It’s become an industry joke that successive versions of Windows are alternately beloved and despised. Good one, bad one; good one, bad one. Windows 98, Windows Me. Windows XP, Windows Vista. Windows 7, Windows 8. But Windows 8 wasn’t a flop because of some metaphysical binary karma. It was a flop because Microsoft made a terrible losing bet: that the world was about to move to touchscreen laptops and desktop PCs.
To anticipate that revolution, Microsoft came up with a whole new interface— a touchscreen-oriented overlay for the traditional Windows desktop —that was first called Metro, then Modern, and now has no official name at all. I call it TileWorld, because it’s made of bright, colorful tiles that represent your apps and programs.
Trouble is, the Windows 8 desktop and TileWorld are two separate environments, clumsily stapled together. Each has its own Help system, Web browser, email program, control panel, conventions, and gestures. And each runs its own kind of programs.
Windows 8 went too far, too fast; it was a user experience disaster. As users bemoaned Windows 8’s confusing interface, experts labeled it a “cognitive burden.” Funny videos of people unable to use the OS surfaced. Others complained they didn’t know where the Start menu had gone.
But, while Microsoft was out preaching the good word to developers and trying to win them over to its new “modern” interface, the company failed to deliver any meaningful apps that showcased the platform’s potential.
Microsoft stuck to its guns that Windows 8 was a legitimate improvement over previous generations for more than a year, before finally admitting that it had maybe gone too far. It eventually relented with a compromise: the return of the Start button.Windows 8.1 was the beginning of Microsoft’s slow undoing of all the extraneous features it had implemented in Windows 8 and the company attempting to win consumers back. It started listening again.
Yesterday, Microsoft’s Terry Myerson pitched Windows 10 as a service, instead of simply an operating system that a user installs. Or, put more simply, the company views the next version of Windows as the hub of its various services.
The first thing Microsoft did with Windows 10 is put the start menu right back in. After being absent for three years, it’s finally home and it’s long overdue – transparency has made a welcomed return to Windows, too. The new Start menu is better than ever, combining the best of the modern interface with the old-school Start menu experience, which should help consumers acclimatize to the new interface while still feeling comfortable.
That full screen experience from Windows 8 is still around, but now it’s smarter than ever. For example, if you’re on a device that can be used as a tablet or laptop, your computer will detect which way you’re using it and adjust the interface.
Microsoft has also started realizing that some baggage can’t be shed. A new internet browser included in Windows 10 — dubbed “Spartan” for now — is an attempt to make a sort of Chrome competitor. It’s got a new look, a special intelligent reading mode and integrates Microsoft’s Google New competitor Cortana.
We have no way of knowing how much of Microsoft’s demo today was canned. But what we saw made it look like Cortana is the new standard of voice-activated sophistication, power, friendliness, and usefulness. It’s Windows 10’s masterstroke.
Microsoft also unveiled a number of new flagship features to get people excited;the Xbox One will stream games directly to your PC, mobile apps work the same on the desktop and mobile, there’s a unified notification center and more.
But it didn’t end there: Windows 10 will be free for all users running Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, provided they upgrade their OS within a year of release. This move is an incredible one, reaching further back than any other release.
Microsoft thinks it can win people over with Windows 10, so getting these people upgraded in the first year will be a huge feat. The company promises that people who upgrade will get updates to the latest version of Windows for free, for the lifetime of the device.
The biggest thing we don’t know is if Windows 10 will be a subscription service or not. At the event, it was touted that “Windows is now a service” which implies you might pay a yearly fee, but Microsoft said during the Q&A that its business model isn’t changing at this point.
With yesterday’s announcement, Microsoft has even solved its developer problem.
Now, developers can write one app that’ll work on every Windows tablet, phone and desktop. Those apps will be in front of users in a familiar way, thanks to the new start menu, and will be far less confusing than previously.
Microsoft is an innovative company again; its vision for computing on desktop and mobile finally makes sense. Its bought all of its major products together again in one move.It feels like the company is finally home.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said at the end of his presentation today that “we want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows.” It feels like the company might actually be able to pull that off now..