We leave Microsoft’s Build developer conference with more questions than answers about the state of Windows, and that’s not a good thing.

We wrote rather optimistically about a March reorganization that erased “Windows” from the roles of senior management. Microsoft never answered the underlying questions that reshuffling posed: Is Microsoft Windows as important as it once was? Is the PC? What will it mean for developers and users, who’ve enjoyed a steady stream of new features over the past few years, and bought into Microsoft’s unified vision of Windows phones, tablets and PCs?

These are all valid, important questions that Microsoft could have answered at Build. If you talk to Microsoft representatives, they believe they did. Windows enthusiasts might feel differently.

Instead, Microsoft made a fundamental mistake that experts sometimes do, which is to assume the audience understands the topic as well as they do. Windows appeared, on stage and during a total of thirty sessions, mostly aimed at improving apps for the platform. Otherwise, Microsoft spent Build talking about infusing apps and services with artificial intelligence, and applying fundamental technologies like Windows ML to create “intelligent edge” devices. Users (and even some developers, I imagine) could be forgiven for wondering: Where’s Windows?

Communication begins at the top

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella had a chance to address Windows. After opening his Build keynote with ethics, AI, and Azure, he set up this scenario: In a single day, Nadella said, you’re using multiple devices while working in multiple locations, with multiple people, and interacting with multiple sensors. Phones, tablets, PCs are all able to access a common set of data. That’s the world we already live in, he said. 

But then Nadella lost half his audience in four sentences.

“We need an operating system, we need a platform, that abstracts the hardware in that level, that creates an app model at that level,” Nadella said. “Single devices…will remain important, but this meta-orchestration is what we need to do. We need to up-level even our concept of what an operating system is. So that’s what Microsoft 365 does.”

Meta-orchestration? Up-leveling an OS?? What does all that even mean? 

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