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Now married to Surface, Windows might finally get interesting again

When you think of Microsoft, you likely think of two things: Windows, and Surface. The two go hand in hand for us average folk, as Windows powers Surface devices.

Internally, though, these two very important divisions of Microsoft’s business operations were always separate. They were led by two different people, have their own release schedules, and development teams.

That’s now changed, and in one of the biggest moves in recent Microsoft history, both divisions have finally come together as one. And, Panos Panay is now in charge of it, under a single combined group known as “Windows + Devices.”

While the timeline for the release of Surface products and Windows 10 updates will obviously still be the same, there is a bigger picture to it all. For me, this small internal change might as well just have made Windows and Microsoft exciting again.

Panos Panay is the future of Windows

Microsoft interview Panos Panay

The state of Windows 10 in 2020 isn’t terribly exciting. The operating system launched in 2015 to much fanfare, heralding a new era for Windows. It wasn’t just the next version of Windows, it was said to be a platform that would get continuous updates and features added over time.

But five years later, it’s become stagnant. Windows is stuck on a twice a year updates, and they’ve become increasingly smaller in scope. Updates were once substantial, introducing features like Your Phone, or Windows Timeline. But that’s now become less of a focus for Microsoft. Lately, Windows hasn’t changed much at all, aside from minor under the hood changes and bug fixes.

But with Panos Panay at the head of the new “Windows + Devices” division at Microsoft, all that could change. Panay is known as the visionary lead behind the Surface products. He’s design-focused with his eye squarely fixed on the product experience — a contrast to the buttoned-up vibes of Microsoft’s other divisions.

Panay’s enthusiasm is exactly what Windows needs right now.

What Panay brings to Windows could be more than just a change in tone. He’s a designer who doesn’t hesitate to experiment.

Just look what he’s done with the Surface lineup. Panay designed the Surface Book, where you could completely detach the screen from your computer — or the Surface Studio with its innovative hinge. He also was behind the new Surface Pro X — PC unlike anything Microsoft had released before. It combined slim bezels, a redesigned type cover, and even a custom Microsoft processor under the hood.

And then, of course, you arrive at the introduction of the Surface Neo and Surface Duo. Microsoft’s grand vision for a return to the smartphone market, alongside a dual-screen PC that was as genre-redefining as the original Surface. It’s been Panay’s baby from the very beginning.

All of these experimental products have their share of problems, but they prove that Panay has never been afraid to think beyond the boundaries. That’s exactly what Windows needs right now.

Windows 10X is only the beginning

Surface Neo

Microsoft has remained quiet about Windows 10X. But the operating system itself is a great example of how hardware and software can come together. Microsoft is developing a new operating system around its own hardware, and it’s pretty clear that Panos Panay has had a seat at the table all along.

Not much is known about Windows 10X, judging from leaks and other rumors, but the apps and the overall Windows experience on these devices are specially catered just for dual-screen hardware. Split-screen apps, a “Wonder Bar,” the two-panned apps — it’s all made to work specifically with the Surface Neo.

This is the major benefit of keeping your hardware and software all under one roof. It’s an advantage Apple has enjoyed for many years.

Before his departure, Jony Ive held a similar position at Apple. He transitioned from senior vice president of industrial design to a new role where he also was responsible for “Human Interface,” at Apple. Ive moved beyond just designing hardware to work on software, including the massive overhaul that was iOS 7. The design elements of Ive marked a major change in Apple’s aesthetic pre-dating iOS 7.

For Microsoft, with the enthusiasm of Panos Panay directed at both Windows and Surface, there’s a similar hope for Microsoft. The company UWP might be on its way out, but with Panay at the head, we also might see more unified design experiences across all of Microsoft’s products. HoloLens, Surface Neo and Duo, and Xbox, all might share a similar look and feel.

With Panay at the helm, Windows has a shot of truly being interesting again — which hasn’t been true for years.

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