Microsoft Windows is so uncool these days that some people are embarrassed to admit they're not using a MacBook - cripes some people go ahead and buy an Apple computer then, you know, install Windows on the sly hoping no one will notice.

But hey, the facts are that Apple still has only 6 percent of the global PC market and that Windows is used by 1.5 billion people. So even though it's very unhip, Windows still matters. Especially to businesses that have hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of PCs installed for their employees.  Windows still matters.

The big news this week is that Microsoft is releasing a beta test version of it's latest Windows called Windows 10. Microsoft is skipping straight from the complete disaster called Windows 8/8.1 to Windows 10. Why are they doing this, well the joke goes Windows 7 ate 9. Get it? Anyway....  what's the deal with 10 and what can we expect?

1. One platform - Something called "Universal apps" can now run on Windows Phone, Tablets, laptops, workstations and giant wall sized screens. One code base, one set of APIs and so apps will be able to run anywhere. Meaning the several hundred thousand Windows Phone apps including games will be able run on your laptop full screen or in a window. Cool? I think so too. 

2.   Start Menu: Back by popular demand is the Start button and Start Menu. Long a fixture in Windows since Windows 95, the Start menu was eliminated in Windows 8 causing a firestorm of complaints and ridicule. The new start menu is cooler, sleeker and better than the WIndows 7 version, and this feature alone will allow businesses to embrace Windows 10.

3. Multi-tasking: Designed for the serious professional productivity worker Windows 10 now supports multiple active desktops, a single button called Task View, and enhanced snap / tiling support. Simply...  it's be easier than ever before to keep many programs active on the desktop and to keep track of where everything is. Serious work demands serious tools and Windows 10 has them in spades. 

4. Search: A major improvement in desktop search this feature will help you find that lost program or file. Windows has long had search, but this is (finally) a major step forward in usability and productivity. 

5.  Feedback: Perhaps the most important feature is the way Microsoft is finishing this version of Windows. This beta software includes a feedback mechanism for all testers to tell Microsoft what they like and what they don't. Never before has a major tech company been this open and collaborative when building it's flagship product. Yes, others do it - but not to the same extent.

I have to say after the Windows 8 fiasco I'd about given up on Microsoft. They had clearly been spooked by Apple and touch first operating systems and their response was sadly all wrong. But this time around, this could well be the best Windows since wildly successful Windows XP. I'm excited for Microsoft, its customers  and for Windows 10.

This time I think they got it right. 


Microsoft slims down - lays off 18,000 staff

Microsoft, the aging tech behemoth, has a shiny new CEO, a new strategy, new(ish) products in the pipeline and now 18,000 less staff. In a wide ranging, 3,000 word essay to his 125,000 (oops! 107,000) colleagues, CEO Satyna Nadella stressed the need to improve product cycle time, to shed excess management layers and to say goodbye to 14 percent of staff.

Politicians on both sides of the pond are not impressed. EU High Commissioner Laszlo Andor, "I deeply regret the significant job losses announced by Microsoft today because of the impact these will have on so many individuals, their families and the local communities they live and work in" and US Senator Jeff Sessions is irked that MSFT is firing thousands of staff yet continues to press for relaxed Visa rules: "That is a significant action. Indeed, Microsoft employs about 125,000 people, and they are laying off 18,000. The company laid off 5,000 in 2009. Yet their founder and former leader, Mr. Gates, says we have to have more and more people come into our country to take those kinds of jobs."

Microsoft's financials look terrific of late. The share price is up 40 percent in nine months, market cap is now $370b, sales are $83b and profits over $22billion - so why all the layoffs? 

The truth is that in the new world of Apple and Google led mobile computing, Microsoft, once the King of Technology, has only 14 percent global computing device market share with little prospect of that improving any time soon. Microsoft has finally (finally!) realized they are a distant third and need to get fit, slim down and get stuck into the battle. 

The days of Windows first, Windows uber alles, are long gone now replaced by a "cloud first, mobile first" strategy led by Microsoft's strengths in the enterprise and productivity. Microsoft Office running on iPad is the first of many products we'll see that promotes their strengths at the expense of the legacy Windows franchise.

So while the politicians huff and puff and pretend they are aggrieved - they should pause a moment to consider what might happen to all the remaining jobs should Microsoft's new strategy fail.  

Google's Android Everywhere!

Tech's big four - Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon - all focus on software and developers this time of year. First was Microsoft's BUILD conference back in April, but in June we've had Apple's WWDC, Amazon's Fire and just last week Google I/O in that mecca of all things tech, the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Recently I've written about Apple and Amazon, so here's a short update on our modern day SkyNet: Google. 

Google's opening keynote was so long, so filled with information, so detailed that the attendees all looked like happy but weary zombies as they trudged out of the hall. Happy because Google among many other items launched five major programs: Android One, Android Wear, Android Auto, Android TV and Android 'L'. Whew! It was Google and its Android Operating system everywhere! Here goes:

Android One: Google's global mobile market share is now 80 percent and still they're not satisfied. Android One is a platform for delivering both standard hardware and Android software designed for the next billion, low end smart phone users. Apple refuses to go down market while Google is all in that space. For just $99 you get a great device. Awesome.

Android Wear: A fully developed package that ties your Android phone to 'Wear' smartwatches. On the stage was LG and Samsung demonstrating fully functional Wear wrist computers. They do speech recognition and run the Google Now interface. Last year smartwatches were clunky, awful gimmicks, now they are perfectly usable. Stay tuned for the upcoming Moto 360 for something almost stylish.

Android Auto: No this is not the famous self-driving car! This is a method to integrate your phone with your car's dashboard screen. Being able to plug your phone into your car, then using voice commands to navigate, play music, make calls and send messages may sound 'so what?' but Google's advanced voice recognition separates them from Apple and all the rest of the in-dash systems on the market today. I want one!

Android TV: Picking itself up after the earlier Google TV disaster, Google re-launched Android TV and it looks like smart TV done right. Ask it: "OK Google, show me the 2012 Oscar winning films," and they all pop up, you say which one you want to watch and then say "play." Really awesome phone / TV / media / voice integration.  

Android L: 'L' is the next version of the mainstream Android OS. With a focus on a refined design called 'material design' and the Google Now interactive notification system stepping farther forward, Android 'L' will give Apple's iOS 8 a run for the prettiest, easiest to use OS on the market today. 

This has already gone on too long - just like the Google keynote address - and I've covered only the highlights. But stay tuned because Google and its partners have even more up their sleeves in the coming months.