As I watched the Windows 10 teaser from San Francisco this week, I thought back over the 20 years I've covered the platform and to what, for me, was the first real version of Windows. Windows 95 effectively launched me as an analyst. I doubt I'd have made it had I not been tied at the hip to that product.
(Note: The author has been launch analyst for Windows since Windows 95, and the Windows group has also been a client of his companies since then.)
One thing that's obvious is that Microsoft has a cadence with Windows. I hope CEO Satya Nadella will fix this so that Windows 10 joins Windows 98, XP and 7 in representing the best of what Microsoft has to offer with the platform.
Windows Cadence: Every Other Version Stinks
Microsoft's cadence with Windows is much like Apple's with its problem phones -- that is, anything without an "S" behind the name. It started with Windows 95. (I swear I had nothing to do with it.) Microsoft operating systems stink every other time. Windows 95 broke catastrophically after launch, Windows 98 was fine, Windows ME and 2000 were big problems, folks still love Windows XP, Windows Vista defined the word stinks, Windows 7 is decent, and folks hide from Windows 8.
This is because teams change significantly for every version. One team brings out a major change, focusing on the launch date, and then moves on, often getting the boot because of problems. The next team focuses on packaging up all of the fixes for the prior product into a new offering that doesn't change that much. This second team spends a lot of time listening to people whine about problems, concludes that the whining needs to be eliminated and passes this information to the next team, which doesn't listen and drops back to its prior pattern.
You get a combination of big changes, not listening and a tight focus on dates. This leads to a product that folks hate, followed by fixes bundled into a follow-on offering that folks like a ton better.
Even though Microsoft iterates the name every time, it's actually a major-minor-major release cycle. As a result, most IT folks know to avoid the major releases and implement the minor releases. As we move to a cloud based ecosystem, I expect this major-minor aggravation will die out. At least Windows 10 is on the right cadence for deployment -- and it does have some compelling features.
Above All, the Windows UI Finally Makes Sense Again
First off, Microsoft fixed the screwy Windows 8 UI that changes depending on app (not on use). This would be like air conditioner turning on or off based on the brand of clothing you're wearing (not on temperature) or a 4-wheel drive vehicle changing modes based on the type of gas you put (not on whether you're on or off road). This happened because the Office group wasn't on board with Windows 8 and represents one of the biggest screw-ups that Microsoft has ever made.
Windows 10 not only lets you live on the older, Windows 7-like interface if you'd like, it changes to touch mode only if you're using a touch device. When not in touch mode, the active tiles enhance the Start menu but don't replace it. Essentially, Windows 10 fuses Windows 7 and Windows 8.
This may seem minor, but it makes all the difference if you come from XP, Vista or Windows 7, turning what's now a horrid initial experience into one that's far more palatable. If this was the only thing Microsoft did, I expect a lot of us would still be happy, given how annoying this transition to Windows 8 has been. (By the way: Once you use Windows 8 for a while, you learn how to live in the old interface. It isn't as bad, but the old interface doesn't work well with touch.)
Windows 10 Appeals to IT With Modern Device Management
I spent some one-on-one time with Windows 10 at the teaser event and came away with some interesting IT-focused features that you should find interesting.
One, you can blend user and corporate apps and privileges in the same user instance. You can implement your own app store, tying users to their own domain identity for app and data access, and then give them a second instance in parallel using their Microsoft account for personal stuff. You have full control over the business side -- including the ability to wipe company data and apps from the machine -- while the user retains control over their personal stuff. This looks like a "have their cake and eat it, too" feature. I look forward to seeing it work.
By the way, with a vetted corporate app store and the right policies in place, you shouldn't need to image a PC ever again. That's something I know a lot of you have been longing for. It might also be wise to look at Microsoft's products in concert again, as opposed to separately. It's increasingly clear that Microsoft is creating familial relationships between products again, as opposed to the product silos that defined the last 15 years or so. That may change your approach to deployments going forward.
Windows 10 significantly improves biometrics, too, spanning the traditional fingerprint readers as well as both facial and iris recognition. Passwords aren't working; we need to aggressively move to something that's convenient and difficult to spoof, and Windows 10 appears to make this step.
Finally, modern device management -- which I expect to get confusing, given the acronym -- speaks to building a single dashboard for all of your user devices, be they PCs, tablets or phones. Don't expect Microsoft to be homogenous with this, given its past moves. This could be a decent alternative to the mess of tools you currently use.
Windows 10 Should Be a Keeper
On cadence, Windows 10 should be in line with Windows 7, Windows XP and Windows 98. Consider it a keeper.
[ Related: How to Install the Windows 10 Technical Preview ]
As I said, you'll want to look at some rather compelling additional features specifically targeting IT. To that end, Microsoft has launched the Windows Insider program to get feedback early in the launch cycle, which is expected to conclude around mid-2015. Get some of your people in this program so they stay up to date on what's coming and make your unique wants and needs known to Microsoft. That way you can be better prepared if users ask for this platform on their then new PCs. Unlike Windows 8 and Vista, I think you'll like Windows 10, as it seems to address much of what we found annoying with Windows 8. It gives us something to look forward to.
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