Microsoft Skips Ahead to Windows 10 and Takes a Step Backwards

The unveiling of a version of Microsoft Windows in 2007 Photograph by Keith Bedford/EPA

All hail Windows 10: Lack of Conviction Edition.

On Tuesday, Microsoft provided a sneak peek at its next operating system. One of the big reveals from the news conference in San Francisco is that Microsoft will go straight from today’s Windows 8 to Windows 10. Apparently this is because the new software will be so awesome that simply calling it Windows 9 would not do it justice. More likely, some Microsoft market researcher decided that people don’t like 9s as much as they like 10s. Who knows?

Windows 10 looks to be as much of a step backward as it is a step forward. Microsoft has given in to critics and brought back the traditional start menu that people will recognize from Windows 7. That means consumers can click on the window icon and have a menu pop up showing their documents folder, PC settings, command prompt, and the like. Microsoft has also tried to placate people who were accustomed to the tile-based interface of Windows 8 by, in essence, gluing a few tiles onto the right side of the start menu.

The familiar Start menu is back, with some changes
Courtesy Microsoft

This could be considered a metaphor for Microsoft’s indecision, except it seems rather literal. Microsoft has grafted a 2014 interface onto a 2004 interface. Company executives described the setup as going from a first-generation Prius to a Tesla Model S. No one wants to drive something that is half a Prius and half a Model S because that would be ugly and embarrassing.

The other really big news is that the upcoming version of Windows will be the same software running across all devices in the Windows world. From tiny gadgets and phones right on up to bulky desktops, all will share the same underlying code and have access to the same apps. This fulfills Bill Gates’s long-held vision of writing one operating system to rule them all, with Windows serving as a unifying force across hardware.

Courtesy Microsoft
You can now open apps from the Windows Store

It’s easy enough to understand how Microsoft ended up going down this path. Windows 8 offered people a radical reinterpretation of the desktop, with its tiles and touch-heavy interface, and consumers responded coolly to the software. Microsoft gave everyone an out by including its old, faithful desktop as a background option, and people ended up grasping that crutch.

With Windows 10, Microsoft is delivering something familiar, which should be an easier sell for businesses looking to upgrade machines with minimal hassle. This is important because Microsoft is facing corporate pressure from Apple and Google in earnest for the first time in its history.

On the other hand, Microsoft is copping out once again. A big letdown with Windows 8 was that Microsoft did provide the crutch of the old desktop. It felt weird to be using a modern interface, click on an app, and suddenly get thrown into the past. Microsoft did not have the guts to force people to adopt its vision of the future, and the company is playing it safe once again.

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