Windows 10 is a well-meaning effort by Microsoft to mollify Windows 8 haters and coax Windows 7 loyalists to upgrade — all while stubbornly sticking to its goal of a single OS for every possible platform. And by framing the problem that way, Microsoft has given itself a nearly impossible task.
To the company’s credit, each new build lurches closer to being usable, although with new bugs every time, it is difficult to evaluate how smooth the final release version will be. Best case: It may earn the grudging acceptance of Windows 7 users who refuse to move to Windows 8. And part of that acceptance will come not from sudden enthusiasm for a new way of interacting with the desktop, but from a desire to take advantage of the clear core benefits Windows 10 provides in performance, security, administration, and memory usage over Windows 7 and even Windows 8.
So why is it so hard to convince users to move to a brand-new, free, feature-packed, more efficient OS? Apple does it all the time. Simply put, because Microsoft didn’t build Windows 8 or Windows 10 for Windows users. It built them to further its own business strategy of using the power of the once-ubiquitous Windows platform to extend its dominance into the rapidly growing mobile space. The result is an OS whose features are now flipping and flopping with each new build — as Microsoft tries to fix problems of its own creation.
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Imagine how good a desktop OS Windows 10 could have been
What if instead, after realizing what a terrible mistake Windows 8 was, Microsoft had made the truly brave decision to come clean and change its strategy? If Windows 10 had been designed from the beginning to be the best possible desktop OS, and the thousands of developer years spent trying to make it everything to everyone were instead spent providing services and applications for the mobile OS platforms people actually want? If in tandem Microsoft was willing to let go of its sub-3% market share in mobile, it could also have spent the cash it used to buy Nokia to build out its cross-platform services offerings instead. We could have had a really excellent desktop OS — worth paying for — and great integration with the leading mobile platforms.
Certainly Microsoft has woken up to providing competitive versions of its applications on Android and iOS. But imagine how much further along it would have been if it had put real work into the effort starting years ago. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to use third-party utilities to sync our information between Google and Outlook, for example. Or OneNote might have supported syncing on Android during the first several years it was available, instead of only recently. Pick any Microsoft desktop technology you access from your iOS or Android device and you can come up with a list of features that would make it much more useful.
It’s not like there isn’t anything to fix in Windows 10 news
Anyone who thinks Microsoft didn’t focus on desktop users as it evolved Windows 8 and 10 because its desktop OS has “no need for improvement” hasn’t spent enough time wrestling with the inscrutable hex error codes from Windows Update, or debugging driver version mismatches, or finding information they’re sure is somewhere on their disk. While Windows 10 isn’t final, judging by the builds so far, all of those problems are still there. Even support for high-resolution displays is still spotty. Windows 10 adds some new Zoom options, but there is still no serious scalable-font solution that works across the full range of possible displays.
As a good example of how this alternate direction would have worked, let’s look at the Control Panel. No one doubts that it is an old, crufty system for managing a computer. A desktop-focused OS project would have overhauled it completely while preserving its functionality. Instead, Microsoft seems determined to replace it in bits and pieces with new “touch-friendly” settings that aren’t much more intuitive, and that become even more frustrating when you need to go back to the old system for pieces that are still missing. Windows 10 is supposed to address this problem, but we’re less than two months from shipment and Settings are still far from being either intuitive or finished.
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