Each time there’s a new version of Windows, Microsoft bills it as “the best Windows yet," understandably enough.
History teaches us that each time Microsoft tries to really stretch itself and push the development envelope on Windows, it backfires.
Windows 8 was the most recent stumble in Microsoft’s journey, with Redmond throwing itself wholeheartedly into a touch-tablet system and throwing out the desktop.
The Microsoft cadre building Windows 8 deliberately pushed aside dissenting voices and the cultural legacy of Windows. In so doing, Microsoft got stuck with one of the least wanted versions of Windows in its history. Before that, Windows Vista was the pariah.
Windows Vista was intended as another landmark effort: thoroughly reworking storage and interface under yet-another grand plan, this time from Bill Gates.
In both cases, Microsoft failed to win consumers and business users. On the latter, businesses have been staying in away in droves and Microsoft’s share of the PC and tablet market on Windows 8 is only just a little over 10 per cent.
Windows 7 to the rescue
In both cases it has been Windows 7 that has saved Microsoft’s bacon.
Windows 7 came in 2009 after Windows Vista, and it meant PC makers had a new version of Windows they could put on machines to sell to customers. Seven was there again in the aftermath of Windows 8 in 2012, and then Windows 8.1.
Today Windows 7 runs on 55 per cent of the World’s PCs. Number two is Windows XP, released in 2001 and now so old it’s dangerous to run – as Microsoft now no longer makes security fixes for new hacks or threats.
Windows 7’s big plus wasn’t that it tried to make a big statement – it just worked, a phrase Microsofties intoned pushing the Windows 8 Surface slab.
With a consumer preview of Windows 10 scheduled for this Wednesday, Microsoft has reverted to Windows 7 mode: going with the safe and familiar.
The hated immersive UI experience that dropped you into the Metro world is gone and the desktop environment is back. Metro is not gone completely, though; rather, "Metro-looking" apps can be run in the desktop environment and tweaked and resized as you’d expect.
Also, the painful switching between separate Metro and desktop worlds has been greatly reduced and the familiar Start Button is back, including Metro icons.
The word is balance: there is a continuum mode, something that will let Windows and the user flip between desktop and tablet rather than forcing everybody onto a tablets death march with a loaded rifle jabbing you in the small of the back. Charms remain for those who like to swipe their way between apps.
So, sanity returns to the world of Windows? Not quite.
Since the first – supposedly “enterprise” focused – Windows 10 technology preview last year, there have been rumours around more consumer-friendly features.
One is on integration with Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana, the rival to Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now, which made its debut on the unwanted Windows Phone.
Cortana on the phone is used for voice-activated calls and searches, mapping, location and to launch apps.
Also reported is a new Windows browser, codenamed Spartan, which may or may not integrate with Cortana and work with digital inking for stylus input.
Spartan is reportedly not an automatic alternative to Internet Explorer, but rather an app that can be downloaded from the Microsoft app store.
It seems, though, that these glamorous features are intended as tinsel to sell the idea that Windows 10 is a big breakthrough and distract from the Windows 8 pullback.
The truth, however, is Microsoft can’t afford to foist another Windows Vista or Windows 8 on its world because this time around there’s no alternative.
Microsoft needs a safe and familiar platform to chuck to business users who’ve kept right on buying Windows in the Windows 8 world, even if consumers haven’t.
They weren’t going to migrate to Windows 8 – they were sucking up Windows 7 – but since last year that option has no longer been available: Microsoft has now stopped retailers and PC makers from selling and installing Windows 7. As of this month, Windows 7 entered extended support mode, meaning the only thing you can now expect from Microsoft on Windows 7 are new bug fixes, if and when problems crop up.
Safe, desktoppy, with a step into tablets as and when it’s needed: Windows 10 looks like the future for all concerned, just not tech fashion zealots. ®