Windows 10 Update: How Microsoft is thinking differently about hardware and software

Maybe this 'One Microsoft' thing really is taking hold -- at least if you believe Microsoft's account of how the latest Surface Book, Windows 10 feature update and new Office release all came to be.

Which came first -- the Surface Book 2 or the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update?

If you buy into Microsoft's telling of the story, the two were designed hand-in-hand (along with the latest Office ProPlus release).

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Credit: Microsoft

When crafting the Surface Book 2, which Microsoft announced today, October 17, the Windows and Devices Group worked with the Office team to create a platform that would appeal to "creators" of all kinds, from coders, to data scientists, to gamers, to productivity workers, according to company officials.

How and why did they do that?

Microsoft execs said they know from telemetry data that the Surface Book is Microsoft's device where Office is used most per week. So in crafting Surface Book 2, Microsoft wanted to make sure the newest Surface device would include lots of ways to bring the pen to life for productivity workers.

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Another example: Because performance matters a lot to those trying to harness and process big data, the Windows and Devices Group made sure to maximize processing capability of Surface Book 2. Ditto for professional engineers, gamers and those interested in crafting mixed-reality solutions.

Also: Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is here: Should you upgrade now?

(Now that "Fall Creators Update" name for Windows 10 makes a tiny bit more sense.)

"We designed the Surface Book 2 for creators," said Panos Panay, the head of hardware in Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group. "This is a laptop for people who want to create the future."

Microsoft is building Windows and hardware these days in a fundamentally different way than it has previously, Panay told a bunch of us reporters last week during a briefing on the company's new Surface Book 2. He said the team thinks about its hardware as "building a stage for the software," as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella likes to say.

Unsurprisingly, Panay and his team pooh-poohed recent industry analyst and OEM claims that Microsoft is readying its exit from the hardware business within the next couple of years. They said Microsoft execs are all-in with the idea that companies need to control the end-to-end hardware/software experience.

I believe that Microsoft is using its Surface devices and Office software to try to keep Windows a relevant and revenue-making part of the company. The underlying concept seems to be: Find markets where people still want and need to use PCs, not tablets or phones, for certain computing tasks and cater to them.

Because Microsoft execs want to push the message that the company is a leader in machine learning, they talk about Surface Book 2 running Windows 10 as the ideal machine-learning workhorse. Because gaming remains a key focus for the company, Surface 2 also can be users' souped-up gaming PC, officials stressed during our briefing. Want a PC that's ideal for creating/consuming mixed reality? Ta-da: Windows Mixed Reality headsets plus the Surface Book 2.

This new way of working inside the company didn't just start with the Surface Book 2 and Fall Creators Update. Microsoft's Surface Studio all-in-one launched in tandem with the original Windows 10 Creators Update. The Studio is a device optimized for design professionals, Apple's core audience.

And those first Surface Pro LTE Connected' PCs coming by the end of 2017? They seem like the perfect devices to be designated "Microsoft 365-powered," to me.

This joint design approach may help those of us in the Microsoft-watching business predict some of the new form factors coming from the company, going forward. Once we know the type of new features Microsoft is going to push hardest with "Redstone 4" coming in the Spring, we might be able to narrow down what type of new Surface device(s) may come along for the ride.

I'm putting in an an early vote for "Windows 10 Spring Productivity Update" for Redstone 4....

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