Microsoft definitely could use some good news. Their most recent financials weren’t so impressive, particularly the need to take a $7.6 billion dollar writedown because of the foolish decision to buy Nokia’s handset division. By foolish, I mean the fact that the division wasn’t doing so well before the acquisition. So by what leap of logic did Microsoft believe that it would make any sense to take it over, except to save some money?
Certainly, the thousands of former Nokia employees who are finding themselves without jobs must be wondering whether it was all worth it. Had things been left alone, maybe they’d still have jobs, or perhaps most of them would.
But the real attention Microsoft is getting these days is focused on the forthcoming Windows 10. Already some early reviews are coming out, and certainly the details are not secret. Anyone who becomes part of the beta program, dubbed Windows Insider, already has a copy, and the latest build is said to be the one declared “release to manufacturing,” Microsoft’s equivalent of the “gold master.” In other words, the final release. Or at least the final release until the first update is available.
As to the excitement, I wonder. I saw one article at a major tech site demonstrating how you could make Windows 10 “feel” like Windows 7. If that’s what people want, why not stick with Windows 7? I’ll be gracious and not name the site in question. But that seems to have been a key goal of Microsoft’s newest OS, which is to deliver an experience that, for regular users of portable and desktop PCs, more closely sticks with tradition.
That starts with the Start menu. I’ve long had concerns about a feature that’s also used to restart or shut down a PC, but that’s just me. It’s mostly a convenient place to start things, but Microsoft, in its infinite lack of wisdom, chose to essentially throw it out for Windows 8. Hit with a torrent of negative feedback that almost anyone familiar with Windows should have anticipated, Microsoft partly walked it back for Windows 8.1, but I wonder why they didn’t go all the way. After all, there were third party utilities that did just that, and I suppose Microsoft could have acquired one and let it do its thing.
Regardless, Microsoft is making a huge deal of offering an old fashioned Windows user experience, and the few major changes in Windows 10 seem to be designed to enhance that experience. But just as Apple is accused of “borrowing” features from other platforms, and the Split View feature of OS X El Capitan is a key example, Microsoft took some hints from Apple. There’s window management reminiscent of OS X’s Mission Control, and a virtual desktop feature that smacks of OS X’s Spaces, and similar features found in Linux.
A key new feature is controversial, and that’s Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant and the direct competitor to Apple’s Siri. But Apple has opted not to put Siri on Macs, partly because it makes less sense. Imagine users in an office environment announcing commands to their computers out loud, and Microsoft earns a hefty share of Windows income from the enterprise. So if system admins opt to upgrade to Windows 10 — and that’s not at all certain — no doubt Cortana will be kept off, or it will be banned in an office memo.
Another tentpole feature is Edge, the slimmer, sleeker replacement for Internet Explorer. It’s built on a fork of the same Trident engine, and it appears to be a credible upgrade, although it’s not been demonstrated yet that it’s actually that much better. But Internet Explorer hasn’t received the love over the years, and Microsoft is known to take something that isn’t doing well, give it a shave and haircut, and a new name. The Bing search engine comes to mind.
All well and good. A recent published report of a late Windows 10 beta indicated performance mostly in tune with Windows 8. With all the complaints about Windows 8, performance did not appear to be an issue.
Now another significant feature, according to Microsoft, is Continuum, the ability to adapt to a touch-oriented interface if you use a tablet, or a convertible PC. That would, on the surface, seem to be a sensible move, but it could also be the source of confusion. So customers who are used to one way of doing things, and Windows 10 attempts to restore the familiarity of the OS, would suddenly find things working differently. That could be the root of all sorts of technical support complications.
The other potential cause of trouble is the promise of ongoing updates. This will be the last version of Windows, or at least the last for the time being. Feature enhancements and bug fixes will happen on an ongoing basis, and I can see that causing potential havoc for IT people. Not only will they have to test service packs, but updates that contain feature changes or improvements too.
For now, however, businesses will no doubt take a wait and see attitude. My personal experience with the supposed release version has been reasonably pleasant. There do not seem to be any notable show stoppers. If you’re a Windows user, you should be pretty comfortable there. It’s not exciting, but it’s a good way to feel after the Windows 8/8.1 disaster.