Regular readers of this column will already know that I have been highly critical of Windows 8, both before its release, and subsequently. I don't want to get into the minutia of why – here are some links if you're interested – but suffice it to say that it looked like Microsoft was taking Windows in a direction that wasn't compatible with what I wanted out of an operating system, and that in turn accelerated my move to the OS X platform as my work-a-day platform.
But don't let that fool you into thinking that I no longer have contact with Windows. I do. A lot. And this is why I was keen to take a look at what the future had to offer.
I've been ready and willing to admit all along that my gripes with Windows 8 were specific to me. Maybe I was too bound to the Start Menu paradigm, or perhaps I was still clinging to rich applications while the rest to the world craved simple "apps." Or maybe I was a minority faction when it came to wanting to drive my systems with a keyboard and mouse as opposed to my stubby fingers.
"It's not you Windows 8, it's me."
I came to the Windows 10 Technical Preview with a heavy heart and low hopes. I was expecting more of the same. More emphasis on touch. More tile insanity. More low-information-density apps. More learning curve.
I was wrong, and for once I was happy to be wrong.
"I'm sorry Windows 8, it was you after all, you crazy coot."
Let's get one thing straight. I'm convinced that the purpose of this Technical Preview is to convince all those Windows 7 enterprise users that Windows 10 puts behind it all that Windows 8 nonsense. Windows 8 put far too much focus on features that businesses saw at best as irrelevant because most of their PCs don't have touch, and at worse expensive because it meant lots of costly retraining, downtime, and inefficiencies.
Mission accomplished. Windows 10 proves that Microsoft is brave enough to admit that the Windows 8 experiment was a failure and that it's now time to get back to the serious business of building a platform that people want, not one that they are told they need.
Now I'm certain that there are going to be people who are distressed by Microsoft's decision to resurrect the Start Menu and put it and the Windows Desktop back in the limelight. I don't blame them. They've put a lot of effort into morphing their workflows to fit in around Windows 8, and then changed that again once to accommodate changes bought about by Windows 8.1. Some even went as far as evangelizing the changes, claiming that they represented the future, and that everyone is just going to have to get used to it.
Yeah, about that…
The important thing to appreciate about Windows 10 is that Microsoft isn't building an operating system specifically for you or me. Microsoft is building it to cater for the billion or so people out there using PCs that aren't touch-enabled. These are the people who have invested billions and billions of worker-days in creating effective workflows that utilize the Windows paradigms they have come to know (and perhaps love), and for Microsoft to come along and make drastic fundamental changes to this is a risky maneuver.
Windows 10 is a clear signal to all the uneasy enterprise customers that those crazy days are over. Windows 10 isn't for those people who want to live on the cutting edge. Windows 10 is Windows for the masses.
Windows 8 was undoubtedly a brave move. I think Microsoft thought that if it made Windows a touch-first platform, it would revive flagging PC sales by fostering new PC form factors. But it didn't work. Partly because people are getting out of the habit of buying new PCs every few years, partly because Windows 8 user interface was an incoherent muddle, and partly because Microsoft and the OEMs didn't do a good job of communicating the benefits of the new platform.
And now it's equally brave that Microsoft is moving on.
Coming to Windows 10 feels comforting and familiar. This is what Windows should feel like. Sure, it still has some of the flourishes of Windows 8 – immediately noticeable when you click on the Start Menu – but it's reserved and no longer feels like an annoying child trying to get your attention by hysterically waving its arms in your face. I feel like I'm back in control of what I see, rather than having a firehose of animated tiles directed at my eyes. I still hate most of the apps – primarily because even on a small display they feel sparse, and scaling them up on big screens makes them feel like I'm looking upon a barren wasteland – but they're out of the way and don't bother me like they used to.
Finally, I feel like I can just fire up the applications I need, and get on with the job at hand, which is exactly what I want not just from Windows but from any operating system I use.
Are there problems with Windows 10? Of course there are. There's also a lot I'd like see added to Windows 10 to make it an operating system for the 21st century. But the good news is that it's only at the Technical Preview stage, and Microsoft is looking for feedback from users. This feedback will make Windows 10 even stronger. Microsoft is fortunate to have a massive user base that is passionate and enthusiastic, and those people are willing to put their time into making Microsoft's vision for what the next version of Windows should be even better.
If you're a fan of Windows touch then you're going to have to wait for a future preview release to see what Microsoft has planned for you since the Technical Preview doesn't bring anything new to the table. But the fact that this has to wait for a future Consumer Preview is another clear indication that the mantra of "touch-first" is now little more than an echo over in Redmond.