By Joe Dysart
Microsoft’s Mea Culpa to PC Users
Businesses that reacted to Windows 8 with howls of incredulity can take heart: Microsoft is bending over backward with its next Windows release to win back the mouse-and-keyboard crowd. With Windows 10 (there will be no Windows 9), due for release in the summer of 2015, Microsoft will make it simple once again to navigate the operating system with a keyboard and a mouse. Moreover, the Redmond Goliath will be bringing back other features, such as the Start Menu that made Windows a hit in previous incarnations. “It’s a practical approach, which is ‘customer first,’” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.
Officially unveiled with great fanfare by Microsoft in January, Windows 10 is a naked apology to millions of PC users who were relegated to afterthought status when Microsoft rolled out Windows 8 a few years ago. Back then, Microsoft bet big that it could abandon traditional Windows computing. Its plan was to literally strong-arm Windows users to adapt to a completely reconfigured user interface driven by touchscreen controls. As most of us know, Microsoft lost big on that bet, and users rejected Windows 8 in droves.
Chastened, the company has responded with a completely reconfigured operating system that brings back many of the cherished features of earlier versions while incorporating some tasty new additions. With Windows 10:
Hooray! The Windows Start Menu Is Back!: Apparently arising from the department of “If-It-Ain’t-Broke-Don’t-Fix-It” at Microsoft, the Windows Start menu has returned to the left side of the PC screen. Once again, users can call up an ordered list of programs on their desktops that they can click on and open instantly. Three-quarters of the desktop to the right still offers the touchscreen tile access to programs that Microsoft so desperately wanted everyone to embrace with Windows 8. But users can simply ignore those or slowly integrate them into their work style at their leisure.
The PC Boots Straight to the Desktop: Perhaps most infuriating about Windows 8 was Microsoft’s insistence that a PC boot directly to a touchscreen tile interface that, initially, no one understood. With Windows 8, you turned on your PC, watched your PC glow to life in a completely unrecognizable environment, and began your bewildered journey into total confusion. No longer with Windows 10. Once again, your PC now starts with the familiar desktop interface made popular in previous versions of the operating system.
Your Tablet Auto-Senses Your Preference for Traditional or Touchscreen Controls: With Windows 10, your tablet will be auto-programmed to sense when a keyboard is plugged into your tablet and will automatically switch to desktop mode—the mode that’s optimized for use with a keyboard and mouse. If you disconnect your keyboard, Windows 10 will politely ask you if you’d like to switch to touchscreen control.
“For someone who’s a mobile task worker, it works like a tablet while you’re out and about and then works exactly like a PC when you bring it back and dock it,” said Joe Belfiore, vice president of the operating systems group for Microsoft.
Lots of Users Get to Upgrade to Windows 10 for Free: In an extremely shrewd move, Microsoft is offering the new operating system as a free upgrade for the first year—for the most part—to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. (One exception: Windows Enterprise users of 7 and 8.1 will still have to pay to upgrade to Windows 10.) With this grand gesture, it’s almost as if Microsoft is saying, “We know, we know. We royally screwed up with Windows 8. And we’d really appreciate your forgiveness.”
Besides bringing back most of the features that made earlier incarnations of Windows so popular, Microsoft is also sprinkling in some cool new additions that could make Windows 10 an even bigger hit. For example, Windows 10 comes with a new search-engine-powered voice assistant called Cortana. Already available on Windows phone, Cortana will sit atop the Windows 10 interface and answer your queries with the help of the Bing! search engine.
Using natural language or your keyboard, you can ask Cortana what the weather will be like tomorrow, where that elusive document file you lost is stored, how many days it is to your next vacation and similar queries. As with many things computer these days, Cortana is also turbocharged with advanced analytics. Theoretically, Cortana will get to know you better over time as it chews over questions you’ve already asked and provides you with ever-more-accurate answers the more you consult with “her.”
Another cool Cortana feature: You’ll be able to dictate e-mails or texts to her and have her send those communications to the person(s) of your choice.
Windows 10 will also come equipped with a lean and mean browser, code named Spartan, which is modeled after leaner browsers such as Firefox. Theoretically, this browser will run faster than Internet Explorer, which will also come with Windows 10. A bonus with Spartan is that it comes equipped with a clipping tool that enables you to clip and save portions of websites to OneNote, a free, third-party, content-archiving program. And you’ll also be able to use Spartan to save web content that you can read offline at your leisure.
Another major change with the new Windows is that it’s being built on the promise that all Microsoft-friendly products will share the same Windows 10 operating system—desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and even Xbox. Again, that will theoretically make it easier for you to make simultaneous changes that will pop up on all of your devices. For example, if you update a contact in Outlook, that contact will be updated on all of your Windows 10 devices. Upload your music to the Microsoft cloud service OneDrive, and that music will play on all your Windows devices—even though, of course, you would never dream of listening to music at work.
Equally ground shifting with Windows 10 is Microsoft’s decision to repackage the operating system as a “service” rather than as a static product. Instead of releasing Windows updates every few years, Microsoft plans to continually update Windows with enhancements that will continually and automatically download from the web to your PC.
“Once a device is updated to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device,” said Terry Myerson, an executive vice president for the operating systems group at Microsoft. So the “What version are you running?” question will soon no longer apply to Windows, Myerson said.
One exception: Windows business enterprise users will be able to opt for a “go-slow” update approach to Windows 10, enabling them to delay quick, across-the-board, automatic updates to Windows. Instead, those users will be able to opt for automatic updates involving security or other critical changes and get time to test and evaluate the impact of other updates, according to Jim Alkove, director of program management at the enterprise group of Microsoft.
Probably the sexiest new addition to Windows will be its built-in ability to play 3D/holographic content created by the new HoloStudio software product that Microsoft promises to roll out later this year. Users who buy HoloStudio will be able to create 3D/holographic images, which can then be viewed with a new 3D visor called HoloLens that Microsoft is also promising to bring to market later this year.
It’s an interesting take on 3D/holographic viewing, in that you’ll be able to don a Microsoft visor and take in the image of, say, a 3D fire-breathing dragon that’s lounging on your living room couch. With this approach to 3D/holographic imaging, Microsoft has essentially decided to add 3D/holographic images to the existing world rather than attempt to create an entirely new 3D/holographic environment.
All told, Microsoft’s move with Windows 10 could, in fact, reverse the major misstep it made with Windows 8. Indeed, the company is now so ostensibly committed to responding to user feedback that it has created a special Windows Insider Program for Windows users who want a voice.
People who join Windows Insider get to test beta versions of Windows 10 before the operating system’s release later this year. And their comments on those beta versions will help shape the final look, feel and functionality of the operating system, according to Myerson. So far, the Insider Program already has 1.7 million signups, he said.
Need more? If you’re intensely interested in Windows 10, you can also check out the Windows 10 webcast. It’s an extremely informative video recording of Microsoft’s Windows 10 rollout that clocks in at two hours and 19 minutes. Check out the video, and you’ll get a truly in-depth look at the new operating system in action.