Over the last few years, Microsoft seems to have been flailing. Windows 8, while a step in the right direction for the company, was an utter mess and saw slow adoption along with poor developer uptake.
Windows 8 went too far, too fast; it was a user experience disaster. As users bemoaned Windows 8’s confusing interface, experts labeled it a “cognitive burden.” Funny videos of people unable to use the OS surfaced. Others complained they didn’t know where the start menu had gone.
But, while Microsoft was out preaching the good word to developers and trying to win them over to its new “modern” interface platform, the company failed to deliver any meaningful apps that showcased why developers should build their apps for it.
Microsoft stuck to its guns that Windows 8 was better for over a year before admitting that maybe it had gone too far and eventually relented with a compromise: a start button.
Windows 8.1 was the beginning of Microsoft’s slow undoing of all the extremities it had implemented in Windows 8 and the company attempting to win consumers back. It started listening again.
Even though Microsoft had put the platform in front of developers for over a year now, adoption was still slow and the company still failed to deliver flagship apps that showed off the power of the modern interface. Even Microsoft Office (and still is) was conspicuously absent.
Windows 10, announced today, is the culmination of Microsoft’s efforts to make Windows something consumers can actually love and enjoy using again. The company is throwing everything it’s got into making Windows something desirable.
The first thing Microsoft did with Windows 10 is put the start menu right back in.After it being absent for three years now, it’s finally home and it’s long overdue (it’s lovely to see transparency has returned to Windows, too).
The new start menu is better than ever before, combining the best of the modern interface with the old-school start menu, which should help get consumers using the new interface while still feeling comfortable.
That full-screen experience from Windows 8 is still around, but Microsoft has added in some smarts that actually makes it better. Now if you’re on a device that can be used as a tablet or laptop, your computer will detect which way you’re using it and adjust the interface best for your experience.
Microsoft has also started realizing that some baggage can’t be shed. A new internet browser included in Windows 10 — dubbed “Spartan” for now — is an attempt to make a sort of Chrome competitor. It’s got a new look, a special intelligent reading mode and features the company’s Google Now competitor Cortana that will predict what you want to see.
Spartan is a fast, smart new browser that looks great and ditches Internet Explorer’s brand baggage, which might actually help win some browser market share back for the company.
Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant, is now integrated right into the desktop. She’s able to offer suggestions, search the internet, create reminders and a whole lot more. Microsoft actually beat Apple to the punch on this one; Siri isn’t even on the Mac yet, despite the company’s huge lead to get it there.
Microsoft also unveiled a number of flagship new features to get people excited;the Xbox One will stream games directly to your PC, mobile apps work the same on the desktop and mobile, a unified notification center and more.
But it didn’t end there: Windows 10 will be free for all users running Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1, provided they upgrade their OS within a year of release. This move is an incredible one, reaching further back than any other release.
Microsoft thinks it can win people over with Windows 10, so getting these people upgraded in the first year will be a huge feat. The company promises that those who upgrade will get updates to the latest version of Windows for free, for the lifetime of the device.
The biggest thing we don’t know, is if Windows 10 will be a subscription service or not. At the event, it was touted that “Windows is now a service” which implies you might pay a yearly fee, but Microsoft said during the Q&A that its business model isn’t changing at this point.
It’s my opinion that Windows should be made free, but it’s unlikely Microsoft will do that in the short term. Stay tuned, however, to see if the company drops the one-off software cost in favor of a yearly subscription instead.
The event today felt like the company finally had all its eggs in one basket. Everything finally looks like it’ll work together, not as disparate silos of products that happen to be from the same company.
With today’s announcement, Microsoft has even solved its developer problem. Now, developers can write one app that’ll work on every Windows tablet, phone and desktop.
Those apps will be in front of users in a familiar way, thanks to the new start menu, and will be far less confusing than previously.
Microsoft now has a single software platform and set of applications, which instead of competing for resources will work together. Now, Microsoft’s platform will either thrive together, or die together.
Of course, this actually requires developers to build the platform, which has been a slow, painful process so far. However, having unified the software should not only improve the app availability and quality problem on Windows, it should significantly improve it on Windows Phone too.
All of this is exciting on its own, but Microsoft had more up it’s sleeve; it’s build a wearable that allows you to see holograms overlaid in the real world. It’s called HoloLens, and it’s the kind of thing I could never have imagined Microsoft dreaming up.
I’m not sure whether HoloLens is something anyone actually wants, but it is super cool and incredibly futuristic. It’s a look where computing might go next.
Microsoft is an innovative company again; its vision for computing on desktop and mobile finally makes sense. Its bought all of it’s major products together again in one move and it feels like the company is finally home.
Satya Nadella said at the end of his presentation today that “we want to move from people needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows.” It feels like the company might actually be able to pull that off now.