Now that Windows 8.1 is here, what we still don’t know

Yesterday Microsoft released the final version of Windows 8.1, the fix update to Windows 8, featuring a Start button, Bing Smart Search, better mouse and keyboard controls, updated versions of Microsoft’s “core” apps, and quite a bit more. If you haven’t updated your Windows 8 or 8.1 Preview device yet, head over to the Microsoft Store (if for some reason, like with our Surface RT, you aren’t offered the update from the Store, you can follow these instructions, which should get you started).

With Windows 8.1 out the door, new versions of Surface on the way, and the holiday season right around the corner, Microsoft should finally be positioned to leave all the waiting and uncertainty behind and begin “moving forward”.

Except, of course, it’s Microsoft. While Windows 8.1 does answer some questions, there are many more still left on the table, with the potential to shape the future of the company unlike any time in its existence. Here’s our list:

  1. The new CEO
    This is the big one. Longtime CEO Steve Ballmer, only the second one for the company after Bill Gates, announced his resignation set for “sometime in the next twelve months”, and the guessing games immediately began. Who will succeed Ballmer? Will it be Ford CEO Alan Mulally, ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, Microsoft President Tony Bates, ex-Microsoft exec and current Pivotal CEO Paul Maritz, or someone completely different?Once a new leader is chosen, there will be many more questions to follow, too. Will the new CEO toe the line with the recently announced “One Microsoft” strategy? What will happen with the current leadership, just recently formed and still new at the job? Will they all remain, or will we see more changes at the top?
  2. Nokia
    Microsoft announced their intentions to purchase Nokia’s mobile phones businesses, slated to be complete early next year. While Nokia remains Microsoft’s best (only?) hope for the future of Windows Phones, will this jump headlong into mobile hardware work?
  3. Nokia Music and Xbox Music
    What happens to Nokia Music? Clearly, Xbox Music needs some help, especially internationally, but nothing has been said so far about the details of the Nokia acquisition, including what happens to Nokia Music. Will Nokia try to hang on to it like they’re doing with their HERE location services? Or will Nokia Music become a part of Xbox Music, and slow down the process of getting Xbox Music off the ground even more?
  4. SkyDrive
    Microsoft has a “reasonable time” to come up with a new name for SkyDrive, after giving up on a battle with BSkyB, the European TV services provider, over copyright issues in Europe. We thought a new name might roll out with Windows 8.1, but there’s been no indication of that. Microsoft has made SkyDrive a prominent feature of Windows 8.1, and a clear differentiator in the ongoing ecosystem battle with Apple and Google, but the thing doesn’t even have a name.
  5. Xbox
    Microsoft will release its brand new version of Xbox, the Xbox One, this holiday season. By all indications the battle for the next generation of gaming consoles is going to be a battle royale, and Microsoft isn’t a clear winner, at least not yet. Sony has not given up and is betting heavily on its comparable, yet cheaper PS4, and Microsoft is facing competition from TV makers and cable operators in the race to become the defacto living room entertainment controller. Is the Xbox One priced too high? Will consumers buy into using Xbox/Kinect/Bing to control their entertainment, or will cheaper alternatives win out? Microsoft clearly blew it in their messaging at E3 earlier this summer, having to backtrack on multiple fronts including always on connection, and the requirement for Kinect. Will they have their act together in time for the holidays? 
  6. Surface
    Will Surface v2 sell? Microsoft seems to think that the original Surfaces lacked features, and that there was “confusion” over the Surface RT name. Others think that Microsoft was yet again late to the party, trying to sell a me-too product to a consumer audience already sold on iPads. Do consumers want a more powerful iPad, one with a keyboard and Office? Or is Microsoft doomed to try and push features consumers don’t want on them, writing off billions in the process?
  7. Mobile platform and the future of Windows RT
    Microsoft isn’t talking about the way forward for the future of Windows 8/Windows RT/Windows Phone, except to point to some vague time in the future when one app will run on all Windows platforms. Will there be one OS to rule them all? How long until Microsoft pulls the plug on Windows RT and consolidates it with Windows Phone? Should developers even bother writing Windows RT or Windows Phone apps, if they’re just going to change in another 6-18 months?

Perhaps the most glaring question above all else, is can Microsoft sell Windows 8.1? Many of these other issues dissipate if Windows 8.1, like Windows 7 after Vista, can gain a foothold in the market this holiday season. What do you think, is Microsoft poised to move forward, or are there too many unanswered questions?