Microsoft's wins, fails, and WTF moments of 2018

Microsoft found success in some odd places, while its more mainstream efforts fell short.

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WIN: Microsoft adds ransomware protections to OneDrive

You probably don’t remember this announcement, but in April Microsoft announced that OneDrive and Outlook.com would be protected from ransomware for free—that is, malware that infects and encrypts your files, then demands a “ransom” to be paid to unlock them.

Microsoft onedrive ransomware rollback Microsoft

Ransomware protection: possibly the best Microsoft cloud feature that you’ll never actually use.

Microsoft’s protections allow you to roll back your files to a pre-ransomware state, so that at least most of your documents will be recoverable. Like insurance, it’s a feature that you hope you’ll never have to take advantage of, but it’s a comfort to know it’s there.

WIN: Microsoft boosts OneNote app over OneNote 2016

One of the more puzzling moves of 2018 was Microsoft’s decision to halt development of OneNote 2016 and instead shift to putting its weight behind the simpler OneNote app within Windows. Robbing features from Office might be seen by some as dumbing down a key app, but there’s definitely an argument to be made that Office apps have grown too complex, and the simpler built-in Windows alternatives (Mail, Calendar, OneNote) are suitable for the majority of users. OneNote seems to mix features that business and consumer users want, intelligently. Plus, kids like the sparkly ink.

math onenote screenshot 100673412 orig Microsoft

FAIL: Remember Windows ML? 

No, you probably don’t. Microsoft promised that this language would deliver machine-learning AI to Windows, allowing app developers to take advantage of the PC’s GPU hardware to deliver smarter apps. While development work doesn’t take place overnight, Windows ML was announced in March. It’s now December, and we’re not aware of any major efforts taking advantage of this.

windows ml dog shot Microsoft

In this demo, Microsoft tapped the power of a PC GPU (and, optionally, a Movidius computer-vision processor) to change the visual style of this image.

WIN: People like Microsoft Teams. They do!

PCWorld never really warmed to Microsoft Teams, preferring the quick-and-dirty, compact interface of Slack instead. But Spiceworks put out a survey in December claiming that 21 percent of the businesses they surveyed use Teams, topping Slack. Teams’ adoption must also have been helped by the free version of Teams Microsoft released this summer. In Teams’ favor, its ability to search for and publish GIFs far outstrips Slack’s own.

Microsoft teams heroshot 1 Microsoft

There’s a lot going on within Microsoft Teams.

FAIL: Mixed reality flops

From the get-go, Microsoft’s “mixed reality” headset pitch sounded like something you’d hear on the midway: no, there was nothing “mixed reality” about them, just a VR headset in another guise. PC makers dutifully signed on with their own hardware, but Microsoft couldn’t really deliver either a unified VR environment or games—which were largely locked within Valve’s Steam store, anyway. Our Windows Mixed Reality review was delayed for this reason, and by the time all the pieces were in place, the consumer market and the technology press had moved on.

windows mixed reality surface Microsoft

It’s sort of amazing how quickly this vision of the future became passe.

WTF: Surface Studio 2, Surface Hub 2

Yes, WTF. But in a good way.

We all know that you (maybe you, but not you) aren’t buying a Surface Studio 2, that beautiful monstrosity of a computer and its effervescent sheet of PixelSense glass. And as for the Surface Hub 2? Really, that’s a device (or devices, as they can be merged together) that’s more deserving of a conference room than a home office. But both are aspirational devices for consumers and tempting targets for businesses, even if most of their budgets will still go to ThinkPads and Surfaces and Latitudes.

Microsoft surface hub 2 Microsoft

Microsoft’s Surface Hub 2, due out next year, bolsters collaboration capabilities with software and hardware features. It’s also one of the more intriguing pieces of hardware Microsoft plans to offer.

The Surface Hub 2 also hints at something for new for Windows. As the Surface Hub 2S and 2X release over time, they’ll be upgradable from one to the other via a processor cartridge that may contain some new derivative of Windows.

WIN: Surface Laptop 2 plays it safe

Microsoft took a conservative approach with the Surface Laptop 2, leaving virtually everything unchanged from the first generation to the next—save for an 8th-generation Core chip and a new black color that inexplicably is attached to a $200 premium. We loved the Surface Laptop, but our opinion has mellowed slightly with its successor, especially as competing notebooks like the New Dell XPS 13 notebook (late 2017) have passed the Laptop line by. The Surface Laptop 2 is a good notebook, just not a great one.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor, save for its new black color and an 8th-gen Core chip.

WIN: Surface Pro 6 is still among the best tablets

While the Surface Laptop is surrounded by rivals, far fewer Windows tablets exist to compete with the Surface Pro 6. And that’s good news for Microsoft, which bumped up the SP6 to an 8th-gen Core chip but left most everything else unchanged. We’ve found other tablets we’ve liked, but there’s no denying that the Surface Pro lineup has been successful, and the SP6 looks like it will continue that trend. Microsoft’s playing awfully conservatively here, though. 

Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Mark Hachman / IDG

Though Microsoft hasn’t seriously revamped the design of the Surface Pro series in years, it still remains one of the best tablets you can buy.

FAIL: Microsoft’s bug testers

Wait a minute—after Microsoft regained Consumer Reports’ trust in its device quality this September, shouldn’t this be counted as a win? We’re not so sure. With years of Surface hardware under our belt, we’ve noticed our own raft of issues: a Surface Pro 4 from 2015 whose battery refuses to charge, a Surface Precision Mouse whose status LED now flashes yellow and which refuses to function, and a Surface Book 2 with intermittent hot-boxing issues.

On the software side, of course, Microsoft’s had a rough year, capped off by the Windows 10 October 2018 Update debacle. No device is immune from issues, and no operating system is free from bugs. But as we speed toward the new year, we’d ask Microsoft for one resolution: Test, test, and test some more!

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