Windows 10: Microsoft Retreats to the Past

Windows 10

As The Who once sang: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In a high-profile Sept. 30 presentation in San Francisco, Microsoft whipped back the curtain from the next version of Windows, which looks suspiciously like the versions of the operating system that predated the ill-received Windows 8.

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Whereas Windows 8 tried to take the operating system in a radical new direction, welding the traditional desktop to a Start screen composed of colorful, touch-friendly tiles, the next version—named Windows 10, for reasons that probably seemed really good at Microsoft’s internal meetings—is an aggressive return to the desktop interface. The Start menu, a popular feature eliminated from Windows 8, is back; virtual desktops, a longtime element of rival operating systems, finally make an appearance.

Windows 8 elements such as the aforementioned tiles are still present in Windows 10, albeit integrated in a more organic way. Titles now pop up in the Start menu; on tablets and small mobile devices, the OS automatically detects the smaller screen-size and replaces the desktop with the Start screen, the better for people to input with finger-taps and swipes. Microsoft intends for the new operating system to scale from smartphones all the way up to the largest desktops, a unified approach that the company’s been predicting (and lurching towards) for many years.

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But there’s a reason why Microsoft executives spent the bulk of the Sept. 30 presentation emphasizing Windows 10’s security, app store, and management features—i.e., everything usually glossed over in presentations—and it’s that the new operating system isn’t a revolutionary step forward. It seems more like an iterative upgrade to Windows 7 than a leap from Windows 8. That could satisfy business customers, who usually aren’t enthused about change, but it’s unlikely to generate much excitement among consumers, many of whom increasingly rely on Android and iOS as the center of their computing lives.

The added bit of irony—as many publications have already pointed out—is that InfoWorld published an article titled, “Microsoft Skips ‘Too Good’ Windows 9, Jumps to Windows 10” as an April Fools’ joke in 2013.

But it’s not a joke to Microsoft. If Windows 10 doesn’t succeed when it hits the marketplace sometime next year, the company is in very serious trouble.

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Image: Microsoft