a Service, and not 3D hologram-like computing, is what’s going to be really important about Windows 10.

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