Let’s flash back to 2012. About three years ago, Windows 8, the last major release of Microsoft’s ubiquitous operating system, was released to manufacturers. This was to be Microsoft’s most ambitious release yet. Traditional PC sales were in decline, and more personal devices such as the iPad tablet were poised to end the dominant PC platform. Microsoft’s response to this was to change Windows more than in any previous release, in a bid to make it usable with the tablet form factor. Windows 8 launched in October 2012 to much fanfare.

Windows 8 Start Screen

There was much fanfare, but little in the way of sales. Yes, Microsoft did sell many copies of Windows 8, but it did not help the declining PC market rebound. Windows 8 came to be with a touch first interface, with a new Start Screen replacing the traditional Start Menu, and a new breed of Windows 8 apps, which run on the WinRT framework. These WinRT apps have been named many things over the past three years, starting with Metro apps. A trademark dispute ended that naming scheme though, and over time they have morphed from full screen apps to universal apps to Windows Store apps, and practically none of them were able to rival the older Win32 platform in popularity or productivity.

Windows 8 did bring some great features to Windows, but they were overshadowed by the major design shift which, while good as a touch based operating system, alienated many who still used Windows on a traditional desktop or notebook. The Start Screen was a big turn off to many people, and full screen apps were not very efficient on a large screen display. Even the multitasking in Windows 8 was less than ideal, with the initial release only allowing two Windows Store apps to be open at any one time, and the second was relegated to a small side bar.

Microsoft’s own faith in Windows 8 was clearly not strong. Only a couple of weeks after Windows 8 launched, they unceremoniously dumped the project head Steven Sinofsky from the company, and spent the next two years trying to make Windows 8 more usable on traditional mouse and keyboard type machines, which were the vast majority of Windows devices in the hands of users. Windows 8.1 arrived and fixed some of the key issues with Windows 8, and 8.1 Update launched with the ability to boot to the desktop, and avoid the touch interface almost completely if you wanted to.

Windows 10 Start Menu and Desktop view

When looking at Windows 10, I think it is pretty important to look back over the last three years, because none of this is ever built or designed in a vacuum. Microsoft has a huge number of devices running Windows, but a large majority of them are running Windows 7, which was an evolutionary desktop upgrade. Windows 8 struggled to ever take over any of that usage share. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s attempt to bridge the divide. Windows 7 is used by hundreds of millions of people, but its touch support is practically zero. Windows 8 works well in a touch scenario, but is not ideal for keyboard and mouse based devices. Windows 10 promises to be the version of Windows which bridges this gap.

Windows 10 brings about as much change as Windows 8 did, but in almost all cases it is going to be appreciated by users rather than avoided. It will run on a dizzying number of device types, including the traditional desktop, notebook, tablet, two-in-one, phone, IoT, Raspberry Pi, Hololens, Surface Hub, and even Xbox One. What it will bring to each of those device types is not the single interface that Windows 8 pushed on the desktop, but a unified app platform. Each device type will have its own interface, but the underlying app platform will allow developers to target a huge number of devices. And developer buy-in is the one thing Microsoft needs more than any other in order to make this vision succeed. For all of Windows 8’s quirks, it was really the lack of quality apps in the Windows Store which was the one hurdle Microsoft could not code around. Only time will tell whether or not the new model succeeds where the old one failed, but at the beginning of the life of Windows 10 we can go through all aspects of it and see what’s new, what’s changed, and how it fits in on today’s devices.

Return of the Desktop and Start Menu
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  • Brett Howse - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Page 4 on Continuum. Overall it's a slight step back on touch.
  • marvdmartian - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    [from the last page of the article] "But is this going to be the upgrade to move people off of Windows 7? In my opinion, yes it is."

    Perhaps in your world. Not so much, in mine. Nor, in many people I've talked to, who are equally unimpressed with this latest version of Windows.

    In fact, so far, what I've seen (though, I admit, not yet experienced) of W10, I'd label it more of a Windows 8.2.....maybe 8.25. Still blocky looking. Still looks like the icons were drawn by a 3rd grader (no offense to the average 8 year old). Still.....just plain UGLY.

    I understand the reasoning for the postage stamp sized blocks, as it makes touch interface much easier. But if they want TRUE switch-ability between touch interface and mouse/keyboard usage, they need to change the look of things, to go with the 2nd choice. Then there's also the return to the 90's screen resolution. Necessary for touch interface, perhaps. But when a person has spent hundreds of dollars on a high resolution monitor, then "upgrades" to Windows 10 (8.25?), they do NOT want to have to dial back their resolution to that which was supported first by what? Windows 98??

