For Microsoft, Windows 10 is a ‘cornerstone’ no more

For four years, Microsoft described Windows 10 as the very foundation of its ambitions. But in this year's Form 10-K filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission, that description no longer applies, raising questions about how the company now sees the OS.

Abstract binary data overlays an eye containing a reflection of the Microsoft logo.

Microsoft last week struck the word "cornerstone" from its annual Form 10-K filing with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) when describing Windows 10, a change from four years of honoring the OS.

Geekwire first reported on the omission after using Microsoft Word to compare this year's and last's filings.

"Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition, providing a foundation for the secure, modern workplace, and designed to foster innovation through rich and consistent experiences across the range of existing devices and entirely new device categories (emphasis added)," Microsoft said in a wordy description within its filing of 2018.

This year's 10-K, which appeared on the SEC site Thursday, omits not only "cornerstone" but much else besides. Instead of something along the lines of the 2018 statement touting Windows 10's place of pride, Microsoft substituted this sentence:

"We are bringing Office, Windows, and devices together for an enhanced and more cohesive customer experience," read the latest 10-K.

Nothing of cornerstones, nothing about Windows 10 specifically in that paragraph, where in earlier filings, Microsoft had phrased things in these ways:

2017: "Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition to create more personal computing, allowing us to move from an operating system that runs on a PC to a service that can power the full spectrum of devices."

2016: "Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition to usher in this era of more personal computing."

2015: "Windows 10 is the cornerstone of our ambition to usher in an era of more personal computing."

That's enough cornerstones for a complex. Or an office campus.

The paragraphs started out succinct and declarative in 2015 before straying this year into mission statement-ese ("fostering innovation" is a dead giveaway). Instead, in its 2019 10-K, Microsoft implied that the new foundation of its "More Personal Computing" efforts would be led by Microsoft 365, the uber-suite sold by subscription that includes Windows 10, Office 365 and management tools.

Nor was Windows 10 completely ignored. In the following paragraph, Microsoft said the operating system "continues to gain traction in the enterprise, empowers people with AI-first interfaces" and "plays a critical role in fueling our cloud business and Microsoft 365 strategy."

The cornerstone removal reflects Windows' reduced part in Microsoft's theater-of-revenue. In fiscal year 2019 - which ended June 30 - Windows revenue rose by 4% over the year-before period. Not only was that lower than in fiscal 2018 - when Windows revenue climbed 5% over 2017 - but the growth rate was dwarfed by other components. "Server products and cloud services revenue," for example, increased by 25% in 2019. Azure revenue, part of cloud services, leaped by 91% alone.

But "cornerstone," by definition, is a powerful word. "Something of great importance on which everything else depends," states the Cambridge Dictionary. Sounds right.

Sounds like Windows, actually.

For without Windows, what, exactly, is the rest of Microsoft? Without an operating system, productivity software - including the Office 365 cash cow - is useless, and Microsoft 365 just two legs of a former tripod. The same goes for Microsoft's exalted cloud business, which has to have something on which to run, which in turn requires an OS.

Truth be told, Microsoft didn't say Windows 10 was the cornerstone of the company, only that it served as such for its ambition. That's what makes the change noteworthy, since it raises questions about's Microsoft's plans - it's ambitions - for Windows 10. Those questions are most likely to be asked by those responsible for installing, servicing and updating Windows in organizations, where the OS is, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the default.

Why? Because the operating system is not perfect - update quality is just one of many flaws - and any hint that Microsoft has dropped Windows to a lower priority tells customers that their concerns are peripheral as well. Words matter, even those that have been discarded. Windows may no longer be Microsoft's revenue engine, but it remains foundational, a cornerstone if you want, for the technologies that are. Relegating the OS to an assumption shows a lack of respect for the customers who run it and manage it.

Monkey with a cornerstone, a real cornerstone in a real building or a critical corner in a Jenga tower, and see what happens.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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