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 - Friday, August 28, 2015 - link

    If you are talking about Family Safety, it needs to explicitly be turned on, and it's been there since Vista. And, when you log in, there is a prompt every time letting you know the account is monitored with family safety. This is not new to Windows 10.
  • jameskatt - Friday, August 28, 2015 - link

    Privacy is a concern. After all, Microsoft IS STORING your data on its servers. And it can EXTRACT THAT DATA in order to send you reports about activities on your computers.

    So OBVIOUSLY, someone else can gain access to that data - for example the GOVERNMENT, THE NSA, THE FBI, THE POLICE, HACKERS, LAWYERS, etc. Anyone who wants data on you can obtain it straight from Microsoft. Microsoft has built the ultimate tracking system into Windows 10.
  • Notmyusualid - Friday, August 28, 2015 - link

    I completely agree.
  • name99 - Saturday, August 29, 2015 - link

    Shorter Brett (and a million other MS fans):
    "a thousand bugs, limitations, restrictions, and not yet implemented features that, on an Apple OS would be considered utterly unacceptable, are just fine in this context because it's MS'.

    I'm glad that MS has (finally) stepped up its game to some extent --- for example I hope the WiFi Sense stuff puts pressure on Apple to get its act together in this area --- but, come on, you know I am right about. Every damn page contains an apology for some problem or other with the OS. MS released this WAYYYY too soon; and unlike Apple they don't even have the excuse that "oh, we had to do it to hit our hardware dates" (an excuse that is wearing very thin with Apple, and if they can't release iOS 9 and OSX 10.11 essentially bug-free, I think it's time to decouple the OS releases from the new phone hardware, starting next year).
  • Vinchent - Saturday, August 29, 2015 - link

    I think that the key words for Windows 10 are redundancy and inconsistency. Ok, I've installed the new OS over W8 a couple of weeks ago, so it's a bit early to judge any OS whatsover but ""A good beginning makes a good ending".
    Dear Microsoft, we don't want apps. Do you get it? No apps on desktop machines. By now, 99% of desktop users use their PC only to work or play.
    We don't e won't use Cortana, we are faster by using mouse+keyboard.
    We will never open an app, we just use the browser for almost anything.
    We just use Edge to download Chrome (or whatever). Yeah it's good, but it's too late now.
    We are not happy with having 2 Control panels. 99% of the time, if we want to set things up, we will use the classic tools, which are way more powerful.
    My dream? When I install the new W10 I'd like to have just 2 options: Baby mode (with apps, cortana, edge) and classic mode (no apps, no redundancy, no garbage).
  • Ignatzz - Saturday, August 29, 2015 - link

    So how come everybody I know who's upgraded thinks Windows 10 stinks? As for me, it just won't upgrade - it fails every time.

    But there's also this:

    "Windows 7 is used by hundreds of millions of people, but its touch support is practically zero."

    Maybe that means there's still a large market for no touch screen. Speaking for myself, I see why you'd want touch screen on a computer that you carry with you, but I have zero interest in it for a home computer. The keyboard simply works better, and getting rid of it offers no real advantage.
  • Ignatzz - Saturday, August 29, 2015 - link

    I've often said that Windows does a good job with every OTHER operation system. XP was good, Vista was lousy. Windows 7 was good. Windows 8 was lousy.

    By going from 8 right to 10, they seem to have skipped the good one.
  • jabber - Saturday, August 29, 2015 - link

    Oh anyone who uses the term 'M$' loses all credibility instantly.

    Be a little more original please. Otherwise you look like 'new kid on the internet'.
  • cjcox - Monday, August 31, 2015 - link

    Article was a bit too "pro Microsoft" without pointing out all of the losses of feature / functionality, especially vs. Windows 7. I know we had to put the Zune software onto our Windows 10 because of all the features lacking in Groove. And the Zune software isn't supported anymore, but still the only full featured product that Microsoft made. Oh well. Microsoft continues to take many steps backwards... hard to figure out what their end goal is. So... Microsoft 10 adds features you likely don't care about, didn't ask for and removes many things you used to use. That's a better summary review.
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - link

    cjcox: Having used w10 for several weeks now, I completely agree about Groove - I went back to Windows Media Player.

    There are good points and bad points in w10 (multiple desktops good, new start menu bad), but it feels slightly faster than w8.1 on my NUC

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