Windows 10: Here’s what Microsoft should have done instead – ExtremeTech
Windows 10 is a well-meaning effort by Microsoft to mollify Windows 8 haters and coax Windows 7 loyalists to upgrade — all while stubbornly sticking to its goal of a single OS for every possible platform. And by framing the problem that way, Microsoft has given itself a nearly impossible task.
To the company’s credit, each new build lurches closer to being usable, although with new bugs every time, it is difficult to evaluate how smooth the final release version will be. Best case: It may earn the grudging acceptance of Windows 7 users who refuse to move to Windows 8. And part of that acceptance will come not from sudden enthusiasm for a new way of interacting with the desktop, but from a desire to take advantage of the clear core benefits Windows 10 provides in performance, security, administration, and memory usage over Windows 7 and even Windows 8.
So why is it so hard to convince users to move to a brand-new, free, feature-packed, more efficient OS? Apple does it all the time. Simply put, because Microsoft didn’t build Windows 8 or Windows 10 for Windows users. It built them to further its own business strategy of using the power of the once-ubiquitous Windows platform to extend its dominance into the rapidly growing mobile space. The result is an OS whose features are now flipping and flopping with each new build — as Microsoft tries to fix problems of its own creation.
Imagine how good a desktop OS Windows 10 could have been
What if instead, after realizing what a terrible mistake Windows 8 was, Microsoft had made the truly brave decision to come clean and change its strategy? If Windows 10 had been designed from the beginning to be the best possible desktop OS, and the thousands of developer years spent trying to make it everything to everyone were instead spent providing services and applications for the mobile OS platforms people actually want? If in tandem Microsoft was willing to let go of its sub-3% market share in mobile, it could also have spent the cash it used to buy Nokia to build out its cross-platform services offerings instead. We could have had a really excellent desktop OS — worth paying for — and great integration with the leading mobile platforms.
Certainly Microsoft has woken up to providing competitive versions of its applications on Android and iOS. But imagine how much further along it would have been if it had put real work into the effort starting years ago. Perhaps we wouldn’t have to use third-party utilities to sync our information between Google and Outlook, for example. Or OneNote might have supported syncing on Android during the first several years it was available, instead of only recently. Pick any Microsoft desktop technology you access from your iOS or Android device and you can come up with a list of features that would make it much more useful.
It’s not like there isn’t anything to fix in Windows
Anyone who thinks Microsoft didn’t focus on desktop users as it evolved Windows 8 and 10 because its desktop OS has “no need for improvement” hasn’t spent enough time wrestling with the inscrutable hex error codes from Windows Update, or debugging driver version mismatches, or finding information they’re sure is somewhere on their disk. While Windows 10 isn’t final, judging by the builds so far, all of those problems are still there. Even support for high-resolution displays is still spotty. Windows 10 adds some new Zoom options, but there is still no serious scalable-font solution that works across the full range of possible displays.
As a good example of how this alternate direction would have worked, let’s look at the Control Panel. No one doubts that it is an old, crufty system for managing a computer. A desktop-focused OS project would have overhauled it completely while preserving its functionality. Instead, Microsoft seems determined to replace it in bits and pieces with new “touch-friendly” settings that aren’t much more intuitive, and that become even more frustrating when you need to go back to the old system for pieces that are still missing. Windows 10 is supposed to address this problem, but we’re less than two months from shipment and Settings are still far from being either intuitive or finished.
Tablet mode and Continuum are also inventions seeking to solve a problem Microsoft has invented for itself. For the few of us who actually own and use a Surface Tablet mode, it’s sort of a good thing. (I love that I can both taken written notes and run Outlook on my SP3, but with the addition of desktop apps to Android, I’m not sure how many others will see the need to spend that kind of money for basic productivity.) It’s good because it is better than Windows 8, where often the touch keyboard wouldn’t pop up when needed, and icons could be hard to finger.
It’s still only sort of good, though, because it’s confusing and forces the user to have one more thing to think about. Somehow iPads and Android tablets seem to easily survive the addition of a keyboard without the need for an entire special OS mode. Like many of the other new features in Windows 10, it seems like a “throw it against the wall and hope it sticks” attempt to solve a user pain point — not a from-the-ground-up technology architected to support the broad range of devices that can now run Windows.
Windows 10 internals are actually pretty impressive
There is a lot to like about Windows 10 — in addition to having the best kernel Windows has ever had. Edge (aka Spartan) is promising (although it too is only a prototype version, and certainly could have been shipped separately). Cortana might be useful, but is so limited and buggy in the current builds that it is hard to tell. If it doesn’t get sorted out by July, Microsoft risks taking yet another step backwards in desktop search functionality, which would be a shame. Virtual desktops are a nice feature, although hardly groundbreaking.
The included apps are certainly way ahead of the ones Microsoft shipped with Windows 8, but Microsoft has had many excellent desktop apps over the years — including the now-dead Windows Media Center, LiveWriter, and MovieMaker. It is the company’s own fault that it feels the need to start over time and again. On the tablet side, if Microsoft is serious about usability, it should be providing a better touch keyboard — one that includes swipe-through typing, for example. I also wish the company had finally fixed Windows Update. Mobile users won’t put up with the way it works now — they are spoiled by seamless OTAs from Apple and even many Android vendors.
Perhaps the ultimate warning sign about Windows 10 for me is that for many, its positioning is summed up as being “no worse than the six-year-old Windows 7, while adding support for tablets and phones.” That sounds pretty silly, but maybe not far from the truth. I run a Windows 7 desktop for some of my business-critical applications right next to a couple of Windows 8.1 machines and a couple of Windows 10 machines. I don’t really feel any less productive when I’m on the Windows 7 machine, and I can’t imagine that I’ll upgrade it to Windows 10 and risk something breaking.
Tablets are certainly a different story. I’ve already put Windows 10 on almost all my Windows tablets, and suspect most of the small number of Windows tablet users will also. Unfortunately for Microsoft, Windows tablets are a relatively small market, and may never become mainstream.
Laptops are the most interesting case. While each version of Windows adds new power management features, that may not be enough to get laptop users to upgrade. For example, Microsoft keeps changing the WiFi settings interface, and for many of us, the new version is lame compared to the more powerful one that preceded it. Engineering laptops still ship primarily with Windows 7, and I don’t see anything about Windows 10 changing that. Mainstream laptops will get dragged along onto Windows 10 because of the Microsoft marketing machine, but I don’t know how many current laptop users will bother to take advantage of the free upgrade. No doubt that is part of why Microsoft is inflicting its Windows 10 adware on the already confusing Windows Update process.
At this point the die is cast, and we’ll need to live with whatever we get on July 29th — or stay put and hope the little Get-Windows-10 nagware goes away.