    And don't even get me started in on the privacy issues. Yes, some people might not have a problem with the information Microsoft is gathering. But I'm betting plenty more will, once they're made aware of it. And for MS to force you to opt OUT of information gathering, makes them somewhat "big brother"-ish, in my book.

    Sorry, Brett, but in my book, Microsoft is quickly striking out with this operating system. As far as their support of Windows 7, don't be surprised if they don't extend it, just as they did with Windows XP, if the majority of 7 users don't bother upgrading to 10.
  • chrome_slinky - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Unfortunately, for people who think, we must realize that the average user IS stupid, and FREE is making them weak in the knees.

    I will be on Windows 7 until 2020 at least, and carefully removed the "updates" which install more telemetry from my list of updates.

    BTW, you could always use the "illudium235 space modulator" to take care of things, couldn't you? <g>
  • uhuznaa - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    I'm sick of repeating this over and over but you really shouldn't confuse "is not interested in how computers work" with "stupid". I've seen people who are really bright in their fields totally struggling with their computers because they're just not interested in nor care for how these things work.

    It's like calling you "stupid" because you are not interested in knitting your own sweaters. I bet there are thousands of things you don't care for and are not interested in which others who are not necessarily smarter than you are really good in.

    On the other hand not understanding this may be reason enough to call you stupid.
  • Michael Bay - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    So, it`s you and your two and a half friends. Such tremendous loss for MS, certainly, somewhere in some basement Nadella is crying crocodile tears.
  • Da W - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    I moved from the FRENCH version of windows 7 to the FRENCH version of windows 8 to the FRENCH update of windows 8.1, somehow it installed the ENGLISH version of windows 10.
  • chrome_slinky - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Zut alors!
  • Billy_Boy - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    The most thorough, well thought out review of ANY product I have read in a long, long time.

  • milkod2001 - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    I gave it a try and got w10 installed on top of my w7. All took about 30 minutes. All applications/games are working which is great. But that got me thinking what is WINDOWS 10?

    It feels just like windows 7.1 upgrade. New graphic interface, better boot time and slightly faster copy of files. OK lets not forget dx12 and Cortana. It took MS 6 years since release of w7 to put together this massive update and call it w10. Now i get why MS gave it to us for FREE. It just could not dare to charge us for bunch of mediocre updates.

    Happy w10 user here :)

  • azazel1024 - Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - link

    Can I just say, if you are coming from Windows 7, Windows 10 is a fairly nice upgrade. If you are coming from Windows 8.1, especially if you have a touch interface, it is a serious reversion in almost every possible way. Most of the apps seems half finished at best. As eluded to in the story, the mail client is about 10 steps back from the one in 8.1. How basic is it to have the ability to change from conversation view? Photos app doesn't support the ability to view images by folder (which can be nice instead of seeing every single one of your pictures spread out by date). Edge can't download some file types, so you have to open them in IE11. If you want to change audio volume, there is no option to do that in the action center (plenty of room for a button for it). So for a tablet, you have to pull up the task bar to do it, which doesn't make sense. Want to change a wifi network? Oh, there is a button in the action center to do...oh, it only turns Wifi on and off...but, wait, there is an airplane mode button also in there to do that. Oh, you can long press on the wifi button, then go in to settings and then select a different wifi network. Want to change the brightness to anything other than 25/50/75/100%, long press again and go in to settings and then you can adjust it from 0-100% in 1% increments. But...why can't there at least be a 0% brightness on that short cut button? 25% is too bright in a dark room. WHY!

    Sooooooo much of Windows 10 from what I have seen is "why in the hell would you do it that way?" Sure, some stuff in 8.1 was non-intuitive and took awhile to get used to, but a lot of stuff was a quick gesture and done. Want to change the brightness or audio? Swipe in the charms bar, hit the button and adjust away. Now they are found in different places and one of them takes several extra actions to really be able to adjust where you want it. Many of the apps have lost functionality, even if they look a little nicer or have a few new and nice features. I love that Edge is faster, but it sucks for touch input now and a lot of features have been lost that were highly useful, even with keyboard and mouse input.

    Windows 10 at best feels half finished as an operating system. I don't mean "they'll innovate the 'OS as a Service that is Windows 10'". I mean, they needed to have spent at least a few more months baking this thing before sending it out the door and if a lot of this stuff isn't "changed" or give the user the ability to customize (why not add more options that you can add to the action center? What about allowing the user to ELIMINATE options in the action center too, I don't need half the crap that is in there as a short cut) then frankly Win 10 is a big step backward in a lot of ways.

    I am willing to give it a try for awhile, but I am itching every single day to reload Windows 8.1 on my Asus T100. I am certainly not going to load Windows 10 on any of my other machines for a very long time to come (either right before the 1 year upgrade period ends, or possibly never).

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