Exactly two years and two months ago, InfoWorld rolled out Windows Red, a serious proposal to fix the disaster that was Windows 8.
Executive Editor Galen Gruman worked with Designer Ben Barbante to create a series of slides that reimagined Windows, integrating the Windows 7 desktop with the new, tiled, Windows 8 UI. Senior Contributing Editor Woody Leonhard, along with the whole staff, added ideas and had a great time with it.
Now go back and look at Windows Red and compare it with the Windows 10 bits Microsoft released last Wednesday. Talk about life imitating art! When we created Windows Red we had no idea whether Microsoft would take note. Now I’m wondering whether to send in the intellectual property lawyers (just kidding, Legal).
But seriously, we were pretty close.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go point by point through Windows Red and see how it compares with Windows 10.
Three flavors of Windows
To tease apart the Windows 8 desktop/mobile mishmash, we proposed three versions: Windows Red Pro, Windows Red Mobile, and Windows Red Duo. The point of Windows Red Pro was to reinstate a version designed for desktop as opposed to touchscreen use; Windows Red Mobile would be optimized for touch devices. Windows Red Duo was our dual-boot version for convertible laptop/tablets.
Color scheme aside, Microsoft’s Windows 10 Pro is remarkably similar in spirit and execution to our desktop-friendly Windows Red Pro. So far, we’ve seen Windows 10 Mobile in demos and problematic betas only, but it appears to be similar to the “enhanced RT” tablet version we had in mind.
Microsoft did not create a separate dual-boot Windows 10 Duo. Instead, it added the Continuum feature to Windows 10 Home/Pro, which allows you to switch between touch and desktop modes without rebooting -- although it won’t really shine until hardware arrives to support it.
Tiled apps on the desktop
In imposing a tiled UI on the Windows 8 desktop, Microsoft wanted developers to be able to create apps that would run on both tablets and the desktop. Yet we (and a lot of other people) felt the tiled Start screen just had to go. Rather than waste all that effort to inaugurate a new generation of tiled cross-device apps, though, we thought it would be cool to add the capability to run tiled apps in a window on a Windows 7-style desktop.
That’s precisely what Microsoft did with Windows 10. The windows themselves look a little different than we envisioned in Windows Red; in addition to the usual controls in the upper right corner, there’s a hamburger menu in the upper left corner specific to the app.
You could even argue we anticipated Microsoft’s “universal” apps initiative. At the time we concocted Windows Red, Windows Phone apps could not run on tablets or on the tiled desktop -- and we thought they should. Microsoft says apps written to the universal spec will run on Windows desktops, tablets, and phones, although it’s worth noting that the logistics of this plan are still in question.
The return of the Start menu
This was not an original idea on our part. Everyone was clamoring for the Start menu to return -- and it did, sort of, in Windows 8.1.
We had in mind a Start menu that looked much like the one in Windows 7. Microsoft took a hybrid tack: It combines a stripped-down Windows 7-like menu on the left with live tiles on the right.
Windows Red also envisioned live tiles in a tray on the right side of the desktop. Kind of a better place for them, really, if you ask me. The whole point of live tiles is to have them visible at a glance rather than stuck in a menu -- and they should be big enough to display readable information.
What got the axe ... and what was spared
So what was does Windows 10 preserve from Windows 8? The Windows Red proposal had it right:
Windows 8's true goodies remain: multiple copy threads, enhanced Task Manager, built-in Microsoft Security Essentials, improved system recovery, Hyper-V, Windows to Go, and so on.
Easy guesses, I suppose, since there's no reason to eliminate useful new functionality. But it had to be listed for those keeping score.
Sweating the small stuff
Windows Red proposed adding the capability to organize apps in groups on the desktop rather than consign them to the endless scroll-right netherworld of the Start screen. In Windows 10, Microsoft introduced a grouping capability to the right side of the Start menu.
Throwing Windows Phone's People app into Windows Red Pro seemed like a good idea, since it showed some real innovative spirit. Microsoft did this in Windows 10, but at this stage it's kind of a joke. When I asked Woody Leonhard about it, he cracked that it looked like a couple of interns created it in a couple of days. Oh well. Windows 10 will offer continuous updates, so perhaps People will be an early beneficiary.
Inspired by iOS and OS X apps, Windows Red suggested adding a menu of shared services to applications -- for accessing OneDrive, printing, pinning apps to the taskbar, tweeting, and so on. Woody is convinced Microsoft is moving in this direction, citing some early signs in the Edge browser.
In the spirit of common sense, Windows Red envisioned a consolidated Control Panel in response to the infuriating and seemingly arbitrary split in settings between the Windows 8's Setting charm and the Desktop Control Panel. Windows 10 took a step toward rationalizing things, but the split remains.
Naturally, we didn't think of many new features in Windows 10, chief among them the voice-activated Cortana personal assistant. Nor did we foresee the Windows Hello authentication feature, which can verify users via their face, iris, or fingerprint. Also, the new Edge browser is a welcome replacement for Internet Explorer, one that makes Microsoft competitive with Google in the browser wars.
But all in all, Windows Red fared pretty darn well -- or, if you prefer, Windows 10 has passed he Windows Red test.
In truth, there’s no magic here. Our Windows Red project was largely a set of commonsense improvements that seemed obvious when you took the time to think them through. Why wouldn’t Microsoft reach the same conclusions?