Winning with Windows 10 – What Microsoft Needs it to Do

After the mistake that was Windows 8.x, Microsoft has a few things to do with Windows 10. Here they are in a nutshell…

Introduction

07668051-photo-windows-10-logoWindows 10 is (going to be) Microsoft’s new desktop OS when its finally released next year. Currently in technical preview, Microsoft is giving it a test drive. I’ve published a couple of articles on Windows 10, letting everyone understand what they need to know about the new OS. I’ve been working with it for a while now and have installed two, new additional preview builds that Microsoft has quietly released.

Here’s what Microsoft ultimately needs the new OS to do if they want it to succeed better than its most recent edition, Windows 8.x.

Make us Want to Upgrade

In the enterprise, Windows 7 works. It’s the new Windows XP. While Microsoft SAYS it’s only going to last until 2020 and then everyone is going to have to move to Windows N(ew), XP lasted for so almost 15 years because it did the job, did the job well, and didn’t really make people want to leave. With XP now out of the way, for the most part… I’m certain some companies still use Windows XP at the time of this writing… Microsoft has to find motivation for people and companies to move away from their older computing operating systems and to embrace the newest platform.

From an enterprise perspective, this is REALLY hard. Companies can’t afford to have employees sitting on their hands because their stuff doesn’t work; or they don’t know how to use it. That’s one of the reasons why no one bought into Windows 8 at work…its UI is too different from Windows 7 and earlier to really invest in. It would take the average front line office worker three to six months to figure out where everything was, how the OS really worked, and how they can get all of their daily tasks done. Most companies don’t have the luxury of time to wait for that to happen. Nearly everyone experienced that with Windows Vista and THAT UI was still pretty much like Windows XP. It’s hard for anyone to get work done when the computing environment is so radically different.

As such, we’re all happy with Windows 7 at work. Now, Microsoft has to figure out how to get us out of that comfort zone without destroying our productivity; and THAT’S really hard. They may want or need to change the UI, but they must do so gradually without really making it too difficult.

Given that they can actually DO that, which isn’t an easy task, they have to find a way of making it easier to move from one major Window version to another without a bunch of hoops to jump through. In the past, you could move from one Windows version to another, provided you took every major version step along the way. If you wanted to skip a version or two, you couldn’t upgrade without completely wiping your computer of all applications and data; and no one wanted to do THAT either. Microsoft has to find a way to make upgrading from one version to another easy, even if you skip a version or three, without all of the in between steps.

The technology exists, the problem is, figuring out a way to do that without making it too big of a development task on their part. From what I know of Windows upgrades, while its painful for the end user, they don’t upgrade because for them, any pain is too painful. Microsoft may just have to eat the development costs and figure out how to move everyone from their current version OS (however far back that may be) to Windows N. It’s going to be ugly, but they may have to eat the end user’s pain if they want everyone to get and remain current.

Now… if you bring in the more popular computing concepts like cloud computing, mobile computing trends and BYoD, Microsoft still has a great deal of work to do and a great deal of consumer resentment and angst to get around (see my section on defining the difference between a desktop and a tablet, below). Cloud computing is something that Microsoft is still actively working on, and despite what they might think, they STILL don’t have a solid mobile strategy yet.

Make us [Totally] Forget Windows 8.x

Over the years, Microsoft has released some real turkeys in the Windows line – Windows ME, Windows Vista and Windows 8. Windows ME (for Millennium Edition) was an upgrade to Windows 3.11 that totally tanked. The UI added too much eye candy and glitz, moved some things around and broke a LOT of stuff. Microsoft made it go away with the release of Windows XP on the consumer side and Windows 2000 on the enterprise and power user side. It’s a good thing, too. Drivers for Windows ME were a mess.

Windows Vista was an upgrade to Windows XP, and was supposed to be Windows Blackcomb, but Blackcomb could never get itself together, and Vista was the cobbled together bits of what survived. WinFS or an update to the much outdated NTFS file system was supposed to make file and end point management much better than it was under the (then) current paradigm. When Microsoft couldn’t get it together, they abandoned WinFS. Unfortunately, they didn’t abandon the rest of the design of Vista which depended on WinFS to lower resource consumption by the OS. As a result, Vista was a bloated, glitzed up processor and RAM hog that killed most computers and made computing slow and difficult. There’s more to this, and Paul Thurrott from the Windows Supersite has a great deal more to contribute to this this particular MS debacle. There’s more to the Blackcomb thing, and more to the demise of WinFS that will help you understand exactly what went wrong. If you’re interested in the full and complete story that was the hockey puck that Windows Vista was, you can go there to find it…

Windows 8 was, quite simply, a mistake from the start. The split UI that no one understood and Microsoft’s insistence that everyone use MetroUI no matter what type of computer you were using be it a traditional laptop (both with and without touch), a convertible laptop (including things like the Yoga, a more traditional TabletPC AND the MS Surface Pro line) or a traditional desktop, just confused everyone. No one knew where MetroUI really fit. Microsoft’s lack of mobile strategy and confusion over what a tablet is and is not (see below) as well as them trying to put a full blown version of Windows on a device with GREATLT reduced specs to help manage battery life, really hasn’t helped.

Define the Difference between a Desktop and a Windows Tablet

This is probably the biggest hurdle that Microsoft has to resolve in the actual, PHYSICAL market place. After hooking us and getting us to go with Windows 10, and helping us to forget the total train wreck that Windows 8.x was (both of which are really going to be tough to do…) Microsoft has to define exactly what a Windows 10 tablet is, help us understand that difference and then show us how magical THAT device can be.

