Windows 10 Review

Microsoft confirms that we’re getting a new version of Windows in 2015 and it’s called, er, Windows 10.

ncreasingly, if you’re going to pick up a copy of Windows, it’s been best to go with every other release. Windows 98 was fine, while Windows Millennium Edition best forgotten about (there are some PCs still frozen on a Windows Me desktop screen somewhere). Windows XP, however, straightened things out, then Windows Vista bloated it back up.

In more recent times, Microsoft has continued its trait of learning from such mistakes with the release of the slimmer, far more popular Windows 7. But then it took a mighty gamble with Windows 8 and found itself stuck again. It’s the great irony: people urged Microsoft to throw caution to the wind a little, it did, and it landed if not flat on its face, then certainly uncomfortably.

However, keen not to repeat the mistakes of Windows Vista, where it was left selling a product not that many people were keen on buying for more years than the firm would like, Microsoft made sure we wouldn’t be kept waiting for Windows 8’s successor. And following a solid improvement with Windows 8.1 (which sort of re-introduced the Start button, a focal point for criticism), we now know the identity of the next generation of Windows.

And we also know that someone at Microsoft has an aversion to the number ‘9’.

Windows 10

At a special launch event held in San Francisco on 30th September, Microsoft finally took the wraps off its new Windows. In time honoured fashioned, much of it had leaked in advance. That said, there were still one or two things that the firm kept up it sleeve.

The name for one. Not illogically, many were expecting the new Windows to be called Windows 9. Microsoft thought that was a bad idea. Terry Myerson, head of operating systems at Microsoft, argued in his presentation that it “wouldn’t be right to call it Windows 9.” Instead, he acknowledged that Windows One was one of his preferred names for the latest iteration of the OS, but, er, there’d been a Windows One before. So for reasons not too many people understood, Windows 10 won out.

But Windows 10 is just the name. What’s interesting is that Microsoft has tried to establish a tightrope between the new ideas and thinking it integrated into Windows 8 (arguably its riskiest operating system of all time), while wooing back the desktop audience that was far more enamoured with Windows 7.

In doing so, the firm has been swiftly criticised for making Windows 10 an apparently unadventurous release (although that surely is far too early to call). But also, Microsoft didn’t have too many options here. The boldness of Windows 8 may have won the firm some friends in the mobile market, but on the desktop where Windows has always been strongest Windows 8 has been met with more resistance than anything else. Subsequently, sales figures have been disappointing. More to the point, Microsoft is risking people becoming entrenched with Windows 7 in the same way that many millions still remain loyal to Windows XP, over a decade since it was first released.

Surprisingly nobody, Microsoft has kicked off Windows 10 by bringing the Start button back from day one
Starting Over

Surprisingly nobody, then, Microsoft has kicked off Windows 10 by bringing the Start button back from day one. Not the updated, contextual, will appear some of the time version of the Start button we saw in Windows 8.1. Instead, in its biggest concession to its core desktop audience, the Start button will be back in its usual place on the Windows taskbar.

For if the firm had any doubt as to how many people were attached to it in the first place, then surely it would know by now. The feedback came back loudly when the Start button was gone in Windows 8: people wanted it back. They got it.

But the formal return of the Start button also gives a glimpse into the thinking behind Windows 10. For it’s not just a case of bringing it back. Instead, Microsoft has attached a raft of ideas and innovations to it. Promising ones too.

On a desktop PC, when you click the Start button, you’ll get the traditional mix of programs on the left, but then a matrix of apps on the right. The apps approach that Microsoft introduced with Windows 8 remains, then, but it’s a version now that’s far more suited to a desktop environment at first glance. Microsoft promises that you can personalise the Start Menu easily enough too, and if you’ve been a fan of Live Tiles in Windows 8, they’re being carried across to Windows 10 as well.

But here’s where the thinking diversifies further. Just because Windows 10 will work one way on a desktop PC or laptop, that doesn’t mean that it follows the same approach on more mobile platforms.

Once again, Microsoft is looking to scale a Windows operating system across multiple devices, but it’s more accepting of the differences of them this time around. So if Windows 10 detects it’s being run on a tablet, for instance, it’ll adopt a touch-screen interface. If it notices you have a keyboard and mouse, it’ll instantly give you the option of defaulting to that instead. You can basically pick the way of interacting with Windows that you’re happiest with.

