I've heard many people say the same thing I concluded not long after I spent some time with Windows 10: If only this is what Windows 8 had been, things would have been different.
Windows 8's release was accompanied by a PC sales winter, but how responsible was Windows 8 for it? Perhaps it didn't aggravate the more important factors, i.e. that users were shifting their spending to these newfangled mobile devices, a market in which Windows only aspired to compete. But for sure Windows 8 did nothing to help the situation.
From the first time I saw Windows 8's hybrid PC/touch device approach I realized that hybrid devices, like the Surface, would be potential killer app for the new Windows. It's a tablet and a notebook/PC! It's still a killer idea if you ask me and I look forward to buying a Surface of some kind when my current notebook kicks the bucket.
The reason the hybrid design makes sense is that touch devices just can't replace keyboard/mouse devices. There are too many tasks, like writing this column, that are too difficult to do on a touch device. I have a Dell tablet running Windows 10 and I'm pretty good at typing on glass on it when I need to, but it still just feels all wrong. I'm sure a lot of people who travel with their iPad also bring a notebook of some kind. The hybrid has the potential to allow users to bring one device to perform both kinds of tasks.
But the initial Windows 8 was a big problem for all the new, innovative hybrid designs that came from Lenovo, Dell, and other big OEMs. Even if the design of (for instance) the Lenovo Yoga is cool, if it doesn't run the software you want well, you'll look elsewhere.
Windows 8.1 has arrested that problem I think. I've been using it for months now and the usability is excellent on a desktop PC. I do miss the Start Menu still, and I know that I can use a third party one, but I'm just going to put up with the Start Screen, which has poor usability on a non-touch device, for now. I do most of my work off the desktop anyway.
Whenever I see someone in public, like at a Starbucks, using a Windows 8 device I ask them what they think of it. Lately they all say it's pretty good, and the few Surface users I've asked say they love it.
I think Windows 10 will accelerate the rehabilitation of Windows' public image. If you follow the Technical Preview you can see clearly that Microsoft is trying to listen to the customers and make Windows 10 the OS you want to use. It has the best of Windows 7 mixed into the good parts of Windows 8, and it uses Microsoft's cloud services, like OneDrive, extensively.
So Windows 10 will go beyond not sucking really badly to being a very powerful and attractive OS. I still think that, with the right software, the hybrid design is a winner. Windows 10 could be that software.