Just this week, I was examining the headlines over at an aggregator of tech news. Normally it’s filled with articles with Apple in the title, but not necessarily this week. You see Windows 10 is coming. Well, not today or tomorrow, more like July 29, so get your PCs ready, or your copies of Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion if you run Windows in a virtual machine on your Mac.
Why is that so special? Well, because the last version of Windows was a humongous failure. Windows 8, and its successor, 8.1, represented bad ideas gone worse. Microsoft tried to embrace our mobile future, and imagined that live tiles were good, and the venerable Windows Start menu was bad. Windows users had to give up what they were doing, and adopt new techniques of getting things done. Pointing and clicking were bad, and tapping and swiping were good. Even setting preferences for your PC was hit or miss if you didn’t have a touch-based PC.
Charms? Who came up with that dumb moniker for setting preferences? What’s wrong with control panels anyway? Why fix something that is just not broken?
Now it’s not as if Windows users weren’t given the usual previews of the new OS. They came out months before the 2012 release of Windows 8, so it’s not that the public didn’t know a train wreck was coming. From the very first preview, it was clear as day that Microsoft had made a wrongheaded decision. The public, and reviewers — even those who adored Windows — by and large told them that, but they were tone deaf.
With Windows 8.1 the following year, Microsoft made a half-hearted attempt to restore elements of the Start menu, but that could already be done in far better form with third-party alternatives. It was also easier to boot into the desktop layer, a modernized interface that was closer to Windows 7.
After all, there wasn’t really anything wrong with Windows 7. Coming after the Windows Vista failure, it was probably the most reliable, dependable version of Windows yet. It didn’t turn people off to any degree, and apps used in the enterprise ran perfectly fine. A Windows 8 that merely improved upon a solid base would probably have done fairly well in the marketplace, or as well as PCs can do nowadays.
But rather then using the Windows 9 name as the successor, Microsoft wants you to know that, first and foremost, they had something altogether new, which is Windows 10. It’s been in public preview since last year, so anyone who cares has a pretty good handle on what’s to come.
Having run those betas, referred to as a Technical Preview, for months, I can say that it’s far closer to the Windows people know and love, or at least tolerate. There is a real Start menu, and while live tiles aren’t vanquished, they are nowhere near as offensive. The Settings screens don’t require the proper salute on a traditional PC, and nothing really stands out as being necessarily bad. There’s even a new browser, dubbed Edge. Why Edge? Well, I suppose they can keep a modified version of the “e” icon that graced Internet Explorer.
As browsers go, it’s all right, though the preview versions aren’t revealing any serious performance improvements compared to its predecessor. Forgetting the new features, maybe it’s part of the usual Microsoft approach to replacing unsuccessful products, which is to give them a shave and haircut, and change the name.
Going to Windows 10 appears to mean that Microsoft’s copying machines were closely watching OS X. There are multiple desktops, for example, shades of Apple’s Spaces. The Cortana virtual assistant is meant to be a better alternative to Siri, but its value on a desktop computer is questionable. Microsoft’s largest audience, business users, would hardly want to shout out their commands in an office environment.
Following yet another Apple strategy, and hoping to move as many Windows users as possible to Windows 10, the upgrade is free for those using Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, at least for the first year. But enterprise customers will still pay their annual subscription fees, and OEMs outfitting normal-sized PCs will pay the usual price for user a license. If you want to buy Windows 10 from scratch, the will range from $119 for the Home version and $199 for the Professional version. To go from Home to Professional costs $99 for the Pro Pack.
So you better not forget to get that free upgrade before it’s too late. Or maybe Microsoft will realize next year that sales will stop dead in their tracks if those upgrades don’t remain free.
As with previous versions of Windows, there are other versions that cater to different customers, but I won’t bother to explain them. It’s just another source of confusion, and it’s clear Microsoft hasn’t learned the joys of simplicity.
Now the cynical among you might consider Windows 10 to be nothing more than Windows 7 with that telltale thin lettering and dark colors, plus a few needed feature enhancements. Microsoft also claims that there will no longer be version upgrades every three years or so. Instead, they will be rolled out to customers every so often as new features and bug fixes are available. On the surface, it’s a promising approach, but companies who normally to test new releases before deploying them will only have more work to do.
I don’t want to be a downer about the possibilities of Windows 10. The technical preview versions work pretty well except for the usual beta bugs. Unfortunately not all advertised features will be available on the day of release, though Microsoft promises that they’ll be added in the months ahead. So the Edge browser, for example, may not be feature complete, or may be omitted, although beta versions still have it. Unfortunately, we’ve heard that tired refrain from Microsoft before.