Microsoft Windows chief Myerson talks Windows 10 priorities, VR headsets, Surface hardware goals

Microsoft Executive Vice President of Windows and Devices Terry Myerson talks to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley about Windows 10 Creators Update, VR headsets, Surface, Windows Mobile and more.

I had a chance to sit down with Microsoft Executive Vice President of Windows and Devices Terry Myerson at Microsoft's Windows and Surface Studio event last week.

In 30 minutes or so, we talked about everything from Microsoft's Windows 10 Creators Update (a k a "Redstone 2"), Microsoft's Surface hardware strategy and what's happening in the Windows Holographic/VR/AR space. Myerson also provided a bit more on why Microsoft is continuing to evolve Windows 10 Mobile, despite its dwindling market share.

Here's the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity and length.

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MJF: Are you able at this point to talk about other things beyond the creative-focused features, like 3D support, that are coming in the Windows 10 Creators Update next Spring? For example, how about more on what's coming with Continuum or various enterprise features?

MYERSON: The Windows MyPeople feature (we talked about on October 26) is part of the creative story. It's part of working with others or playing with others. I think this magic happens when you're doing stuff with other people. There are certain private moments of silence when we have our great ideas, but I think a lot of the shaping of those ideas and refining comes with being inspired by creativity in others.

At Ignite we talked about WDAG, Windows Defender Application Guard. The security focus is strong.I think using the virtualization, the browser tabs, it's a significant engineering milestone. But today we really wanted to focus on the end user experience. And things that bring out the creativity in all of us. So that was today. At Ignite we talked about security.

MJF: Why is Microsoft focusing on creatives? My guess is it's an attempt to go after Apple's core base.

MYERSON: No. We're thinking about each of us as creators, and I would say a distinct inspiration has been watching today's younger generation and the trends in how they're embracing computing. Truly going to MineCon for me was such an influential event. They're creators. They are such a diverse group, and it's so different from how we grew up. My interaction with CAD came when I was in mechanical engineering school. And these kids are so fluent and interactive in really quite rich 3D concepts.

And, likewise, seeing how -- and I see this in my own home, seeing this eager desire to not just play videogames, but broadcast their interaction with these videogames, interact with the broadcasters. So the inspiration really is in looking and saying what are the trends in this next generation that we can foster and invest in. And in a way that's relevant for a broad base, but also looking for inspiration for what's coming next.

MJF: I know you're going to go to China in early December to talk to the OEMs about this whole idea of extended reality. Today, you talked about five OEMs -- Acer, Dell HP, Lenovo and ASUS -- who will build VR headsets powered by Windows Holographic. What's your message going to be to them and others going to WinHEC China?

MYERSON: (Device chief) Panos (Panay) and his team, when we're working on those devices, we're trying to do something new. And we are pushing ourselves quite hard. You see with HoloLens we did something new, it's a $3,000 device. It's a device that I think really has broken new ground. Same when Panos showed Studio, a $3,000 device, and Dial. I think it will break new ground.

When we go to WinHEC, we're really thinking how are we going to democratize this technology, how are we going to work with these partners to build devices that can reach all price points, that can reach everyone on the planet. And really I find it such an inspiring part of my job to be able to do that, because most of your customers -- pardon me -- most of your readers are not necessarily using our Microsoft devices. Most of your readers are using devices that are a product of these partnerships that we have that enable these hardware creators to express their own creative ideas for Windows.

And so when I go to China I'm really going there with that goal, to work with these partners that are building the devices that most of your readers will use.

For software developers, we don't get up at Build and talk about lenses and inches and things like that. But for a creator in the hardware space, it is about the evolution of lens technology, the evolution of the hinges, and how can the software and hardware work differently depending on the creativity I apply there. And so that's really what WinHEC is all about.

MJF: When people have asked me what is Microsoft trying to do with HoloLens, I keep saying it's like what they're trying to do with Surface: They're building the high-end, category-defining device, and they're expecting partners to fill in the ecosystem. Is that right to explain that way, or is there a better way to explain it?