Furthermore, the standard desktop screen will vary depending on what kind of device you’re working on. Thus, while the feel of Windows will be consistent across differing devices and that’s one of the big points Microsoft was keen to get across you’ll get a more appropriate working screen on a small phone than you would on a 27” monitor.

The Start menu is back at last
Single Store

Going back to apps, then. Microsoft is keen still to push the Windows Store, and it’s
working on the philosophy that everything downloaded from said store can be used on any device running Windows 10 (potentially even an Xbox). Furthermore, you’ll now be able to pin an app to your Start menu. If you run an app on a desktop PC (is it just us who’s old enough to remember when we used to call these things ‘applications’ and ‘programs’), then they’ll run within a window that you can scale. It sounds a decent halfway house: the uneasy line between what’s an app and what’s a
desktop program was something that Windows 8 never convincingly juggled.

Furthermore, Microsoft is also introducing an instant task view button. The idea there is that you can get an at-a-glace look at what’s running on your device at any time, in theory making it easier to shuffle between files.

You’ll be able to switch easily between desktops as well, given that Microsoft is taking a firm leaf out of Linux’s book and backing multiple desktops in a big way this time around (which sees it catching up with Mac OS as well). So, you can have your work and play desktop on the same machine, have different files and programs open in both, yet switch between them with ease. That sounds like a good step in the right direction to us, even if it’s Microsoft lagging several years behind
some of its competitors there.

The list of main improvements, though, at least obvious ones, seems quite small at first glance. There’s another, in the form of snap enhancements. Microsoft argues that this will make working in multiple apps at once a lot easier, with a new quadrant layout allowing four apps to be snapped to the same screen. If there’s spare screen space, meanwhile, Windows 10 will happily suggest useful open apps to fill up the real estate. But when it comes to writing the copy for the back of the Windows 10 box (not that Microsoft will really be selling it that way), there’s not actually too much to play with.

Microsoft is taking a firmleaf out of Linux’s book and backing multiple desktops in a big way this time around
Further Advantages

Inevitably, then, the number of headline things you can do to improve an operating system that make people sit up and take notice is limited. Certainly by the time you get to the tenth edition of an OS (accepting again that it’s, er, not the tenth edition in this case), there’s not too much you can do to the base product that arguably you shouldn’t have already done. Furthermore, Microsoft will be wary of overreaching, keen to keep that core desktop audience intact.

However, Microsoft may well be barking up the right proverbial tree in making the Windows OS seamless across devices. Accepting that Microsoft’s share of the phone market is limited, even since its snapping up of Nokia’s range of handsets, there’s some sense in unifying its approach and tying things together. In doing so not at the expense of any other part of its customer base, Microsoft may finally have stumbled on the right approach.

Where Microsoft is likely to see particular dividends is in finding a way to make the Windows 8 feature base more accessible to the traditional Windows users. Looking past the specific example of the Start button, Windows 8 was a sizeable jump for people not necessarily looking to make one, but it did have plenty of good ideas bundled in. There’s a conscious effort here to make sure that Windows 10 appeals to those who warmed to both Windows 7 and Windows 8, albeit with the inevitable risk of satiating both but pleasing neither .

The Business Market

Still, the toned-down look and interface is clearly a play to get businesses back interested in buying Windows upgrades. Two years after the release of Windows 8, and it still accounts for less than 15% of the market, some way behind both Windows XP and Windows 7. There’s little confidence that it’ll punch much higher than it currently does, and the speedy announcement of Windows 10 is as close
an indication that Microsoft is papering over Windows 8 as quickly as it can.

That’s part and parcel of that name. Microsoft is showing little signs of positioning Windows 10 as a logical next step upgrade, rather that it’s a product that people will actually want to get onto their devices. Furthermore, if it can give the impression of a slightly more serious, less fad-driven Windows, it stands its best chance of winning over the business community. Understandably, with this in mind, that 30th September presentation had a very business-centric focus to it.

Furthermore, digging a little deeper, there are features that are clearly of more use in a work environment. Shared virtual workspaces, for instance, should aid collaboration, while a notifications centre will bring together the numerous alerts and messages that Windows likes to present you with. That includes the likes of Skype messages too and is in line with the idea of making the working layout of Windows more logical.

