Microsoft needs you to fall in love with Windows. Soon

The software giant has work to do if it's going to rally people to its software for PCs, tablets and phones.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

When you think of cool tech, Microsoft Windows probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind.

You're not alone. Even after Microsoft got into the business of selling sleek, powerful gadgets like its Surface tablet-laptop hybrids, the company has struggled to convince people it's on the cutting edge of tech.

Case in point: Windows 10. The highly regarded operating system -- launched last year and designed with mobile devices like Surface in mind -- runs on slightly more than 12 percent of the world's PCs. That doesn't sound too bad until you consider that more than half of the PCs running Windows out there use a version released by Microsoft more than six years ago.

So while Windows may be the world's most popular software, people aren't rushing to use the latest versions on PCs, let alone on the phones and tablets that are the biggest growth engines in the tech industry today.

That's why the company that Bill Gates co-founded 40 years ago needs to work on changing its image this week at its annual Build developers conference in San Francisco. The world's biggest software maker is expected to talk up refinements to Windows and unveil new tools that encourage developers to make their iPhone and Android apps work on Windows, too.

Winning developers over is a big deal. And in Microsoft's case, it may be a big ask.

"If you can't get developers to buy into it, then you've lost the whole thing," said Brian Blau, an analyst at research firm Gartner. To stay relevant, Microsoft must make a dent in the mobile market, he added. "Long term, they can't continue in the current state they're in."

Satya Nadella, who became CEO two years ago, has already shifted the business to go mobile. Right after he took over, Nadella announced versions of Microsoft's popular Office software (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) that would run on Apple's iPhones and iPads and on devices powered by Google's Android software.

Microsoft has also tried creating software to help developers reuse code they created for mobile devices so that their apps can run on Windows.

This week, Microsoft fans are hoping the company will provide new details about HoloLens, an "augmented reality" headset that overlays computer-generated images onto the real world. Imagine looking at a blueprint on a table and seeing the building generated in 3D on top -- or working on your pipes at home and having a plumber show you what to do from miles away. That's the promise of HoloLens.

Whether Microsoft can recapture attention for its software and devices is still open to debate.

But at least Microsoft knows it needs to change

"Long-term Windows growth and vibrancy rests on our ability to reinvent personal computers and personal computing," Nadella told Microsoft investors and analysts during a January conference call. "We accept that challenge."

That's good because, after all, the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Microsoft unveils slew of Windows 10 devices and Surface Book (pictures)

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