MYERSON: I wouldn't use those words specifically. It's not actually to fill in the ecosystem, because that's a beautiful premium laptop you are using right now (HP Spectre), and I'm super proud of what HP did with that device.

So I don't see it necessarily as filling in below. By building HoloLens, we were able to push ourselves as hard as we can to see, to go create, really we call it Windows Holographic, to go create that expression. That allows us now to then partner with HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS on how can we create expression of that for your gaming PCs, and that's the accessories we showed today.

But I think if we hadn't done HoloLens first, we wouldn't have been able to do those partnerships as well. And I'm not ruling out the fact that one of those guys builds a $3,000 accessory, because I think we'll see all kinds of creative expression in what they do. But by building Surface Studio we're going to be able to have some really well-rounded partnerships and other people will express ideas.

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MJF: The virtual reality headsets starting at $299 that you talked about today are accessories for gaming PCs. Could they be used with other things, too?

MYERSON: I expect them to work super-well on most laptops.

HoloLens is a fully self-contained holographic computer. So it doesn't need a laptop. These VR accessories do tether to your laptop or to your desktop. And one of the reasons they're so inexpensive is they're leveraging the power of the laptop. You don't look at your monitor wearing them because they're opaque.

One way you can think about these VR accessories is as an external monitor. It's not technically accurate, but conceptually I think it works quite well. You put on the headset and you're looking at another monitor. So it's not a perfect technical analogy, because it lives now in the Holographic shell, so a shell from the desktop. But now I'll be able to tap at this, so you get the shell and it's the same shell we have in HoloLens. That comes up and HoloLens has a transparent or translucent lens, while these accessories we talked about today will have often opaque lens.

We use this term mixed reality to represent this spectrum of augmented reality to virtual reality and everything in-between. And in some ways the transparency of the lenses is the difference between augmented and virtual reality, but it's the same volumetrics compute.

MJF: One thing that surprised me about today -- and maybe I'm not looking at this right -- is I felt Microsoft lately has been sending a message that Surface is a business device family. Up until today, I felt that Microsoft might be getting completely out of consumer hardware, other than Xbox.

MYERSON: I'm not sure why we would have given that impression. I mean it's true that we're very serious about the enterprise. At the same time, you know, we're on the NFL sidelines.

MJF: For better or for worse.

MYERSON: When we talk about these things we're very serious. We're very serious about mobile device management applying to all form factors. We're serious about digital signs. We're serious about Windows IoT. We're serious about a number of enterprise things.

Today we talked about PowerPoint, we talked about 3D Paint and we talked about achievements. We're serious about both (business and consumer). And sometimes it's hard to simultaneously show that seriousness about both.

But when I see people using our experiences in the home, a lot of times around a PC where you're both doing homework and playing a game. So it is work and play. Consumer and enterprise. It's designed for people.

MJF: We're a year-plus into Windows as a Service, that core idea of constantly updated Windows. What do you think you need to do better and what do you think you're doing right so far in that space? This seems like it's going to be really hard to pull off. You're having to update all these different versions of Windows 10 that are in market right now every time you release an update.

MYERSON: Having this ability to engage with our customers and continuously, being able to listen to what they like and dislike and respond has just been fantastic. It's energizing to me. I think it's been energizing to the team. I think it's been energizing to many customers, actually, to know that more is coming in the update than even what they saw today.

Undoubtedly, we have learned a tremendous amount. It goes back to that spectrum of consumers and enterprises. The most locked-down enterprises want to stay up-to-date and current all the time, automagically, at no cost. We're giving them the control and the confidence to be able to do that -- tremendous learning. At the same time for many consumers, they say they never want to see any administrative messages -- don't even tell me what you're doing, don't give me notifications. They don't want to ever be prompted about anything in any way. They get frustrated by any prompt.

And so we have this spectrum of people that want different levels of control and notifications. We believe in this, that we're on that path. Whether it be the security of the device, the performance of the device, the capabilities of the devices, all good. But that process you just described, and it's not just us -- it's our partners all the way down to the chipset vendors -- we're understanding the implications that a device isn't a static thing anymore.

