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Microsoft will lose the fight with Google if it makes Windows 10X more like Chrome OS

Pixel Slate and Surface Go
Pixel Slate and Surface Go (Image credit: Android Central)

Microsoft's Chief Product Officer of Windows and devices Panos Panay had some important things to say recently. Of course, because the world is stuck at home those things were shared via a blog post instead of what would have been something with a little more pizzazz with people at hand, but the message still came through loud and clear: Microsoft is trying (again) to take the fight to Chromebooks.

Third time's the charm.

The gist of it all is that even though Windows RT was bad, Windows 10S was a failure, and while people actually are excited about Windows 10X and dual-display devices, Chromebook sales hurt the bottom line hard enough that everything is being shifted to make the future of Windows more like Chrome OS. Single screen clamshells are now the focus instead of dual-display hardware, and there appears to be a major shift to the cloud to make it all better. Somehow. From Panay's announcement:

The world is a very different place than it was last October when we shared our vision for a new category of dual-screen Windows devices. As we continue to put customers' needs at the forefront, we need to focus on meeting customers where they are now. Our customers are leveraging the power of the cloud more than ever, and we believe the time is right to lean into this acceleration in a different way.With Windows 10X, we designed for flexibility, and that flexibility has enabled us to pivot our focus toward single-screen Windows 10X devices that leverage the power of the cloud to help our customers work, learn and play in new ways. These single-screen devices will be the first expression of Windows 10X that we deliver to our customers, and we will continue to look for the right moment, in conjunction with our OEM partners, to bring dual-screen devices to market.

Panay and his team are right in most ways. With everyone at home, things are very different than they were last October. The cloud has replaced the company server for a lot of things, and people need a simple, affordable, and dependable way to work and play. But that landscape will change again and again, and Microsoft has to learn to be proactive instead of reactive if it wants to find that one big thing that makes everyone want to rush out and buy a Windows laptop again.

More: Folding displays vs. dual screens: Comparing pros and cons for PCs and phones

I think a big reason why people buy Chromebooks is being overlooked here: simple and easy services integration. Schools and businesses aren't buying Chromebooks because of the form factor or even the lower prices — Chromebooks are bought because of how easy everything is to set up and administrate, and how simple they are to use. This is where Microsoft needs to innovate and try to surpass Google: at the services level, not the hardware level.

Surface Neo

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Windows 10X doesn't look like a failure. It's streamlined and more like a mobile operating system, with a focus on software containers and simplicity. That sounds a lot like a Chromebook, but is that what people in the market for an inexpensive laptop to use are looking for? By doing this Windows isn't playing to its existing strengths — locally operated software that can be plenty powerful on even anemic hardware.

If I want a cloud-computer I already know how well a Chromebook can do the things I want it to do. I also know how well a Windows computer can do what I want it to do. Just like I wouldn't buy a Chromebook to run Adobe Photoshop, I won't be buying a Windows 10X machine to use an online office suite. A new operating system that integrates your cloud as local storage and makes everything just work can be a cool thing, but we already have that in Chrome. Microsoft shifting away from a new form factor to something more mundane doesn't make me want it more than I used to, and I'll bet I'm not alone.

Microsoft has been building Windows for a long time and I am going to assume they have plenty of metrics of how people use Windows devices. It just seems that by chasing Chromebooks, the company is ruining its chance to leap ahead in the race.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