Where Are You, Cortana?

There are some features of Windows 10 that remain in the dark,although the Technical Preview that’s being released should clear a few of them up. Where, for instance, is Cortana, the Microsoft equivalent of Apple’s Siri? Currently resident on Windows Phone, Cortana may yet be taking a sojourn to your desktop...

The New Direction

The message that’s come through very loudly from Microsoft thus far on Windows 10 is that this is a significant turning point for the operating system. If you look back over the history of Windows, Windows 95 was arguably the most dramatic turning point to date, and it’d be remiss to say that Windows 10 will rival that. But the rhetoric from Microsoft is leaving few doubts.

“Windows 10 represents the first step of a whole new generation of Windows,” it wrote on its blog. “Windows 10 unlocks new experiences for customers to work, play and connect. Windows 10 embodies what our customers (both consumers and enterprises) demand and what we will deliver.”

Blurb, certainly, but it clarified its thinking, saying “we’re not taking about one UI to rule them all we’re talking about one product family, with a tailored experience for each device.” The days of different SKUs for different iterations of Windows sound like they’re being left behind. You buy one product, you shop through one online store, and you get access to whatever you need, whatever you happen to be running Windows on.

Where Next?

So far, so promising, then. Microsoft has shown an increased propensity to listen to its customers in recent years, although there’s little doubt it needs to. The operating system market is absolutely crucial to a business that currently brings in over $3bn in profit a quarter. But there’s been a very real sense in recent years that its hold on the operating system market is slipping. In truth, it isn’t really. As much as a threat Apple and Android are, Windows still dominates worldwide operating system usage, and on the desktop and in businesses in particular, it’s hard to see as things stand its dominance disappearing anytime soon.

But it need Windows 10 to work, and it also needs to change people’s thinking. Anchoring the operating system in desktop PCs and laptops is one thing, but making people instantly think of Windows when they buy a phone or a tablet computer is something that’s all but alien right now.

Microsoft wants the best of every world, and it’s willing to redefine the product that the foundations of its business stands on to get it. Yet, with relatively new anagement steering the proverbial ship at Microsoft now, there’s clearly a sense here that old fashioned values and the core audience for Microsoft are higher up the agenda than they have been in recent years. The firm has promised to keep people abreast of Windows 10 developments, but in particular, it wants to demonstrate to the business and enterprise markets that Windows is the top choice. If it makes the OS look slightly less interesting than the last version as a consequence of that, then
so be it.

The Next 12 Months

The current plan for Windows 10 is for Microsoft to release the operating system in the middle of 2015, possibly towards the end. There’s no fixed release date that’s in place at the moment. That said, it’s likely to change a fair amount between the version that’s available to try out now and the one that ultimately gets shipped out. While the early build of Windows 7, for instance, clearly was very similar to the final product, it turned out that Microsoft had been consistently working to improve the
operating system, taking into account the copious amounts of feedback it received.

You can expect a greater level of transparency from Microsoft then ever before too as it continues to refine the new Windows, and we’re promised further builds will be available for people to evaluate in advance.

On the surface (no pun intended), it looks so far as if Microsoft is playing a little closer to home with Windows 10. But it also knows that if it gets this one right, and if it shows its customer base that it’s heard and acted on the criticisms aimed at Windows 8, then it can cement its market position for at least a further decade.

If it fails? Then Windows 11 (or 12, if Microsoft continues jumping numbers) might just be the one that the company has to take an all-out gamble on.

Try It Yourself

As it did successfully with Windows 7, Microsoft is offering an early technical preview of Windows 10, which is freely available to download and put through its paces. You’ll find it via the Windows Insider Program.

Interestingly, said Insider Program is an ongoing thing too, and Microsoft will be making more beta builds available as the development of Windows 10 continues. Thus, while the Technical Preview build will be the starting point, it’ll inevitably be time limited but allow you to press ahead with further iterations of Windows 10.

It’d be remiss of us not to inject a word of warning here. If you’re thinking of giving the Windows 10 technical preview a whirl, then it’s best to do so on a spare PC or laptop. The first preview of Windows 7, after an extended warning period, eventually stopped working and left people needing to install a fresh operating system on their machines in most cases. It’s likely to be the same drill in operation here.
You can find the Windows Insider Program web page right here:

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