MJF: Here's why I'm asking. For me, just one data point in the world, I get my PC working great, but then I get a new update to Anniversary Update and some things aren't working like they worked before. I wonder which of the updates I just got did something to it.

MYERSON: And that's why we need to communicate the learning about how to do a great job there. We try and make every change with a purpose and for a reason. You should give me feedback.

MJF: I don't like the instability. I hated not getting new Windows versions for three years between releases, but I feel like now I'm getting updates all the time. And I'm on RTM, not an Insider ring.

MYERSON: I think that this is one of those interesting things. People feel like they're getting more updates than they are, which was the influence of people that wanted to know when they're getting the updates. There are definitely people that want to know every time Windows has an update coming, when the updates come and what's in those updates.

If you have something like the Anniversary Update coming, you perhaps want to know. But for so many other updates, like an update for any sort of security threat we've discovered, we're pushing those updates to your machine automatically.

MJF: I know it's a hard thing to get right, because if you stopped telling me what updates I was getting and I saw it was getting updated, I'd be asking "What did I just get?"

MYERSON: Every now and then, something gets changed and then that can be perceived as breaking (a feature), which is unfortunate. But we're learning. I mean, quite honestly, I feel like we're on a great path for our customers, but we're learning. We're learning how to communicate in the device, how to communicate off the device, and really there's no precedent here. There's no "This is how it should be done." So we're paving our path by listening to people like yourself and all the feedback in the Insider program.

MJF: I realize this year was a year when Microsoft planned not to release any new Windows Phones itself. But the question I keep getting is why is Microsoft wasting time updating Windows Mobile when the market share is one percent? You don't have that many phone OEMs. Why not just say, you know, maybe we'll come back some day, but for now, let's just stop playing around with mobile.

MYERSON: Technically, there are really two things that are unique about Windows Mobile. One is cellular connectivity and the other one is the ARM processors that are there. And I think both cellular connectivity and ARM processors have a role in the technical landscape of the future.

So we're going to continue to invest in ARM and cellular. And while I'm not saying what type of device, I think we'll see devices there, Windows devices, that use ARM chips. I think we'll see devices that have cellular connectivity.

When you stop investing in these things, it's super hard, super, super hard to restart. And at Microsoft we have a few of those examples where we stopped. Sometimes, when you're investing into growth. it's easier, but when you're investing for technical strategy or things like that, sometimes people can question it -- like you're doing right now. But especially among your readers, I don't think there's much debate that ARM processors have a role in the future. And cellular connectivity does as well.

MJF: Last one. One of the reasons Microsoft introduced Surface, I think, was because OEMs were doing a terrible job at the time of building compelling devices. You guys were showing them how to do it.

MYERSON: I think we had a vision for this two in one.

MJF: Right. And you showed them, and now all the OEMs are doing it, which is great, right? But now that Microsoft has shown OEMs how to do it, and they've done it, why is Microsoft staying in hardware now?

MYERSON: I wouldn't say we demonstrated. I mean creating the Surface Studio is not just straight product line, it's not a linear process. It's not like the team sat down and said immediately, let's build exactly that. But by being serious about hardware, it allows us to innovate.

You have to be serious about it. It's easy to go create little side projects. But to go create the Studio or Surface Book, it requires a real hardware effort.

MJF: But why would Microsoft built its own all-in-one? OEM partners are building a lot of all-in-ones.

MYERSON: No one is building anything like a Studio.

I mean HP has a fabulous curved all-in-one, but we didn't sit down and say, let's go build a better version of that. We start with this mission to empower people to achieve their potential, and there's work and play, and we push hard on what can we do in Xbox, what can we do in Surface, what can we do in HoloLens to do something new. That's what inspires us and that's what we're doing.

The only way we can do this is by being serious. You have to be serious, you have to be real. You have to say, let's go build a device people will buy, will spend money on, and that is what allows us to really create. We've got a great research lab tossing out all kinds of good stuff.

MJF: You think you actually have to build it to understand it.

MYERSON: Yes, I really believe that -- and we have partners building incredible things, too. And we partner with them on that. But this is different. This is us pursuing our mission to help people achieve their potential.

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