53 Comments
  • This is MS admitting ChromeOS has the correct strategy for the future of personal computing.
  • I think Microsoft *does* need something like ChromeOS. They just absolutely should not call it "Windows" anything. Call it "Microsoft Cloud OS" or whatever.
  • This. Microsoft cannot call Windows 10X "Windows" if it wants it to have any chance of succeeding. If it's called Windows but doesn't work exactly like Windows, then the masses will soundly reject it. This has happened with Windows RT, Windows 10S, and Windows 10 on ARM, and will happen again with Windows 10X. People buy Windows devices because they have all the capabilities of Windows. Anything less won't cut it, and Windows 10X is less than Windows (eg. no desktop/file explorer).
  • The masses haven't rejected on Windows on ARM. It's still a very young child really. Everyone who owns a Surface Pro X loves it. Like me, it's an awesome device and modern in a way the Surface Pro 7 can only dream of. * YouTube reviewers don't own anything, they review a review unit for 5 minutes and give an opinion.
  • Everyone??? I'm not so sure about that
  • How about "Microsoft Paneless Windows"... Not the very full thing, but a more simple thing.
  • "Microsoft Panayless Windows?"
  • Is it possible to print from the Android app on the ChromeOS or scan into one, using either USB or network-attached scanner? I seem to have seen the news that it is now possible to print from ChromeOS proper, at least to some printers, which is a great improvement, but I have not seen anything suggesting that Android apps are covered by that.
  • Idk about scanning but printing yes. Android apps on ChromeOS can print using Google Cloud Print the same as you would from a phone.
  • Hm... I am not finding print menu in MIcrosoft Outlook for Android... which application were you able to successfully print from?
  • It isn't there.
  • Thank you :-P The question was: did anyone successfully print from the Android app on Chromebook and, if so, what the app was?
  • "Microsoft apparently hasn't learned that a billion Windows 10 customers don't want a Windows-powered Chromebook clone" Do you have a source for that?
  • The logic he's using is built into the statement. The fact that these billion are currently Windows 10 customers and not ChromeOS customers is the proof they don't want that. Otherwise they would already be using ChromeOS.
  • Flawed logic..but ok
  • Care to elaborate?
  • Corellation is not causation
  • omg thank you. Jerry just be on here writing on whatever anecdote crosses his mind.
  • Window 10X is another Windows Phone like disaster for Microsoft and Chrome OS isn't anything special either.
  • What Windows need to acknowledge is that the very reason why Android, iOS and increasingly ChromeOS are so popular is because it is not Windows. Also, there would be A LOT more macOS owners if Macs and Windows PCs were priced about the same. There would be still more Linux PC owners were a commercial company (like Google) to come out with a line that made it easy to find and install good alternatives to their favorite Windows software (which Chromebooks may potentially be when they leave Linux beta if Google can find/create a unified file system and app store for Linux and Android).
  • Windows is a platform. It can't acknowledge anything. ChromeOS isn't popular. It's hardly to be found outside US classrooms. Android and iOS are popular because they're the only mobile platforms. Lots of Windows PCs are more expensive than Macs, and are selling just fine.
  • Summary of the article : if you're not first to do something, it's over. Well, tell that to Apple. I do believe that Microsoft can beat Google at its own game and that competition is good.
  • Microsoft tried and failed to beat Google "at their own game* with the awful Windows Phone which was disaster and say what you want about iOS (Y'all know I like iOS) but at least you can use a different browser even if it is a crippled experience thanks to Apple gimping other browsers and not being able to use them properly over Safari where as with Windows Phone, you were FORCED to use the crappy Microsoft Edge browser which I can't stand and don't even use it on my Asus Window Laptop, guess what browser I use as my default? Chrome because Chrome is the best desktop browser.
  • Windows phone hardware wasn't the problem. Windows phones had features 2-3 years before android caught up. Microsoft pushed the boundaries far forward in hardware and software integration. Windows phone failed when Microsoft tried business as usual with developers, while Google changed that game.
  • The problem WAS both the hardware and software for Windows Phone were terrible, every YouTube review slated the hardware and software for Windows Phone, I had one (Lumia 535) and hated it and gave it away and Windows 10x will go the same way as Windows Phone thank goodness. Microsoft never learn from their mistakes. I hope Google do everything in their power to kill Window 10x because it's not needed.
  • > I had one (Lumia 535) and hated it Admittedly, you were able pick up 535 at about $75 at Walmart in mid-late 2015. I find it hard to name Android phone at that price tag at that time to even try compare experiences.
  • I admit that the Lumia 535 ran better than any cheap Android phone at that same price but it wasn't enough to make up for just how dull and featureless the software was, it didn't even have all my favorite apps (and the apps it did have were inferior to the iOS and Android versions of said apps) and Snapchat rightly avoided Windows Phone like the plague
