Is middleware the future of Windows? It's time to take into account all the different perspectives on this so-called...
post-PC era and determine where Windows is really going.
Much has been said about the post-PC era and, depending on how inclined you are to believe hyperbole, you could believe that the end of Windows is just around the corner. On the other hand, you could be on the side of the fence that thinks Windows will be around forever and that all this talk is crazy.
My take on the future of Windows is more moderate. I do believe we're entering the post-PC era, but I also believe Windows has a place in the world for the foreseeable future. Through three pieces of evidence happening now in the industry, I want to examine how both of these viewpoints can come to pass.
Windows from Azure
For the last few years, people have had the ability to upload virtual servers to Microsoft's cloud platform, Azure. The process is simple enough: Create the virtual machine on your own host, and then upload the virtual hard disk to Azure. From there, you can access it via Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol. It seems like Microsoft is betting that organizations will need Windows, even if they go another direction in their data centers. This could also be used as a way to deliver Windows applications from the cloud moving forward.
Even Microsoft has its doubts about the future of the OS.
Windows is a billion-dollar business for Microsoft, so they're inclined to give organizations as many ways as possible to use it. Azure helps keep Windows relevant, even though you may not be actively deploying Windows desktops to your users. If you're faced with the decision to completely rewrite an application or to let it sit in the cloud where you don't have to maintain hardware, you may be swayed by the ease of this solution.
Still, Microsoft isn't assuming that running Windows from Azure will save the day. Office has required Windows for most of its existence, but now there's Office 365, a Web version of Office applications that Microsoft is pushing hard. Microsoft is hedging its bets about whether or not Windows will be on every PC. This way, if Windows does fade away, Office can still be the de facto standard productivity suite.
All this goes to show that even Microsoft has its doubts about the future of the OS.
Windows on a mobile device
Last week, Brian Madden wrote an article suggesting that another possible future for Windows OSes and applications will be to simply run the apps on a mobile device in a virtualized or emulated container. Today, there are software packages for Android and iOS that execute Windows and Windows apps. They can run Windows 95 with some success (I've even seen one with XP), but even then they are super slow and hog resources, since they're emulating x86 architecture on ARM hardware.
More on the future of Windows
What the future desktop will look like
Microsoft's role in the tablet/desktop race
How Windows 8 could affect Hyper-V
As ARM processors in these chips become more powerful, though, and as technology advances are incorporated into these products, running legacy Windows apps from 2010 on an iPad in 2016 should be easily doable. Ideal? Probably not, but I'm sure there will be uses that arise for this type of technology.
If you doubt that, look at all the things we can emulate today that existed as physical devices years ago. Video game consoles, for instance, were once unthinkably complex and resource-intensive to emulate, and we can now play just about any older platform game on a modern device.
Legacy implementations in the data center
Of course, the simpler solution is to virtualize Windows OSes and applications and put them in the data center, just like we have been doing. That's why you'll never see Citrix stray too far from XenApp and XenDesktop. Sure, the company has pivoted a bit and is focusing more on enterprise mobility management, but Citrix knows as well as IT shops do that Windows isn't going away anytime soon.
Dell Quest, VMware, Ericom and a handful of other companies know this too, and it's why we spend so much time writing about it and talking to people.
The bottom line is that there will always be a way to do Windows even if most of our applications come from other places. Windows will simply be the thing we need to deploy alongside an application to get it to work. That's the very definition of middleware, and it is the future of Windows.
Gabe Knuth asks:
Do you think Windows will end up like middleware?
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