Microsoft released the latest build of its Windows 10 pre-release software at its event last month. Reports have been that Windows 10 is on track to be what Windows 8 was not; the true successor to the incredibly successful Windows 7 operating system that Microsoft’s user base has come to know and love. I downloaded and installed a virtualised copy of the latest technical preview under Parallels on my MacBook Pro yesterday, and I have to say it’s impressive (at least in its subtle changes over Windows 8.1). So much so, that I decided to write this blog post while within the Windows 10 environment!
For pre-release software, it’s quite stable; however, you should know that it is still buggy. I’ve already noticed some strange things when you try to personalise the desktop with wallpapers and colour options that don’t always work the first time you click on them. And while I would never recommend using pre-release software like this on a primary machine, it works exceptionally well all things considered. I’ll keep testing it for the time being in this virtualised environment until its final release, but I have to say that the overall user interface and environment, even in its current unfinished format, is a strong improvement over Windows 8.1.
I’m not a tech expert per se but I do use my computer a fair bit and I know my way around. One of my big complaints about Windows 8.1 is that it doesn’t look right on a high resolution screen. I run Windows 8.1 on my Retina MacBook Pro (under Parallels) and although it certainly works fine, the layout and design isn’t quite right. Whereas OS X on the Mac gets the scaling right while accounting for all those extra pixels, Windows 8.1 isn’t consistent, and as a result, it has to rely on some zooming features in different parts of the interface to “attempt” proper scaling on a retina display. The first thing I noticed after installing the Windows 10 Technical Preview is that you can tell Microsoft has started addressing this problem. The taskbar and start menu now look right and in proportion. The start menu itself is back, and although it appears a little unwieldy out of the box, you can customise it to be exactly what you need (something which of course is not possible in Windows 8.1). And although I haven’t test it properly yet, I can see that its built in ability to switch between tablet and desktop mode is a lot smarter than the “2 UIs in 1” approach taken with Windows 8.1.
In testing Windows 10, I’ve also downloaded and installed the preview of Word and Excel for Windows 10 (and using them to partially write this blog post from this particular paragraph onwards after using Word 2013). Although these appear to be very similar to the touch versions already available on iOS and Android, you can see that if they include these as part of the operating system that they would be exceptional value. You can still opt to get the full versions of Word and Excel (and other Office apps) if you want to, but these are still great all on their own for basic documents.
In taking Windows 10 for a test run, it’s obvious that it will appeal to that part of the customer base (and let’s face it, it was the majority) who were put out by Windows 8. Microsoft finally has the chance to properly encourage existing Windows 7 and XP users to upgrade, particularly with its free-for-a-year upgrade option for consumers using Windows 7 and up. It would appear that barring some unforeseen screw-up, Microsoft will be back on track in a big way when Windows 10 is finally released to the masses later in 2015.
The question of course is why didn’t they do all of this in the first place with Windows 8? The answer lies in the prevailing thinking at the time. Windows 8 was released at a time when the tablet was thought to be replacing the PC. Remember that famous Steve Jobs declaration that we had all entered the post-PC world? Microsoft took this literally and attempted to force its user base to adopt a mobile, more modern user interface that signalled the end of the traditional desktop. What they discovered however over the last few years and after a fierce backlash, is that people have a preference for a desktop and a smartphone, with tablets being a nice addition to have in the mix (this also helps to partially explain the systemic decline in tablet sales across the board including the recent iPad sales drop). A minority of people use tablets as their primary machine, but the vast majority still use PCs, particular in business, corporate and enterprise environments. If Microsoft had gone with the notion of giving its users access to all options rather than shutting them out of legacy environments during the development of Windows 8, that operating system would not have turned out to be PR disaster that it became.
And it was a PR disaster more than a technical disaster. I’ve used Windows 8 and 8.1 since it release, almost exclusively in desktop mode and it has enhancements over Windows 7 that make the desktop environment better to use; unfortunately, the “forced-down-our-throats” metro interface makes for a clumsy UI experience in using Windows 8 overall. From this perspective, Windows 10 is a refreshing reboot and it’s good to see Microsoft finally getting the message. I’m looking forward to the final release of Windows 10 and incorporating it in to my workflow.