Windows 10: Microsoft’s Apology for Windows 8?

January 23rd, 2015

I’ve got good news for anyone who dumped money on Windows 8, or is still using Windows 7. If you upgrade to Windows 10 the first year of its release, it’s going to be free. Yes, free. No subscriptions, no limited features. Free. You might assume Microsoft’s copying machines went after Apple’s playbook with OS X.

But one year? Yes, that means, I suppose, that after the year has expired, you’ll be forced to pay something to upgrade, although it doesn’t appear as if the prices have been released. But Microsoft is going to be in a curious position to charge for something that tens of millions of Windows users will regard as free.

There are other questions too, which is whether a Windows user will just be able to run an installer and upgrade to Windows 10, or whether they will have to engage in the usual legerdemain to upgrade from one OS to another. And what about all those people using Windows XP? Microsoft has been begging them to upgrade, so why should they be excluded, or will the upgrade process present too many hassles?

Regardless, Windows 10 does seem to be a fairly decent advance from the Windows 8.0/8.1 debacle. There will be a proper Start menu, although it’ll use the interface formerly known as Metro. Instead of the dumb — and difficult to reach — Charms menu you have PC Settings. At least someone at Microsoft had a modicum of sense to address some of the stupid decisions that infused Windows 8.

But that doesn’t mean all the decisions made sense. So there will be a single code base that evidently applies to both the desktop and mobile versions. I suppose simplicity makes sense, but I wonder about the apps that are developed. Will they still be dedicated to one platform? Will they be fat apps, meaning they will have extra megabytes of code that do nothing but clutter up a Lumia smartphone? What worries me just as much is why all the journalists fawning over Microsoft’s new OS strategy aren’t asking these questions.

There will also be a single app store, but again I wouldn’t presume to believe one app will serve both, and maybe that’ll be a simpler approach to those who continue to believe in the failed Windows everywhere strategy. But, if the app store’s lineup gets very large, wouldn’t that just create clutter? Or will Microsoft simply have a separate division for desktop and mobile platforms? But if they do that, wouldn’t it still be easier to just have separate stores?

A lot of questions will, of course, be answered as Windows 10 develops. A new public preview is due in days, and you can bet I’ll be installing it to see how things have changed. All the features won’t be there at the start, however. They will be rolled out gradually according to Microsoft. But that raises the specter of Windows Vista, where key features were promised but never appeared. With Microsoft’s claim that some features may not appear till summer, before Windows 10 is released to manufacturing — the equivalent of posting a Gold Master on OS X — there may not be enough time for proper testing. Releasing tentpole features shortly before an OS is done is bad form, but you wonder if this is just another example of Microsoft vaporware.

I also wonder about the economic model of offering a free OS. With Apple, you pay for the hardware, so it’s not a serious issue. That’s why OS X became free since it didn’t produce a substantial income for the company. But Microsoft is, despite having a mobile phone division, tablets and gaming consoles, largely a software and services company. If the key income-generator is free, where’s the revenue?

Well, clearly Windows 10 won’t be free to OEMs who bundle the OS with their new PCs. Well, except for those with small screens and cheap prices. So one expects Microsoft will still derive a decent income from Windows 10 even if end users don’t have to pay for it when upgrading existing PCs.

As to those features, present or promised, few stand out. Action Center, for example, is just Microsoft’s answer to Notification Center. The Cortana virtual assistant, Microsoft’s alternative to Siri, might seem appropriate for a smartphone or tablet, but I hardly think PC users in an office are going to be tolerated barking commands into their computers. I gather you’ll be able to turn it off, and just type commands into a search field similar to Apple’s Spotlight. All right, that’s better.

The one promised app that seems interesting is a universal messaging app. Now Apple’s Messages does support both SMS and iMessage services, along with AIM, Google, Face-book and so on. But even though the app and the interface are the same, the sessions are separate. Microsoft is promising you’ll be able to hold a single conversation across multiple services, such as SMS and Skype. That remains to be seen.

In any case, Microsoft is to be commended for attempting new things. If it succeeds, more power to them. Apple deserves worthy competitors and it would inspire both companies to try harder to build the perfect OS. If Windows 10 fulfills its promise, and performs in a fast and stable fashion, things can only get better for PC users.

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