Windows 10: 11 Big Changes - InformationWeek

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10/2/2014
11:06 AM
Michael Endler
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Windows 10: 11 Big Changes

Microsoft is being more open and transparent with customers with Windows 10. Take a look at some of the most appealing features in the upcoming OS.
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With Windows 8, Microsoft made bold changes, such as replacing Windows 7's familiar Start menu with a tiled, touch-friendly Start screen. But bold isn't always synonymous with successful. Unfortunately for Microsoft, many longtime Windows users hated the OS's new look.

With Windows 10, which was introduced as a technical preview Sept. 30, Microsoft's making changes again. When the final version of the OS finally hits the market next year, it will include a revamped Start menu, virtual desktops, and a host of other features designed to show the company's continued investment in the desktop UI.

In the short term, Microsoft wants to compel upgrades from the Windows XP, Vista, and 7 users who've resisted Win 8's touch-centric UI. If the company's successful, Windows 10's shift back to mouse-based navigation will no doubt play an important role. But over the long run, Windows 10's boldest change isn't about new features; it's about philosophy.

Windows 8 suggested Microsoft was somewhat tone deaf to user needs. If this weren't so, the company wouldn't have so massively missed the shift toward mobile devices, and it wouldn't have responded to that shift with Win 8's half-baked, hodgepodge UI. But if Microsoft didn't pay enough attention to users before, the company wants you to know it's listening now.

Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore, the executive VPs who run Microsoft's OS efforts, emphasized during this week's Windows 10 reveal that the new OS has to address the needs of a massive user base. That's no small task. Enterprises and consumers, knowledge workers and field workers, executives and students -- all of them use Windows, and all of them bring somewhat different expectations and needs when they do so. To assess and serve its diverse base, Microsoft is involving customers earlier and more transparently than ever before, starting with enterprise-oriented PC users. The company not only made the Win 10 preview available earlier and to a larger user base than it has with past Windows previews, but also included an app to solicit and collect user feedback.

Windows 10's final release is at least six months away, so it remains to be seen how well Microsoft implements its new, more inclusive intentions. But the company is off to a good start. Myerson and Belfiore said Windows 10 should provide an unadulterated desktop experience. They also said it should be instantly familiar to longtime Windows users, but packed with productivity-boosting new features that users will organically discover over time. More than a few IT decision-makers have avoided Win 8 due to fears that it will require too much employee training, so if Windows 10 delivers outstanding ease-of-use, enterprise upgrades could follow.

Touch is part of the Windows 10 equation, even on the desktop, but the OS won't attempt "one UI to rule them all," as its immediate predecessor did. Windows 10 will look different on different sorts of devices, even though all versions of the OS will share common app store and device management models. In coming months, Microsoft will discuss consumer-oriented tablet and smartphone versions of Windows 10. But for now, the company hopes this week's enterprise and desktop-oriented preview convinces mouse-and-keyboard users that they aren't afterthoughts.

Even so, Microsoft faces an uphill climb. Overall, Windows remains the dominant PC platform, but both Windows 7 and Windows XP, the latter of which isn't even an actively supported product, have more users than Windows 8 and 8.1. According to Web-tracking firm Net Applications, Windows 8 and 8.1 combined for only 12.3% of PC users in September. That's down a surprising 1.1 percentage points compared to August, and the largest month-over-month decrease the OS has suffered yet. Windows 8/8.1 has less market share than Windows Vista did at the same point in its release cycle -- which is pretty damning, given that Vista is generally considered the exemplar of Windows flops.

Other recent data indicates Microsoft is feeling pressure at both ends of the market, with Apple computers outselling flashy Windows 2-in-1s at the high end, and Chromebooks eating into Windows territory at the low end. Windows 8 and 8.1's recent downward trend might reverse itself in the near future, thanks to upcoming ultra-slim hybrids with new Intel processors, as well as a growing number of budget devices that undercut Chromebook prices. But it's clear Microsoft's current flagship OS just doesn't have enough appeal; as Myerson said Tuesday, it's time for a new Windows.

Going forward, Microsoft's revenue models will rely less on Windows licenses and more on the software and cloud services that Windows users run. To maximize these new streams, Microsoft needs as many users as possible on its newest platforms. Windows 8 and 8.1 have failed to advance this strategy, but will Windows 10 do the trick? Check out 11 of the biggest changes in the preview build, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/6/2014 | 5:47:10 PM
Re: Compatibility
True, but Microsoft is discouraging users who are inexperienced from installing the preview, and even if you are experienced, Microsoft cautions against installing the preview of relied-upon computers. It's more for IT pros to check things out and provide feedback, and for enthusiasts to see what's coming and provide feedback to shape the final release. Compatibility problems are inevitable now-- they just need to be cleaned up for the final release! Hopefully the Insider program helps with that.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/6/2014 | 5:41:09 PM
Re: Windows 9?
"WindX ? (courtesy of a friend of mine)"

 

That made me laugh :)
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/6/2014 | 5:37:48 PM
Re: How about managemernt???
You're right-- they focused a lot on UI changes. But a lot of enterprises shied away from Win 8 over user training concerns, so I think the focus on the UI still fits the company's intended focus on business customers. That said, you bring up a great point-- manageability is a major concern. Myerson and Belfiore talked a bit about this-- Windows 10 will let IT seperate employees' personal data from work data, which is useful in a BYOD scenario. And the OS will support MDM-style management for all types of devices. But additional specifics have so far been scant. Microsoft briefly posted a blog with more details, but it was subsequently deleted. The blog post is discussed in this article.

