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Microsoft’s Windows 10 — better late than never?

October 2, 2014
wind-10-download

Downloading the 3 GB disk image of the Windows 10 Technical Preview.

An early sneak peek at the next generation of the Windows operating system — dubbed Windows 10 — proves that Microsoft has learned its lesson that the more operating systems change the more they should at least look the same.

Microsoft began giving media previews in the days ahead of releasing an early build on the Internet Wednesday (September 1).

Anyone really curious can now download the Windows 10 Technical Preview for Enterprise — suitable for running in virtualization.

Half old style but all new attitude

win-10-start-button

Windows 10: the Start screen as a Start button. Was that really so hard?

Windows 10 appears to pleasingly and intelligently blend the new of Windows 8 with good old Windows 7.

The Start Screen of Windows 8 has been reimagined into a popup invoked by a familiar Start button on the desktop. Windows 8’s “Modern” interface apps open in realizable, overlappable windows, just like other Windows applications. And the operating system controls can be switched between keyboard-and-mouse mode and tablet mode.

And the Charms menu is gone, Huzzah!

These superficial tweaks, among others, are earning great praise from pundits. Imagine if Microsoft had seen its way to release Windows 8 this way in the first place.

The phoenix phenomenon

Superficially Windows 10 appears to continue a long-running pattern, going back at least as far as the year 2000, where Microsoft has needed two tries to get it right — what I call Microsoft’s seven year itch: the miserable Windows ME led to the awesome XP; the very flawed Vista to the wonderful Windows 7 and now it looks as though Windows 10 might successfully rise out of the ashes of the failure that has been Windows 8.

In other ways, Windows 10 suggests that Microsoft may be trying to break out of the abusive cycle of major version releases once and for all.

Eight plus seven equals ten?

According to ZDNet’s Microsoft chose “Windows 10” to signal that this will be the last “major” version release of the Windows operating system. Henceforth, Microsoft is, according to Foley, planning to make regular, smaller updates to the Windows 10 codebase,

This sounds like Microsoft wants to move Windows to a continual rolling release, something common in the world of free open source software (FOSS).

Several distributions of the Linux operating system follow a rolling release, from the experts-only Arch Linux,  through the  more forgiving Gentoo Linux-based Sabayon. and down to the Linux Mint Debian Edition, suitable for aspiring propeller heads.

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a commercial rolling release operating system that consumers pay for. The two dominant commercial mobile operating systems, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, are rolling releases but they’re both free to the user.

Major version releases allow an operating system to be packaged and sold like a “new and improved” box of soap. Making money with a rolling release requires a re-imagination — seeing the operating system as a service, like light and power and charging a monthly or annual subscription fee.

Such a switch to seeing its products as services is just what one of Microsoft’s most vocal shareholders, ValueAct Capital Management, has been calling for. In September 2013 ValueAct gained a seat on Microsof’s board.

Why didn’t Microsoft call their new OS X?

Foley’s rationale for the “10” designation is not the only one out there. Many have knowingly pointed to the possibility that Microsoft may be avoiding legacy conflicts with ancient Windows 95 and 98-era applications that are coded to “think” they’re compatible with any Windows version beginning with the number nine.

“X” is a cool way to say “10” but, um, if Microsoft named the new OS version “Windows X” wouldn’t most people confused it with Linux’s “X Windows”?

One code to bind them all

Windows 10 is planned to be one continually self-updating codebase used across all platforms: desktops, tablets, phones, gaming consoles, servers, wristwatches or whatever.

At the same time Microsoft appears to be saying that if the code base is always the same the user interface no longer needs to be.

This seems to me to be another important change in Microsoft’s vision for Windows.

The user interface of Windows has long been seen as one of its strongest branding elements — the interface is what customers see, not the code. That could be whatever it needs to be but the trademark look-and-feel of Windows is what people are paying for.

The kind of thinking that killed the Courier

courier-tablet-497

That kind of thinking seems to have played a part in killing Microsoft’s innovative Courier tablet project back in 2010.

Originally the cancellation of the much-anticipated dual-screen Courier tablet was blamed on the release by Apple of the supposedly superior iPad.

The story that emerged nearly two years later was that the Courier tablet was actually killed because it was too unlike Windows for Bill Gates.

The Courier ran pure Windows code at its core. But because the user interface didn’t look like desktop Windows or run Outlook Express, as far as Bill Gates was concerned, it simply wasn’t a Windows machine — Windows had to look like Windows.

This was 2010. For three years Apple had been racking up huge sales of the iPhone which ran the iOS, essentially MacOS X but with a pure touchscreen interface.

Microsoft is now saying it’s willing to accept the superficial tweak of different user interfaces for its operating system on different devices — desktop interface on desktops, tablet interfaces on tablets. Who knows what might have happened had Microsoft accepted them four years ago and seen fit to release the Courier tablet.

Over the past 14 years Microsoft has made enough major mistakes to put several smaller companies out of business. But Microsoft appears to learn its lessons the hard way and Windows 10 appears be one of the ways the company is putting some of those lessons into practice.

Windows 10 is planned for a spring 2015 release. I would expect it to coincide with the hoopla surrounding Microsoft’s 40th anniversary as a company on April 4, 2015, just six months away.

From → Gnu Linux, Windows

One Comment
  1. +1, very apropos analogies and cogent analyses. me like good. 🙂

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