By getting down with the kids, Microsoft is focusing on the creators of tomorrow

Opinion: Let the oldies mock. What Microsoft is doing is clever

My daughter is nine. She makes things with loom bands, watches DanTDM playing games on YouTube, builds worlds in Minecraft and chases Pokemon whenever she can get her hands on my phone. I don’t understand half of it, but judging by today’s Windows event Microsoft does. And that’s smart. 

While we oldies chortled at a Microsoft keynote revolving around Paint and featuring a large screenshot of Solitaire, my daughter would have  been entranced. Making things in Minecraft and printing them out as real things? Scanning things in the real world and making them into 3D models? Compared to that, my Macs must look as ancient as my parents’ record collection looked to me.

What Microsoft is doing with the Windows 10 Creators Edition is inspired. It isn’t just thinking about the creators of today, although of course it’s just made a three-K Surface called the Studio for that market. It’s also thinking about the creators of tomorrow.

Microsoft is coming for my kids, and yours.

How d’you like them Apples?

I’ve followed a lot of Microsoft keynotes over the years, gnawing off my own fingers during moments such as Bill Gates and Queen Latifah exchanging awful, scripted banter in front of whooping nerds or Steve Ballmer charging around like a demented rhinocerous. Today’s keynote wasn’t like that at all. Quite the opposite. It was the most Apple-y keynote I’ve seen from a company other than Apple. In fact, it was more Apple than anything Apple’s delivered since Steve Jobs died.

Tomorrow Apple will be telling us to “ooh” over a little touchscreen above the MacBook Pro keyboard. Today Microsoft talked about being the Gutenberg of 3D.

There’s quite a difference between those two ambitions, but Microsoft walked the walk as well as talked the talk. VR headsets bringing Hololens’ interface to your, er, face for less than three hundred bucks. 3D scanning that appears to work brilliantly. Features enabling anybody to stream their gaming sessions to friends and followers. Powerpoint that can bore you senseless in one more dimension. And more than  anything, 3D creation that’s so simple a child can use it.

It’s Microsoft as a pusher of pixels, hooking the kids on a gateway drug. Sure, they might start off on Minecraft. But ultimately they’ll end up hooked on Office 2028.

Eco a-go-go

Microsoft may have missed the phone revolution, but it won’t miss the transition from 2D to 3D, AR and VR. Its Hololens is extremely impressive, but it’s also extremely expensive - so Microsoft has teamed up with OEMs to make VR versions of Hololens that are cheaper than PSVR, never mind Oculus Rift. It might not be selling many Windows phones, but its 3D capture app is likely to end up on a lot of iPhones and Androids. It doesn’t have much in the way of social networking, but it’s got Minecraft, Xbox Live and the 3D modelling community too. 

Again and again during the keynote, I was struck about how forward-looking it all was. A few years back Microsoft was in full-on panic mode, throwing ideas around in the hope that something, anything might stick - a process that led to some pretty terrible decisions and some pretty terrible products. This time there was no panic, just a clear, consistent and well communicated vision of where Microsoft thinks  the future might be as we leave the PC age behind for something much more interesting.

The presentations were all good (and I can’t be the  only person pleased to see so many women having prominent roles  throughout, not just looking nice in promo videos), but I particularly liked the bit where Satya Nadella stated the bleeding obvious: for too long, much of the tech industry has been focused too much on finding new  ways for people to consume content, not create it. Microsoft wants to change that, and it’s built a pretty impressive ecosystem to deliver it.

Microsoft gets a bad rap sometimes, but it’s often way ahead of its time. iPads? [Microsoft got there first] with the Tablet PC. Chromecast? MSN TV. Smartphones? In the pre-iPhone era, Windows Mobile was sci-fi made real. Smartwatches, smart TVs… you get the idea. Others such as Apple may have perfected the execution, but Microsoft was often there first.

Now, though, Microsoft appears to be in a very Apple-y position. It didn’t invent 3D scanning, or Minecraft, or “mixed reality”. But it’s found a way to weave those disparate technologies into Windows and Xbox in a way that really makes sense. Not only that, but it made them exciting. Maybe even sexy. Sexy? From the same firm that tried to sell us a brown Zune?

We’re living in very strange times.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Contributor

Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Gary Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," he says. "And there's a lot of crap."