Microsoft in 2017: a sleek, chic and somewhat sobering year

For Microsoft, 2017 was yet another year of soaring highs and steep lows, from a whizbang series of hardware and software releases to some sobering wrinkles in said whizbang releases, not to mention some sobering revelations regarding its data collection. 

As this whirlwind of a year draws to a close, let’s reflect on the most key moments for Microsoft in 2017 – for both good and ill.

Plus, we’ll forecast what you could look forward to from Microsoft in the coming year.

The rumored Surface Phone in concept art

Image Credit: David Breyer

The Surface Phone lives, right?

Microsoft started off 2017 inadvertently strong with newly generated patents for a smaller computing device with two folding screens that could stretch out to become a tablet or phablet. Subsequent rumors and patent illustrations have seldom ceased since that time, most recently inspiring some alluring concept renders.

With the sheer amount of patents and rumors swirling around this hopeful Surface Phone, 2018 would be prime time for Microsoft to debut this device. Will it revive Microsoft’s phone business that’s been in a constant state of limbo since the launch of Windows 10? Hopefully we’ll see in 2018. 

WIndows 10 privacy

WIndows 10 privacy went under the microscope this year

In the data doldrums

Months later, Microsoft attempted to make amends after a story revealed the amount and quality of the data that it collects. For starters, Microsoft issued one of its more transparent blog posts regarding exactly what it collects and its intentions.

Then, Microsoft would follow up on that with the release of the Creators Update in spring of 2017 with a new set of privacy controls that were more upfront about what Microsoft collected, how and why. Granted, the company didn’t do much to change what it collects, but at least we know better of what we’re signing up for than before?

Windows 10 Creators Update

The Windows 10 Creators Update added lots for creative types

Creators Update cometh

Microsoft’s 2017 Build conference in March 2017 rung in the release of the aforementioned Creators Update, which introduced a score of new features for the operating system. Namely, the Creators Update ushered in Paint 3D, a brand new version of the timeless Paint app with 3D modeling tools and support for 3D printer files.

Other changes included upgrades to Cortana’s capabilities as well as a full ereader function for the Edge browser, making it a simpler destination for both reading books and PDFs. Not to mention improvements to Microsoft’s Windows Ink platform – an update truly for the creative types.

Acer s Windows HMD

Acer's HMD was the first to show itself in 2017

Majorly into Mixed Reality

Also landing with the Creators Update was the first-ever Microsoft Mixed Reality headset, made in partnership with Acer. This launched Microsoft’s platform for six-degree-of-field (6DOF) tracking for more affordable headsets, incorporating the necessary tech into the headsets rather than relying additional hardware.

Consumer-grade versions of these headsets wouldn’t release until autumn 2017 alongside the Fall Creators Update, of which there were several – and the number is growing. Product maker interest in the platform has been impressive, but we won’t see whether Microsoft’s big bet on VR has paid off until after the turn of the year (and holiday sales).

Brand new Surface Pro

The brand new Surface Pro landed in June 2017

Hot on hardware

Amid all of these major beats, Microsoft enjoyed one of its biggest years in hardware to date. First came the brand new Surface Pro, a numberless sequel to the Surface Pro 4 that improved on it in nearly every way, earning our Recommended award.

It's easy to anticipate a new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop release, likely to be refreshed with Kaby Lake Refresh processors. Plus, the Surface Studio is well due for an upgrade.

However, Microsoft sadly decided to drop the Surface Pen from the product box, selling it separately – an unfortunate business practice that lived through every Surface thus far.

Then, the Surface Laptop arrived as the marquee standard-bearer for Windows 10 S and the firm’s attempt to break into classrooms. Outfitted with a more controlled operating system (OS) environment – akin to Windows 8 RT – it shuffled users into its Windows Store as it was the only place to download apps in the OS.

Some bugbears with the arguably limited OS aside, we greatly enjoyed the Surface Laptop and its groundbreaking design aesthetic.

Finally, Microsoft closed out the year with a truly surprising Surface Book 2 reveal, launching its first sequel to the 2-in-1 laptop in both 15-inch and 13.5-inch varieties, as well as a version of the Surface Pro with an LTE radio inside. The former has hugely wowed us, also earning our Recommended award for its incredible power and longevity.

All of this came amidst rumors that Microsoft was secretly considering shuttering several of its Surface product lines in short order, thus putting a stick in the spokes of the rumor mill.

Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

The Fall Creators Update smoothed things out quite a bit

Ironing out the edges in Fall Creators Update

In autumn 2017, Microsoft released its second major annual OS update, the Fall Creators Update, which – while far from wrinkle-free – brought with it mostly quality-of-life changes. Namely, a ‘Sets’ feature brought a web browser-like tabs approach to organizing windows of the same app, and a new ‘Find My Pen’ feature for those prone to losing their stylus, only enhanced the experience of using the OS.

The OS update also brought support for Microsoft’s legion of Mixed Reality headsets made in conjunction with just about every PC maker under the sun. Plus, this is far from the final Windows 10 update, with features like stronger battery preservation already expected for the first 2018 release of the OS.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

CEO Satya Nadella and crew are likely already at work on impressing us in 2018

What does 2018 have in store for Microsoft?

The next year, while we’ve yet to hear much from the firm beyond rumors, is poised to be another huge year for Microsoft. First off, we can expect at least two major updates to Windows 10, the first likely to land before summer and the second expected to release in autumn.

Second, there’s no doubt that Microsoft will release more hardware in 2018. While there’s no way of being certain, it would be easy to anticipate a new Surface Pro and Surface Laptop release, likely to be refreshed with Kaby Lake Refresh processors. Plus, the Surface Studio is well due for an upgrade.

But, perhaps the most exciting potential release is what many are calling the Surface Phone, that phone or phablet-sized computing device with two screens that fold into one another. A triumphant return to the phones scene would be exciting to see, and you don’t file for that many patents without intent to do something.

Beyond that, we’re likely to see Apple respond to Microsoft’s encroaching on its turf in kind on both hardware and software, which should only make for stronger competition – and the only winner in that is, well, us.

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