The deleted blog suggested a number of interesting possibilities. Microsoft confirmed at the Windows 10 reveal that the OS's app store will let businesses set up custom storefronts to easily deploy business apps-- but according to the blog, the store will include not only Modern apps (as it does in Win 8 and 8.1), but also desktop-style apps. I've asked Microsoft to clarify this blog suggestion, since it contradicts a few of the things said at the event-- but at least it shows Windows 10 will bring IT changes in addition to UI changes. Hopefully with the new Insider program, both types of changes will end up adding legitimate value in the final release.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/6/2014 | 5:27:02 PM
Re: Listen to customers
I'm not quite that negative on Microsoft. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.1 have obviously left much to be desired, but on the software, services and infrastructure sides, they're making a lot of smart moves. Azure is the future, not Windows, and I think they're doing a decent - not necessarily great - job realigning their priorities for this future. This observation refers more to the Nadella regime than the end of Ballmer's, but even under Ballmer, this shift had started. Now it's accelerating. And Windows 10 could be much better. Given slow enterprise refresh rates, Windows 8's lousy reception doesn't necessarily constitute a burn-down-the-company crisis. I think we'll see more OSes in wide use in the future, and a noticeable if ultimately modest diminution of Windows share, particularly among consumers and very specific business roles. But I don't think Microsoft's in a dire situation at the company-wide scale. They'll remain a gigantic tech player, though maybe not the biggest player.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/2/2014 | 3:10:35 PM
Re: Windows 10
@Nancy, if you decide against Windows 10, what would you use instead? Would you stick with the Windows 8 device you've been using? From your second paragraph, it sounds like you might be considering something like a Chromebook as an alternative? Just curious.

For what it's worth, Myerson and Belfiore stressed that Windows 10 will be both exciting to power users and welcoming to novices. They illustrated that taskbar multi-tasking is easy and familiar for would-be Win 7 upgraders, but that Windows 10 will include visual cues to help people comfortably branch out of their comfort zones and into new features, such as "Task View." We shall see!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/2/2014 | 2:11:10 PM
Re: Every other OS
@mejiac, I'll be very interested to hear your thoughts on the preview! Thanks for offering to share your impressions with the community.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/2/2014 | 1:41:02 PM
Re: Every other OS
I agree, Shane. I think Windows 10 could offer enough to satisfy PC users, and to make 2-in-1 tablets more viable. But for pure tablets and smartphones, Microsoft hasn't yet offered a persuasive strategy. That said, they're supposed to talk about that stuff sometime in early 2015, so maybe they'll have a few surprises. With PCs, Windows is already the status quo, so Microsoft can succeed (especially in the enterprise) with a product that's familiar to Win 7 users but offers more flexibility and power-- that is, with a product like Windows 10. But on mobile, users are already invested elsewhere, and to lure them over to the Windows camps, Microsoft needs something that will turn heads.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
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10/2/2014 | 1:31:51 PM
Re: Unified experience
All I want is to be able to access texts sent to, and photos taken with, my HTC One from my Chromebook, and if possible, the Chrome browser on a PC. Is that so much to ask?! Unity!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/2/2014 | 1:24:42 PM
Re: Unified experience
Lorna, services such as OneDrive actually play nicely with non-Windows devices. I move from OneDrive on a PC to OneDrive on an iPhone all the time. OneDrive is baked directly into Windows whereas it's only on app on other platforms, so the experience isn't the same-- but it demonstrates the fine line Microsoft will walk between putting its products on competing platforms, and trying to create the top over ecosystem.

The merger's biggest implications might be for developers, since they'll be able to target hundreds of millions of users across multiple device categories without writing different apps for each type of device. This would benefit Windows users in that they'll theoretically get access not only to more apps, but to apps whose contents can travel with the user across devices. The merger also refers to unified mangement-- so from the IT perspective, it shouldn't matter whether it's a Windows smartphone or a Windows PC, either device should be manageable through the same process. But we'll see. The Universal Apps notion is still more a concept than a strategy with demonstrated success.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/2/2014 | 1:21:00 PM
Every other OS
Windows 10 looks to follow the every other version of Windows progression. XP was good, Vista bad, Windows 7 good, Windows 8 bad. Microsoft has learned a lot from the "square peg in a round hole" that was Windows 8. Despite its "unifying" design, I don't think Windows 10 can save Microsoft from mobile mediocrity (what can at this point?), but as an ultra-modern desktop OS, 10 looks sharp. It will satisfy enterprises and information workers who are ready to move on from Windows 7 or, God forbid, XP.

 

 
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