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Microsoft's wins, fails, and WTF moments of 2020

In a 12 months the place we in large part became our backs on the true global and huddled indoors, era and the corporations that evolved them won oversized affect. Microsoft loomed higher than maximum, powering the PCs that ran Microsoft Groups and the Xbox sport consoles on which no less than a few of us handed their time after hours.

So was once it, general, an ideal 12 months for Microsoft? Now not precisely. The pandemic disrupted its product building, for one, forcing Microsoft to readjust its dual-screen ambitions. The hype teach that accompanied its Floor Duo by no means it appears panned out in precise gross sales. 

We’ve gathered Microsoft’s highlights, low issues, and surprising moments that made us scratch our head. It was once a profoundly bizarre, terrible 12 months, and we’re all hoping to go back to a way of normalcy in 2021.

Floor Professional 7: WIN

For some reason why, each time I call to mind Microsoft’s Floor Professional pill lineup, I call to mind a barber surveying his paintings. A trim right here, a snip there, and it’s achieved.

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 Mark Hachman / IDG

New boss, similar because the previous boss.

Microsoft’s Floor Professional 7 would possibly apply swimsuit, merely upgrading the internals 12 months in and 12 months out, however you’ll be able to’t argue with good fortune. Maximum of its competitors have ceded the sphere, leaving the Floor Professional 7 as without equal Home windows pill.

Floor Neo, Home windows 10X and twin displays: FAIL

Microsoft’s Floor Professional capsules stay profoundly conservative, just about unchanged for the remaining a number of years. However Microsoft isn’t afraid to shoot for the moon with units just like the dual-screen Floor Neo. Home windows 10X was once in the beginning deliberate to be the underlying dual-screen OS, ahead of Microsoft shifted focal point.

Microsoft / Surface Neo Microsoft

Let’s hope that one of the vital extra fascinating options of the Floor Neo make it to marketplace in some shape.

The Floor Neo appears improbable, however it didn’t make it out of 2020. Formally, Microsoft behind schedule the Floor Neo till the “proper second” arrives. Has that second already handed for dual-screen PCs? Is Home windows 10X, the dual-screen OS that was once meant to pressure all of it, now only a simplified model of Home windows 10 in S Mode that can mark any other Microsoft tilt on the Chromebook windmill? The solution to the latter query, no less than, appears to be sure.

Home windows on Arm: WTF

I actually need Home windows on Arm to prevail. Fierce pageant advantages the patron, and the trichotomy of Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm introduced with it an emphasis on worth, efficiency, and battery lifestyles. However for the remaining two years, Home windows on Arm has stagnated. Qualcomm would possibly protest, however there simply doesn’t appear to be any substantive motion ahead.

Microsoft Surface Pro X and keyboard Microsoft

From a design standpoint, the Microsoft’s Surface Pro X was a success. But its ARM processor, and its early app compatibility issues, didn’t help its cause.

At least Microsoft finally released its 64-bit X86 emulator for Windows on Arm, allowing such apps to run on top of Arm hardware. Microsoft admitted that the emulation still won’t cover all apps. Worse, our tests have shown the performance pales when compared to Apple’s own M1 ARM chips. Maybe this is why reports are emerging that Microsoft is building its own ARM chips for Surface devices?

Surface Laptop Go: WIN

Microsoft’s 14-inch “budget” Surface Laptop Go laptop was a decent effort. I entered the review half-convinced that the sub-1080p screen would disappoint…but that’s what testing is for, and my assumptions were proven wrong.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go primary 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go was surprisingly good!

Microsoft still has room for improvement. I’d still like to see a 14-inch or 15-inch clamshell with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD somewhere around $700, for one. Still, Microsoft’s efforts to design a laptop for a more mainstream market should be applauded. Keep it up!

Microsoft Surface Duo: FAIL

Microsoft convinced the world that its folding, dual-screen phone was the hottest mobile device this side of Cupertino, luring the tech press into covering its hands-on preview in 2019, then keeping the hype dialed up to 11 until its launch nearly a year later. Neither strategy panned out. The Surface Duo launched as a buggy, $1,400 device, and it bombed. 