  • Oh and Google rightly killed Windows Phone by refusing to waste it's apps on that POS platform.
  • And windows phone was missing a million other features
  • And Windows Phone wasn't even remotely customisable outside those gimmicky "live tiles" and Android fans complain about iOS? Windows Phone was like being in jail and throwing away the key.
  • Windows Phone was excellent, and you could use any available browser you wanted. Several WP features are only now coming to Android, and too many to mention will never make it to iOS...
  • If Windows 10X can offer the simplicity of ChromeOS (it is so simple to use) but offer the power of Windows 10 (Desktop Apps) it may work. But that's a tall ask ChromeOS, you login in and in under 5 minutes all your apps are installed and even in the same order on the All Apps window. Windows 10 still cannot do this.
  • 'All your apps are installed '...? So, you actually want your phone in laptop format?!? Besides, from what I hear most Android apps work like s&@# on Chrome OS...
  • I'm neutral on Microsoft, which is unusual for someone who used to work there. Regardless this paragraph captured the problem most neatly in my view. >It just seems that by chasing Chromebooks, the company is ruining its chance to leap ahead in the race. If the stock price is anything to go by (excluding covid19 dips), Microsoft is still a formidable organisation. Yet, none of that is due to its consumer legacy, despite some of the observations here. Some mentioned Windows Phone, which is a particularly sad example of a sort of head in the sand political problem that infects Microsoft at its worse. However, that example and Windows 8 are just the ones that stick out. You can point at the Xbox vs PS and Nintendo, at the sadness that is the comparison between Skype and Zoom, Surface, the vast legacy of PC gaming which no one internally has any real understanding of (vis a vis Steam). Heck, they couldn't even get Minecraft to react to Fortnite. Then we could get into office arrogance, both Consumer and Corporate... But hop over the other side of the fence into business, cloud and software services. You find a completely different company. Agile - in all senses of the word, fiercely competitive organisations that innovate and have products that are still light years ahead of where Google is. User-centric places that design to need, rather than to internal bias.
    That isn't to imply complacency; it's to observe fierceness and determination to create. My experience working in both is it's a question of strategy and leadership. Be bold and ambitious, pursue the future; you have a chance. Hold on to a fading legacy that you are demonstrably uninformed about and you'll mire yourself in complacency and attract the sort of leadership more skilled in politics that software. Sadly Microsoft will fail again in this venture and will continue to fail until someone steps up to the future. My bet is that won't come from the existing consumer org—too many politicians, insufficient grasp of users, and way too much legacy.
  • I think any play that moves 10x closer to ChromeOS is all about being cloud driven. Seems to me most things happening at MS are driven by that vision now. That includes Xbox and to a lesser degree Surface. And ChromeOS isn't so great that competition can't work. I mean how did Google rise in the first place. They put their browser on Windows or did internet explorer better than Microsoft. ChromeOS has some real issues with apps i.e. Android apps. And limitations in terms of being able to do some things. Certainly it's possible 10x will tank, but Microsoft needs a lite OS that is modern. It also needs to be said that ChromeOS isn't going to storm the market and dominate either.
  • What a lot of people don't realize is products like 10X and RT are simply meant to be sandboxes for tech that makes it back into mainline Windows. If 10X takes off, great for Microsoft. If it doesn't, they'll incorporate the lessons learned into Windows 10 and keep on trucking. The "10X" moniker just allows them to try new things without upsetting the Windows desktop apple cart. Don't read too much into it.
  • Interesting perspective, never thought about it that way. Though I think the ideal outcome is for 10x to be successful
  • "I bet...", "I assume....". This is an article based on assumptions, no hard facts. Letsfirst see what MS comes up with where it comes to Windows 10X. Especially as for Windows oriented organisations the integration will be easier (fact!).
  • The title should be even with a shift in focus, Microsoft won't beat Google period, they can't even beat Google in search let alone browser.
  • For me chrome books suck. All those windows rt and 10s and whatever sucked. This 10x is going to suck as well. Windows is windows, if you take out the functionality of windows then it is not windows anymore. I have a couple windows 10 (originally windows 8) Asus tablets from years ago that were cheap and have way more functionality than chromecrap. Who buys chrome books? People who think it's a cheap windows computer and are complementing an android phone or tablet. People forced to use it for work because the company gets Google kickbacks. Schools that get the Google kickback as well. People who don't need a laptop and can manage all their 'tech' work in their phones. Anyway, Microsoft should reinvents its os for cheap computers to compete with chrome books and iPad but don't call it windows. They have done enough damage to windows without associating its name with a hit and usually miss mobile os.
