At the end of a surprisingly eventful, exciting presentation of Windows 11, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came on the video feed to deliver some closing remarks. He laid out his vision for Windows 11 as a “platform for platform creators,” and in doing so, he issued a subtle but nonetheless stinging critique of Apple.
Nadella’s speech was almost entirely about building a case that Windows would be a better platform for creators than either macOS or (especially) iOS. He argued that “there is no personal computing without personal agency,” insisting that users should be more in control of their computers.
Nadella called out the changes Microsoft is making to its app store rules, allowing more types of apps, Android apps, and — most importantly — allowing apps to use their own payment systems if they so choose. He said, “A platform can only serve society if its rules allow for this foundational innovation and category creation.” That rhetoric sounds vaguely nice and inspiring out of context, but in the specific context of the current debates, lawsuits, and legislation over app store rules, it’s a sharp and direct critique.
More than anything, though, Nadella and Microsoft are putting their finger on an emerging trend in the debate about app store policies: how they affect individual creators. Alluding to Ben Thompson’s recent article about “sovereign writers,” Nadella says, “Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers.” Microsoft even went so far as to build a direct tipping feature for creators into Windows 11.
It’s fair to call this critique opportunistic. After all, Microsoft itself tried to build an app store ecosystem for Windows that utterly failed to match the level of success we’ve seen for the iPhone (or Android, for that matter). It’s a truism that, in tech, the underdog always calls for openness until they’re the top dog — and Microsoft’s app store is definitely the underdog. But just because a critique is opportunistic doesn’t mean it’s not correct.
Nadella ends by alluding to this quote from Arthur Schopenhauer (without naming him, likely because he was very problematic):
Authors can be divided into meteors, planets and fixed stars. The meteors produce a loud momentary effect; we look up, shout ‘see there!’ and then they are gone for ever. The planets and comets last for a much longer time. … The fixed stars alone are constant and unalterable; their position in the firmament is fixed; they have their own light and are at all times active, because they do not alter their appearance through a change in our standpoint, for they have no parallax. Unlike the others, they do not belong to one system (nation) alone, but to the world. But just because they are situated so high, their light usually requires many years before it becomes visible to the inhabitants of earth.
That’s a long way of pointing out that despite the short-term incentives, Nadella is playing a very long game with Windows 11. Just as Google and Apple build their companies around their business models, so does Microsoft. But Microsoft’s business model has nothing to do with selling Windows or even getting a cut of app sales anymore. It’s about Microsoft 365, Azure, and enterprise services.
When Nadella says Windows is “a platform for platform creators,” Microsoft’s other services are some of those other platforms — that happen to work well on Windows. For the time being, Nadella’s argument is that Windows 11 is big enough and broad enough to make room for others, too — and that other platforms are not.
Nadella’s full remarks are below. And just as this story was published, Nadella himself tweeted the core part of his speech:
Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers, and with Windows 11 we have a renewed sense of Windows’ role in the world. pic.twitter.com/xHldf38B8d
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) June 24, 2021
I’m really excited to be here with you all. Today marks a major milestone in the history of Windows. It’s the beginning of a new generation. I’m excited by what we have shown you today and how we are reimagining everything from the operating system itself to the browser to the store and the feed.
And I want to reflect briefly on how we got here. Throughout its history, Windows has been a democratizing force for the world. Windows has created entirely new categories for both consumers and businesses. It’s led to many of the world’s most successful software categories, from communications and productivity to design and business applications, each of which has created their own ecosystems. The web itself was born and grew up on Windows. It’s driven silicon innovation device innovation. It’s enabled so many people — including hobbyists, developers, and entrepreneurs — to all dream big; turn their ideas into reality; and monetize their creation.
Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers.
With Windows, you can consume apps and build apps. You can play games and design games. You can buy a PC and build a PC. You can join your community and create your community. You can buy from a business and start your own business. With Windows 11, we have a renewed sense of Windows’ role in the world. As I look ahead, I see three clear opportunities.
First, Windows recognizes that there is no personal computing without personal agency. Personal computing requires choice, and we need to nurture and grow our own agency over computing itself. We want to remove the barriers that too often exist today and provide real choice and connection.
We need to be empowered to choose the applications we run, the content we consume, the people we connect to, and even how we allocate our own attention. Operating systems and devices should mold to our needs, not the other way around. That’s why we are making it easier for you to connect with the people you want, the content you want, the apps you want across all devices you want.
Second, Windows is the stage for the world’s creation. As a creator, every time you pick up a Windows device, it becomes a stage for your inspiration, so you can dream big and create something profound and lasting. Creation is going through a sea change as the balance between consumption and creation changes.
With this new generation of Windows, we are unleashing the innovation and ingenuity inherent in each of us. We want to foster these virtuous loops between content, consumption, and commerce — driven by communities for everyone. These cycles should flow freely, giving people frictionless access to apps, files, games, movies, shows, content, and communities that matter to them. We want to empower you to produce and inspire you to create. It’s why we’re introducing a complete new user experience in helping you be more productive.
And finally, Windows isn’t just an operating system; it’s a platform for platform creators. It allows for the broadest of design spaces, enabling people to build their own businesses and communities.
Today, the world needs a more open platform, one that allows apps to become platforms in their own right. Windows is a platform where things that are bigger than Windows can be born, like the web. That’s our aspiration with Windows 11, to be the platform for the next web, the next transformational software category, the next personalized content business.
A platform can only serve society if its rules allow for this foundational innovation and category creation. It’s why we’re introducing new store commerce models and policies, and creating new opportunities for local publishers, and supporting even more apps with Android apps on Windows.
This is the first version of a new era of Windows. We’re building for the next decade and beyond. And when I reflect on those chapters to come, I’m reminded of an analogy from a 19th century philosopher who compared creators to objects in our Solar System. He wrote about meteors that flash but fade away. Planets that burned longer, but whose energy is confined to their own orbit — and compared them to stars that are constant and light the path of their own.
That’s our ambition with Windows: to help other stars and entire constellations to be born and thrive. I am incredibly proud of what Windows has achieved and how it is fostered lasting opportunity for others. And I look forward to seeing what you achieve with Windows 11 and how it’ll unlock enduring opportunity for people in the world.
Thank you all very, very much.