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2017 has been in many ways a banner year for Microsoft. Not one but two major updates to Windows 10, the release of Windows Mixed Reality devices, the release of the Xbox One X, and the continued long slow agonizing death of Windows 10 Mobile all made headlines this year.
Perhaps the biggest story of the year was the company's both cultural and financial resurgence under CEO Satya Nadella. 2017 was Nadella's third year at the helm, and he's managed to begin to change the perception of Microsoft and Windows in the marketplace. Thanks in part to a Surface Laptop and the Surface Book 2, and the company's continued successes with Azure and Office 365 have captured all the attention of Wall Street, with Microsoft stock trading at record highs and continuing to climb.
So it was a good year for Microsoft. There were blunders, of course, and Redmond's continued across the board failures in mobile, with Windows 10 Mobile now in "maintenance mode," puts the company in a difficult position, with no entry into the most lucrative and forward-looking sector of the market.
There's lots of hoopla about Xbox, but it still lags behind Sony's PlayStation in market share and mindshare amongst gamers. The same holds true for Azure, and even though the cloud is a big money-maker, it still trails AWS significantly. Sure, Microsoft is making money at being number two in both gaming and cloud, but where's the fun in that?
On to 2018, and indeed it's shaping up to be another big year for Microsoft. How big a year we're about to find out. Will Microsoft find a solution to its lack of presence in mobile? Will Azure and Office and Surface and Xbox all continue to push boundaries? How will the company do in its quest to change the culture? Let's take a quick look at what may be in store for 2018.
2017 gave us the Spring and Fall Creators Updates, and we're expecting another two major revisions to Windows 10 in 2018. The first update, expected again in the Spring, will lay the groundwork for a couple of major enhancements to Windows, Timeline and Sets. The features may not make it into production until the fall with RS5, but Windows Insiders should have plenty of time to test and react to probably the most fundamental change to Windows since Windows 10 itself.
Microsoft pulled out all the stops in 2017 by releasing the Xbox One X in November, leapfrogging Sony and introducing a next generation console early in the cycle. What Microsoft or its gaming partners didn't do, however, was release significant new games for the new platform, and in 2018, they'll have to start to do just that.
Sea of Thieves will be arriving in March, but Microsoft will be under the gun to wow once again at E3 in June. Will we hear about Halo 6? Will Microsoft Studios break out a new franchise, or at least announce one? How will Microsoft's push to bring Xbox into Windows evolve? By releasing the Xbox One X, Microsoft has set itself some pretty high expectations. We'll see if they meet them in 2018.
Progressive Web Apps
The death of Windows phone has been a blow to Microsoft in a lot of areas, but strategically, perhaps the biggest blow is to its Universal Windows Platform, the basis for Windows 10's apps and Windows 10 S. Without a mobile counterpart to drive app development, there's not much universal about these apps at all.
Microsoft may be trying to solve that with Progressive Web Apps. These web based apps that can run offline in a "native" experience are being embraced by Microsoft, and will be generally supported by Edge beginning with the next Windows 10 update (you can enable support for them now with a flag). Unlike the proprietary Universal Windows Apps, PWAs will run cross browser and cross devices, with support already in place by Google. Microsoft has already announced plans to not only support, but actively push PWAs in the Microsoft Store, and while we think it's far to early to sound a death knell for the Universal Windows Platform, PWAs seem to be much less of a dead end path to follow.
A major new tax cut goes into effect in the United States in January, and one portion of it will have a huge impact on Microsoft and other tech giants. Currently, Microsoft has over $130 billion stashed in low tax offshore holdings, mostly in Ireland and in the Caribbean. The new tax law will allow these companies to repatriate some of that money back to the US, and in effect punish them if they don't.
What Microsoft does to re-invest some of those earnings, or even if they'll take advantage of the new laws at all, will be a big deal in 2018. Donald Trump and the Republicans are counting on companies to bring back money and spend it here, but will that really happen? Will Microsoft continue their "good citizen" efforts by helping to improve the US economy? This will be a very interesting space to watch in the coming year.
Surface Phone and Surface
Of course the big question for 2018 will be all about the Surface Phone. While all indications are that the rumored new foldable device won't even be a "phone," per se, and there's probably little chance that this new device will launch anytime soon, we should start hearing about it, if it does indeed exist, sometime mid-year.
Panos Panay and his team may well have a few more tricks up their sleeve in the new year, too, as they try to capitalize on the momentum building with the Surface Pro, the Surface Laptop, and the Surface Book 2. Will they hold all their eggs in a Surface Phone basket, or will there be more Surface devices on the way?
While we won't see a new HoloLens in 2018, we should begin to hear more about a version 2, planned for a 2019 release. We'll also be hearing lots more about bots, AI, and the Internet of Things, all buzzwords that will only gain volume in the upcoming year. While it's further out than even a new HoloLens, we'll hear more about Quantum Computing, too. Microsoft will be looking to get ahead of the curve on new technology, having been left behind in both mobile and more recently digital assistants. We may also be hearing quite a bit more about Cortana in 2018, although Microsoft once again finds itself on the outside looking in as Amazon's Alexa continues to gain ground and Google Home makes a strong push.
Another good year?
While we won't see any groundbreaking new technology (we don't think), 2018 promises to be another big year for Microsoft. Perhaps infused with some new repatriated cash, and building on solid foundations in Xbox, on Azure and Office 365, and with Surface, Microsoft is definitely headed in the right direction. What do you think 2018 will bring? Let us know in the comments below.