Microsoft Surface Duo > A foldable Android mobile phone. Microsoft

Great in concept, poor in execution: the Microsoft Surface Duo.

To be fair, the dual-screen vision that the Duo espoused worked. If we believe that two displays makes PC users more productive, then a dual-screen phone should have the same effect. To succeed, the Surface Duo probably needed a more comprehensive vision of how all apps (and not just those from Microsoft) could span both screens; a better camera; some additional development time; and a much lower price tag.

Microsoft’s TikTok fiasco: WTF

This is how it started: TikTok users reportedly embarrassed Trump by snatching up all of the invitations to a Tulsa, Oklahoma. rally, then failing to show up.

tiktok logo small TikTok

In apparent retaliation, Trump then stated he would ban TikTok. Microsoft expressed interest—until Trump demanded a finder’s fee. Microsoft bailed, Oracle and Walmart were named as the buyers instead… and then the TikTok ban itself ended up in limbo, as did the deal.

Microsoft’s new Chromium-based Edge: WIN

Who knew that people would actually care about a new version of Microsoft Edge? The old (EdgeHTML) Edge browser did some things superbly (PDFs, for example), but the new Microsoft Edge runs on top of Chromium. That allows users to take advantage of the thousands of add-ons at the Chrome Store and use them to spice up their Edge browser.

keyboard laptop microsoft edge logo web browser by urupong getty images 1200x800Urupong Getty / Microsoft

While Edge may never overtake the popularity of Chrome, Microsoft can take comfort in the fact that they’ve designed an honestly good browser.

Even better, the Edge engineers fine-tuned the browser to pare down some of the cruft, resulting in a relatively streamlined browser. Features like Collections and a new, integrated coupon feature helped make holiday shopping even easier.

Microsoft closes all its physical stores: FAIL

We’re all well aware that the pandemic destroyed businesses as well as lives during 2020, but Microsoft’s retail stores weren’t exactly thriving during the best of times. Anecdotally, it wasn’t quite as bleak as it seems. The brick-and-mortar Microsoft Stores represented a sort of Best Buy bodega, celebrating products from numerous brands. Some stores will remain as “experience centers.”

microsoft store Microsoft

Microsoft Stores weren’t always empty (the store in Taipei was bustling during Computex, for example) but it was rare to see them this full.

Still, at a company with a roller-coaster commitment to consumers, the lack of (physical) shops makes it look even less connected to its users compared to Apple. RIP, on-site tech support. 

Microsoft Teams usage soars: WIN

As the 2020 pandemic’s enforced isolations catapulted Zoom into mainstream ubiquity, someone at Microsoft screamed “YOLO” and became hell-bent on catching up. Teams had been the dustpan for Skype’s crumbs until the pandemic hit. All of a sudden it became a tool not just for collaboration tool but for videoconferencing, as well as a platform for education.

Microsoft struck quickly, first making Teams free, then launching a salvo of new features, and finally laying out an aggressive fall roadmap in June. The campaign continued with another massive update in July, including a fun new ”together mode.”

nba teams 4 IDG

Microsoft Teams was even used to virtually attend basketball games. 

Where Teams went wrong was in delaying custom backgrounds and breakout rooms until well after the competition. Usage soared nevertheless to 115 million daily by October, according to the company.

Cortana keeps being de-emphasized: FAIL

In a year where Microsoft’s two Windows 10 updates weren’t that significant, maybe it’s fair that we just keep coming back to Cortana. She has evolved from an integral part of Windows 10 to an app suffering from a disastrous loss of competency (later fixed). Cortana didn’t even make an appearance at Microsoft Build. (That, according to Microsoft corporate vice president Andrew Shuman, was in part due to the pandemic.)