Historically, Microsoft has been all about Windows and Office. Historically, this hasn’t been an issue for them, because they really had a lock on the desktop market and made businesses around the world run. Now, business models are changing and Microsoft has to learn to change with them. Windows and Office aren’t the cash cows they used to be, and Microsoft is switching Office licensing to a subscription model. Instead of paying $500-$600 per copy/ seat of office, you pay say, $7-$10 bucks and month and get nearly everything you need. This gets you Office at home, plus all the online storage you can eat (as OneDrive storage is now unlimited – or supposed to be – with an Office 365 subscription) for a year. The subscription auto renews, and you’re supposed to have access to the software on the platforms you need it on, be they Mac, PC or mobile device, plus all of the associated updates. MS still gets paid, but how and when they get paid changes a bit. I’m still not entirely certain (nor do I think, are they) if they’re making just as much on this model as they were before, BUT the way the world delivers retain software has changed, and Microsoft had to change too…

The change also came about because the WAY people are computing has changed. People don’t want to HAVE to work on a traditional PC any more. Most people often have to take work home with them, and as such, want to use the same tools at home as they do at work. While MS did provide a way to get office at a HUGE and DEEP discount, not every company took advantage of this, and not everyone got to buy Office for their home PC’s at $10 bucks a copy.

With the introduction of tablets and tablet productivity software – or at least the ability to run web based apps through a mobile browser, most people that don’t want to HAVE to work at a specific desk in their house can now come out on to the family or living room and instead of having a heavy and sometimes hot laptop on their laps, can instead work from a tablet or other mobile device.

Traditionally, Windows doesn’t run on these type of lean back – or more casual computing – devices, and as such, Microsoft has had trouble here. TabletPC’s or some sort of notebook convertible has worked in the past, but they’re now becoming too bulky and heavy to be used in these casual situations. Convertibles are also traditionally more expensive, and people have started shying away from these types of full-blown Windows machines.

This is where Microsoft has a huge problem – Windows doesn’t work well without a full blown computer. Microsoft’s foray into tablets – the Surface RT and Surface 2 – were a huge disappointment. Microsoft couldn’t break themselves away from the traditional computing model and failed to transition everyone away from Windows to a more tablet-centric version of Windows that should have existed without ANY traditional computing artifacts like the Desktop. People didn’t’ understand Windows RT, MetroUI (often called ModernUI), and they couldn’t get any of their developers to create applications for it. As such, the platform died, and Microsoft has still to really tell us if Windows RT is dead or just hibernating until they can figure it out.

The Surface Pro (in any of its carnations) isn’t a true tablet, despite its removable and detachable keyboard because it runs a full version of Windows. When you pull the keyboard, it’s still an Ultrabook, despite its now full tablet-like appearance, and regardless of how good the touch interface may be on top of Windows, you still need a keyboard and the on-screen version doesn’t cut it.

The problem here is that Microsoft still doesn’t have a clear mobile strategy yet. They’re taking their sweet time figuring this out, too. If they don’t do it, and quickly, they’re going to find themselves seriously wishing they had. At some point, they are going to lose their enterprise foot hold and will end up playing catch up to Google and Apple who are really trying to figure out how to best serve the enterprise with not only their desktop products (in the case of Apple) but their mobile products (both Google and Apple) as well. If they’re not careful, Microsoft may find themselves the Blackberry of the PC world – irrelevant and living off the glory of their past accomplishments. That only goes and lasts so far and so long…

Conclusion

Microsoft has a huge row to hoe here. They’ve been in the Windows and Office business for so long that I’m concerned that they know how to do much else. Despite buying Nokia’s mobile handset business, they still don’t have a clear mobile strategy that I or anyone else is aware of. They need to figure that out quickly or regardless of what they do with Windows 10 will make any difference…

Microsoft is unifying the Windows platform and Windows brand. That means they are putting Windows 10 on every compatible device, and it will only run what works. All apps developed for any version of Windows are SUPPOSED TO work on all Windows compatible devices without any kind of rewrites or recompiles. All of this is a huge what-if though, as no one has seen it all work yet.

I’ve been using Windows 10 now for about 6 weeks, and its ok, but really, it’s nothing more than what Windows 8.x should have been. It’s really more of Windows 8.2 than Windows 10 (or even Windows 9…) there’s nothing new and compelling in it yet that would make me want to dump Windows 7.

Windows 10 will definitely make me want to dump Windows 8, because its more Windows 7 like, plus all the “improvements,” so, the cleaned up UI on my Surface Pro makes a great deal of sense. With the ability to run all MetroUI apps in a movable, sizable Window, you don’t have to worry about things acting “stupid” on you. Windows just works like it always has, which is both good and bad.

Its good because now you can get work done again without worrying about MetroUI, or the Start Screen. The Start Menu is BACK, and it can function just like its Windows 7 counterpart if you so choose. It’s bad because, there really isn’t much of anything new that I’ve seen yet. I say “yet” because Windows 10 isn’t feature complete yet. There could be SOMETHING that Microsoft hasn’t shown us or announced yet that would make things a bit more compelling; but I have no idea what that might be.

I will say this for it all though – Microsoft better really wow the crap out of us, or there’s going to be a huge enterprise shift over the next 5 or so years to other platforms. Microsoft’s floundering won’t be tolerated as businesses look for stable, mature platforms that will help them move forward, make money and succeed in their business goals. Microsoft seems to be walking in circles with one foot nailed firmly to the floor, and most organizations won’t tolerate that for long.

What do you think? Is Windows 10 going to bring Microsoft out of the Age of Confusion? Will it set them back on the course for success; or are they headed down the same road as Blackberry is? Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area, below and let me know what you think.

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