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Windows 10, Lemon or Banker?

Microsoft has a poor track record with PC operating systems. Windows 95 was good, Windows 98 was very iffy until fixed in Windows 98 SE (second edition). Windows ME (Millenium Edition) was a disaster. Windows XP was very good, but Windows Vista was an absolute lemon. Windows 7 has been good, but the design changes introduced in Windows 8 were a serious miscalculation and the take-up of Windows 8 & 8.1 has been very poor. 


As a consequence some corporates are still running WIndows XP, even though support has been discontinued, and the majority are on Windows 7 - corporate IT managers are a savvy bunch and they don’t like the extra work required in supporting rubbish software hence the poor corporate take-up of Vista, 8 and 8.1.

Microsoft has just announced Windows 10 (there is no Windows 9) to be released late 2015, with a host of new features and some reversions back to Windows 7 & XP. Whilst Microsoft are clearly trying to appeal to the corporate IT manager that they should adopt Windows 10 it can’t be taken for granted that they will. Microsoft have just confirmed that for the first time they will be giving Windows 10 away, free for the first year to users of Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 in a move clearly designed to accelerate adoption of the new operating system. Combined with the end of “Mainstream” support for Windows 7 from January this year the free upgrade and reversion to features of more successful editions of Windows ought to make Windows 10 a sure bet, but will it be?

Clearly Microsoft aren’t taking success for granted, or they wouldn’t be giving Windows 10 away free, frankly the move smacks of desperation from a company that has had more failures than successes on the PC operating system front. 

The Windows 7 support issue is a red herring, whilst “Mainstream” support ended in January “Extended” support will continue through into 2020. This will provide the security patches that corporate IT managers care about most, and for many IT managers the non-security patches - so-called functional enhancements - are more a pain than a benefit so Windows 7 will remain viable for another 5 years. Success for Windows 10 seems far from guaranteed.

Microsoft have further muddied the water by trying to make Windows 10 all things to all men, designing the system so that it will run on desktops, tablets and smartphones, and in doing so potentially compromising it for all devices - a mistake they made with Windows 8 in trying to produce a system for both desktops and tablets, and perhaps not the smartest move.

Microsoft are however not stupid, they have learned the lessons of Windows 8 and have clearly tried to iron out the multi-platform wrinkles to produce a one-size fits all solution in Windows 10. Similarly they have learned from the reliability issues of Vista and Windows 8 so Windows 10 has been on public beta test for several months already, and Microsoft have another 8 months or so to fix the issues that beta testing has revealed - it seems quite likely that Windows 10 will both work well and be reliable.

Versatility and quality will not however matter much to the corporate IT manager - Windows 7 is reliable and well understood, so even if Windows 10 is free there will be little incentive for IT managers to upgrade because like all upgrades it will cost time and effort to upgrade and to train users on the features of the new system. Microsoft could again, as it was with XP, be a victim of its own success simply because there is no good reason to upgrade from Windows 7.

Except one…. 

One of Microsoft’s biggest strategic errors was its belated recognition of the importance of the World Wide Web, and its clumsy attempt to control the evolution of the web by imposing its own standards onto it. Microsoft’s web browser Internet Explorer (IE) was “popular” only whilst it was supplied as the default and integrated web browser for Windows, but since being legally required to offer users a choice of web browsers when installing Windows, IE market share has plummeted. Savvy users have instead adopted Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome for their better standards compliance, performance and features. IE has been an impediment to Microsoft’s reputation for over a decade, but that is finally set to change.

Windows 10 will include a new web browser to supplant IE. Code-named “Spartan” the new browser appears to have learned the lessons of Chrome and Firefox and promises to live up to its name by being slim and fast without all the legacy bloat needed to be compatible with Microsoft’s non-standard web functions. This will really appeal to corporate IT managers, the less variety they have to support the better and Microsoft finally producing a quality web browser will enable them to standardise more and control web security better. 

So Microsoft can have high hopes for Windows 10, not for itself as a good PC operating system, but as a web platform because Spartan promises to fix one of the biggest gaps in the Microsoft offering. The web browser is arguably the single most important tool on many PCs, and if Spartan is all that it promises Microsoft may finally have a defence against the incursions of Chrome and Firefox on the desktop; and because Windows 10 will run on Tablets & Phones, an answer to the rise of those pesky iPads, iPhones, Androids and Chromebooks. 

Other features of Windows 10, such as Cortana voice commands and Xbox features are probably a total irrelevance to the corporate environment.

My take? The jury is still out. Windows 10 will be released late this year and will be worth serious examination by corporate IT managers. If nothing bad shows up in the first six months following release and Spartan lives up to its early promise I’d be planning corporate migrations from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for mid-2016 - not for Windows 10 itself because Windows 7 is good until 2020, but because the Spartan web browser is probably more significant than all the other enhancements of Windows 10 added together. If you’re looking ahead in your corporate IT planning you should factor in Windows 10 for 2016, this will be one of those rare Microsoft upgrades that could genuinely justify early adoption.


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