Microsoft windows 10 20h1 cortana conversation Mark Hachman / IDG

Do we obsess too much over the Cortana personality, as opposed to the technology? After all, we’ve known for a while that Cortana is becoming more of a general-purpose AI, with nifty computer-generated summaries of your email, for example. Still, Cortana’s issues speak to the stagnancy some feel is creeping into Windows.

Xbox Series X: WIN

If you set aside the fact that no one can find the bloody thing in stores, the Xbox Series X is definitely a win—and not just because it’s a way to play PC games without a PC and the GPUs that you also can’t find. There’s some serious hardware under the hood, and for the price, it beats a build-your-own PC. 

xbox series x with box primary Alaina Yee/IDG

Surprisingly, the coolest thing about the Xbox Series X is Quick Resume, which cuts through all the introductory cruft while loading a game and gets you back to playing it within seconds. It’s something no other platform can do quite yet, including the PC.

Microsoft kills Mixer: FAIL

Microsoft’s consumer strategy is so vexing at times. It’s true that the unexpected shutdown of Mixer was due to a simple lack of audience compared to Twitch, and, to a lesser extent, YouTube. 

mixer Mixer / Microsoft

Suddenly shutting down Mixer stank…but pushing people to stream on Facebook Live?!

But Microsoft missed an opportunity. If we were running Microsoft, we would have carved out space for an e-sports arena on Microsoft’s campus, thrown some money at an e-sports tournament, broadcast it over Mixer…and yes, invited streamers like Ninja to play.

Microsoft does continue to snatch up game studios, boosting its IP assets, while absolutely nailing platform improvements such as Xbox Game Pass. The dichotomy between Microsoft’s aggressive plays in some areas and its lassitude in others certainly keeps us wondering.

Xbox Game Pass for PC/Xbox: WIN

“Sony is to games what Microsoft is to platform.” That’s a gross oversimplification of both companies’ relative strengths in the gaming markets. Still, Microsoft absolutely understands the strength of its Xbox platform and how to maximize it: Get as many games as possible in the hands of consumers, via built-in backward compatibility and more. 

That’s a long-winded setup for Game Pass, undoubtedly the best value in gaming and now available both on the Xbox and the PC. 

xbox game pass pc Brad Chacos/IDG

Xbox Game Pass has something for PC gamers and Xbox console gamers alike.

Granted, $14.99 per month may seem like quite a bit for a “Netflix of games” subscription, but there are ways around it. There’s simply so much from which to choose, from AAA titles, to EA games, to strong independent efforts. Game Pass is an absolute must-own.

Microsoft’s online conferences: WIN

As we shifted gears from working next to friends and coworkers to collaborating online, no one quite knew what it all meant for big conferences like Computex, CES, and IFA, where hands-on, meet-and-greets, and press conferences had been staples for decades.

microsoft build screenshot Mark Hachman / IDG

Running Microsoft Build from the employees’ homes over Teams made online conferences more personal, while keeping the depth of information.

While some conferences were cancelled or severaly cut back, Microsoft’s Build conference, Ignite, and others succeeded wildly. Microsoft employees ditched the hours-long presentations and offered up focused, informative conferences mixed with socially-distanced presentations from both stages and home offices. This wasn’t just a win for Microsoft’s technology, it was a triumph of the company’s culture.

Microsoft’s “slice of life” Twitter account: WIN

From the weirdly surreal holiday jingles to the slice-of-life meeting tweets, Microsoft’s social workforce survived 2020 simply high quality. Microsoft’s Twitter feed proved to be as a lot of a The A ways Facet for the 12 months of Zoom Microsoft Groups as the rest may well be, offering little snippets of humor at the day-to-day, and even each few hours.

microsoft twitter feed Microsoft / Twitter

Our 2019 Wins/Fails/WTF moments from Microsoft ended with Microsoft the Musical, a healthy, hokey employee-made manufacturing that ended the 12 months 1 Ahead of Covid on an up be aware. This 12 months the elves in Microsoft’s social group fulfilled the similar function. Due to you all!

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