  • > Who buys chrome books? Not to contradict your point, but the idea sounds attractive if your target user group is barely-computer-literate seniors. This said, I've made a few attempts to replace aging Windows laptops for these users with ChromeOS devices, but had to back off. The reasons: * printing -- yes the older population likes to print and frame an occasional grandkids' picture or an occasional receipt from the online order (don't judge -- you will grow old one day yourself). It is somewhat remedied nowadays for printing from Chrome proper, but not (in my experience) from Android apps.
    * messaging apps -- Signal/WhatsApp/Viber/Wire/Chime/whatever treat ChromeOS devices as Android tablets, meaning not well or not at all. Just my 2c.
  • I agree, I'd much rather buy a Windows PC than a Chromebook and when I have the money, I'll buy a Mac which blows Chromebooks and Windows away (currently a Windows user looking to moving to Apple's ecosystem).
  • Macs do nothing of the kind, unless you have VERY specific needs.
  • Windows is moving to be more like Chrome and Chrome is moving to be more like Windows. I think it's great news for both. Frankly, I don't care that much about the operating system aside from style points. I just want to login and have things work no matter what OS is onboard. That applies to passwords and available apps.
  • . Microsoft are setting themselves up for more ridicule and Apple and Google will rightly mock Windows 10x as the new Windows Phone disaster.
  • I agree with the article.
    I've never liked Windows. I've been a Unix user since 1984.
    I hated Linux in the early 90's, decided that Ubuntu was a good Windows replacement for the masses during the Vista era, I think when Ubuntu came out. Then I left my sheltered Unix-computer-manufacturer job.
    Windows 10 is so much better than Linux for anything that a Chromebook won't do (detour there). I got a job at a Google-everything company that was oddly all Windows 10 laptop based.
    I bought a Chromebook to force myself to stop using Windows apps. Then, off to a Windows Cloud company, with a horrid mix of O365 and local apps.
    Everything is on OneDrive, but opening from the "local disk" is so different from opening on the web that I find myself using the web exclusively, because I need to use it sometimes. Then I hit something that doesn't work, and the WebWisdom is, oh, yeah, that only works in the app. Windows 10, everybody with dual screens, is superior, if you use Windows Apps. Travel? I think the Dell laptops with the cool carbon-fiber lids are lighter than my Lenovo C330 Chromebook.
  • "Windows 10X doesn't look like a failure. " Sorry to say, but it does look like a failure for the very same reasons why Windows RT and Windows 10S were. The biggest reason is that it is essentially the same underpinnings and subsystems as x86 Windows... and with those things, all of the reasons why people gravitated toward alternatives like CrOS. And I was a huge fan of the Surface RT... it was the closest thing to a Zune tablet that some of us were hoping for. I could offer some suggestions as to what I think Microsoft needs to do to make such an endeavor successful. But the best thing they can do is to be fully committed to their offering over the long haul... don't be half-hearted about it, and don't re-re-reboot the platform (like they've done with Windows Mobile).
  • What is Chrome Os?
  • I have 3 Chromebooks ... HATE THEM !
    LOVE THEM
    you know why I have 3, bought them cheap off people who bought them, then found out they "couldn't do anything on them"
    Whilst not quite true - they 1. Didn't want to learn something new..
    2. Couldn't run programs like windows, apps are a compromise. I love them for simple things and basically when a keyboard, and larger screen than my phone is required... Or on the go Netflix etc I HATE them because ...
    File explorers SUCK
    SHEETS SUCK ...
    You can't do anything on them !! (Easily)
    No ram, no storage.
    Yes I know this already..
    Most productivity based apps suck. This is the same reason (perception- not same specifics)
    That Linux is not mainstream (no where near as bad, and getting better - but no reason to leave windows)
  • Just cannot see the point of a Chromebook and neither can the majority of people... I have never in my career come across anyone using one... Microsoft need to play to their strengths and this is working just look at their share price... Microsoft are more innovative than all the other players put together... They aren't frightened to try and fail... With Surface they persevered and now have an innovative unrivalled product in the Surface Pro 7... Just wished they had tried as hard with Windows Phone... My Lumia 950XL was at the cutting edge in 2015... Took Apple and Google a while to catch up... The Lumia had iris recognition, wireless charging and the best camera on any phone...
  • If Microsoft can make a seamless experience out of Desktop as a Service, in effect being able to run all of your desktop apps at scale ( things like video editing and programming IDEs come to mind) from the cloud, they could have a compelling case against Chromebook, but that's not a simple proposition. To me, that's the only way they could beat Chromebook. But by then, it's not a low end system anymore.
  • Speaking from someone who has had to use a Chromebook for schooling kids I can say they are TRASH. Battery life is 2-3 hours of LIGHT use, nothing seems to work. They brought endless frustration with the school district IT. I ended up returning it to the school and having my kids use my old surface pro 2. I would buy a surface go 2 if I needed a new device for a kid.
  • Chrome OS is crap, I don't recommend it to anyone for any use.