Windows 10

Take a leap of faith -- Windows 10 deserves it

The first glimpse of Windows 10 may be enough to make you believe in Microsoft again

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What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Well, if we were talking about a rose that may be true. But when talking about the next iteration of Windows, the last thing Redmond needs is a reason for people to poke fun at it. Those who do will miss the good changes promised for Windows 10.

The Windows 10 name game

Unfortunately the name “Windows 10” unveiled yesterday at the Future of Windows event (which lasted all of an hour)  may give rise to a few jabs from the critics. You’ve probably seen the jokes already: Is it Windows 10 so there’s real distance from Windows 8? Because odd-numbered Windows versions are the good ones? Because Microsoft wants people to think it's OS X?

I get the appeal of “10.” We use 10 to connote excellence all the time. On a scale of 1 to 10, right? Of course, 10 is the best. “It/she/he’s a 10” is meant to be a compliment with no higher possibility. Windows 10 is an obvious marketing move to imply greatness that a simple increment to 9 wouldn’t have achieved. The idea of calling it Millennium or Vista must have been contemplated and dropped for the simplicity of skipping over a number and going for the big 1-0.

But does it truly warrant the jump? Based on the comments from Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president for operating systems, and Joe Belfiore, corporate VP for the Operating Systems Group (who’s been heavily involved in the design of existing and forthcoming Windows Phones), it deserves the numeric jump to 10.

How "one Windows to rule them all" could work this time

Windows 10 is a single application platform for all devices: desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. As Myerson said, “One store, one way for applications to be discovered, purchased, and updated across” all devices.

I think we’ve all seen that having a single OS hasn’t worked so far. It would seem more logical to toss in the towel and go back to multiple OSes based on device. But Microsoft says it has a solution for this: Continuum, which allows desktops to remain desktops, tablets to remain tablets, and two-in-ones to change modes based on whether a keyboard or a touch input is used. Microsoft showed a video that indicated how a two-in-one like the Surface Pro tablet can operate as a desktop or a touchscreen tablet with or without, respectively, a keyboard.

The loudest complaints about Windows 8 were not coming from tablet users. Rather, the desktop users groused that the experience was so foreign to them and required so much training that it didn’t seem worth the effort. With Windows 10, the Windows 7 Desktop experience is back, with a traditional Start button and a touch of new Metro tiled interface from Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Belfiore says, “We want all these Windows 7 users to have the sentiment that yesterday they were driving a first-generation Prius ... and now with Windows 10 it’s like a Tesla.” It's a better vehicle that won't force you to relearn how to drive.

Windows 10’s charming new and returning features

Many of the previously leaked elements were spot-on thus far, including a new button called Task View that opens multiple desktops with multiple apps running in their own space. A new feature called Snap Assist (an update to Aero Snap) allows you to grab apps from multiple desktops and snap up to four windows. An improved command-prompt experience allows you to paste in directories using Ctrl-V. Metro applications or apps are now known as Universal apps, and they work in tandem with classic Desktop apps.

Search returns to the Start menu, no longer housed in the Charms bar. (The Charms bar’s fate is unclear, though Microsoft has said it will stick around in a reimagined form.)

The technical preview for desktop and computer users should be available today. Microsoft says it wants users’ ideas sooner than before. Yes, this technical preview is launching around the same time as for Windows 8, and complaints then and in the two and half years since were largely ignored. But Myerson says this time Microsoft is listening and wants to “build a product that all our customers will love.”

The release date is unknown, but it appears that the next big step -- a consumer preview? -- will come at the Microsoft Build conference in April, with Windows 10 launching later in 2015.

A lot of questions remain to be answered: What other enhancements or new features are coming? What kind of pricing and upgrade paths are we looking at? What are the plans for ARM-based devices? Microsoft evaded these questions from the press yesterday.

Can we believe in Windows again? Yes

I’ve been unhappy with Windows 8 since its earliest days, but I really want Windows to be great. After digesting the Windows 10 preview, I had to ask myself bluntly if I believed the promise this time.

I do, though not because I saw a slew of new features and ideas that wowed me. I can honestly say I wasn’t wowed by anything I saw. But that’s not what I was looking for. The stuff that truly wows me is under the hood, such as security and enterprise capabilities, and I’ve been happy with the inner workings of both Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The UI never really mattered to me -- until Windows 8. To believe again, I needed to see in Windows 10 that Microsoft is listening to its customers and developing an OS that, as Myerson says, “all our customers will love.”

Please, Microsoft: Don’t crush that renewed faith. Everyone deserves a mulligan once in a while. Don’t waste the number 10 on a mulligan.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.