Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Windows 10 - A Better Way

For those of you who love Windows as much as I do (I'm just a tech advocate, so I love pretty much all technology), you're probably interested in hearing where Microsoft is going with the new version of Windows. I'm running Windows 8.1 right now, and in general, computer software versioning follows a fairly rigid convention. When you launch a version with a lot of major new features, you move to the next whole number (so the next version after 8.1 is logically 9). Most companies give their software code names, so between Windows 3.0 and Windows 7, they used names like Windows 95, 98, XP, ME, Vista, etc., but those versions also had official numbers internally between 3 and 7. This jump to Windows 10 (instead of 9) seems very arbitrary, and if you watch the video, they try to explain it, but to me it sounds like an arbitrary decision.


One of the things that Apple has almost always been good at during product launches is making sure that they deliberately tell a story that makes sense within the context of the company, especially when it comes to naming their products. If there isn't a linear succession of naming, there is a reason for it. So when this newest version of Windows was called Windows 10, I started thinking why that might be.

This spring, at the Microsoft Build conference, Microsoft debuted some features that would be making it into the next version of Windows, including some updates to changes made between Windows 7 and 8 that many users found jarring. These changes were mostly seen as the company backpedalling on their Windows 8 vision with the tiled Start menu and touch-friendly controls. It was said that these updates would be coming in the fall, and most people sneered or derided the company for regressing in the look and feel of Windows.

It's not just me that thinks Joe Belfiore looks like Ed Norton, right?
The new Windows 10 that was first unveiled yesterday is an early look at software that will be released to the public sometime in 2015. It would seem to me that internally, Windows 9 was deemed to not contain enough meaningful forward progress from Windows 8. From what I've seen, it mostly contained changes to placate enterprise users, as well as those who are still intent on running Windows XP in favour of learning the way a slightly different looking operating system might function. I'm not saying Windows 8 was perfect, but it certainly didn't function THAT differently from Windows 7, and there were marked improvements made to the platform.

So my thought is that Windows version 9 was named and tested extensively internally, but just wasn't ever released to the public. The company wanted to really make sure they were making upgrades to the system that were simultaneously worthwhile to enterprise customers upgrading from XP or Windows 7 (let's be honest, no enterprise updated to Windows Vista), while still appealing to Windows 8 customers who are familiar with the Metro interface. I think they have done that in Windows 10.
I like what you're doing, but the kerning on "10" is all wrong!
Now, let's get back to the story that Microsoft told yesterday about the name. They mentioned naming it Windows 9 as a successor to Windows 8, but hand-waved that away by saying it wasn't something they wanted to do. Keep in mind that people were expecting a fully-functional operating system with this annual fall announcement, so it's strange that we didn't get that. Then they mentioned their lineup of products: Xbox One, OneDrive, OneNote, and said maybe they should call it Windows One. They then mentioned that it's really too bad that name is already taken, showing a picture of Bill Gates holding an old Windows 1.0 floppy disk. They also mentioned the "giants that came before us", but missed a major storytelling point in making the move to version 10. 

In my vision of what Apple PR and execs would do in a situation like this (or really anybody in computer science would first think of in this situation), a compelling narrative would have been:
We think Windows 1.0 was a huge step forward in the modern computing world, and we also think that the improvements and unification that we've built in to the next version of Windows are a whole order of magnitude better than the original version of Windows. 
Then they could put up the Windows 1.0 text on the screen, animate the decimal to move one position to the right, and slowly fade it out.
We're taking Windows on every device to a whole new level, with Windows 10.
This is a much more powerful and future-focused way of telling the story of Windows 10 than how it was done, and though I'm excited to try out Windows 10, I hope Microsoft know what they're going to do to move the platform forward, if they can get enterprise customers to finally trust them again.