Microsoft's biggest Windows 10 challenge: Generating enthusiasm

There's more to getting Windows 10 right than just perfecting the code. Microsoft needs to make us once again enthusiastic about Windows.

The more I use the Windows 10 Technical Preview, the more I like it. In fact, the more I use it, the more I feel snubbed by Microsoft for bringing out Windows 8 in the first place. Windows 10 is proof that Microsoft did have it within itself to build on what Windows 7 had to offer and deliver an operating system that can combine traditional keyboard and mouse inputs with touch in a meaningful way that doesn't an adverse effect on productivity.

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But Microsoft has a bigger challenge to address than just making Windows 10 work with both old and new form factors. Microsoft has to make people enthusiastic about operating systems again.

Cast your mind back to Windows 95 – if you can remember that far back – and recall the excitement and enthusiasm that surrounded that release. Microsoft spent hundreds of millions of dollars on building up hype around that operating system, and while it was flawed, people who had never heard of Windows before were talking about Windows 95. The excitement was palpable. It was like an iPhone release.

People really cared about Windows, even if they weren't sure why.

Following the success of Windows 95 we were treated to a few releases that tried to fix the flaws, but the truth is that they introduced just as many – if not more – into the mix. But passions were still high.

Then came Windows XP.

I, along with millions of others, remember Windows XP with fondness. The release brought much needed security and stability to the Windows platform. If, like me, you came to Windows XP from a Windows NT/2000 background, then stability was something you took for granted (I had an old Windows NT 4.0 system that could go for months without needing a reboot), but if you were coming to it from the Windows 9x camp then Windows XP was a totally transformative experience.

People were jazzed about the new operating system, either because it offered a simple way into computing for those new to the PC scene, or because they were told it would make the lives of existing PC users better in some way.

Windows XP also happened to coincide with the consumer PC explosion. People who'd never owned a PC now had one, and for millions of those first-time PC buyers, Windows XP was the first – and last – operating system they'd ever need. Many seemed oblivious that there had ever been a Windows before Windows XP, and many didn't see the need for there to be another release.

Since then it's been pretty much downhill. Windows Vista was almost universally disliked even though there really wasn't that bad, especially after the first service pack landed. And while Windows 7 seemed like it might turn things around, it wasn't long before Windows 8 replaced it and the downhill slide resumed.

It's easy to put all the blame at the door of Microsoft and Windows, but this is unfair. While there's little doubt that Microsoft has dropped the ball on more than one occasion over the past decade or so, another factor that has changed is consumer interest in operating systems. Windows Vista was flawed, but what was even more flawed was consumer expectation. There was only so much that Windows Vista could offer. Users had lost sight of the fact that an operating system is a platform on which to run other software.

We now live in era not only where devices get updates for free, but most of the apps that people use. People just don't seem that enthusiastic about updates. Operating systems are like browsers or an updated app. They're just part of the furniture of computing, and not something to get overly excited about.

Even iOS seems to have hit a rough patch and has seen its adoption rates slow down dramatically, and while there will undoubtedly be a buzz surrounding OS X 10.10 Yosemite which is due to land any day now, you can be certain that if Apple charged even a buck for that update, even that modest amount would have a chilling effect on consumer enthusiasm.

Not only does Microsoft have to come out with a winning version of Windows, but it also has to work to foster renewed interest in the platform as a whole. This is going to mean working closely with the hardware OEMs – who themselves desperately want to see PC sales improve – to get the message out there as to what Windows 10 has to offer, both for enterprise users and consumers. On top of security and stability improvements, Microsoft needs to educate buyers on how PCs have changed from a beige box sitting on a desk into new and exciting form factors. Also, support for apps opens up new and exciting possibilities for Windows 10 users to get the work they need to do done faster.

Even if Windows 10 ends up being a free upgrade for some/all consumers, it's still important to get the message out, not only to convince enterprise users to upgrade, but also because it's the long-term success of Windows 10 will need more than a few weeks of buzz following its release.

Finally, Microsoft needs to reach out to people who have turned their backs on Windows to find out why. These people have a lot of insight to offer into what they feel they want from an operating system, and why Windows doesn't deliver that for them any more.

Microsoft has a chance for a new start with Windows 10. The company is under new management, and things are moving in new and exciting directions, and the PC could once again take center stage.

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