Windows 10: Three things it has to do to succeed

After Windows 8, Microsoft needs to make Windows 10 a big success - here are some of the things it really has to get right.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

The tech industry is already saying goodbye to Windows 8 (Microsoft's problem was that not enough people wanted to say hello to it in the first place) and looking ahead to Windows 10, which is likely to launch in the middle of next year.

Microsoft is already being much more open about the development of its next operating system than it has been previously — offering tech previews to users, for example. But what does Windows 10 need to do to really make a breakthrough?

1. Deliver a compelling reason to upgrade.

Firstly, and most obviously, Windows 10 has to deliver a compelling reason for users to upgrade their OS. The general consensus of the CIOs I've spoken to seems to be that sure, Windows 10 looks nice, but they'll need more than just nice to be persuaded to dive into the pain and disruption of another desktop migration

Around half of PCs accessing the internet are running Windows 7, according to numbers from NetMarketShare. There's every reason to expect that Windows 7 will become the new Windows XP — a reliable old comfort blanket that few CIOs will be willing to abandon for years to come. Just as the success of Windows XP made it hard to persuade customers — both business and consumer — of the benefits of upgrading to subsequent OS releases, so the shadow cast by Windows 7 is likely to be long.

After all, enterprise customers can still buy PCs with Windows 7 onboard, and Microsoft has promised to support it until 2020, so many CIOs will think there is little rush to upgrade to Windows 10. Version 7 is stable, popular, and requires no user training: all of which makes it hard to unseat. It's a classic business issue: in Windows 7, Microsoft built a product that a lot of its customers really like, so persuading them to move on will be hard.

Microsoft's 'mobile-first, cloud-first' strategy isn't necessarily helping here either. Indeed, my fellow ZDNet journalist Mary Jo Foley recently posed an even more existential question for Windows: as services and applications like Office become less tightly bound to the operating system, why go Windows at all? Windows 10 needs to answer that question decisively.

2. Balance innovation with continuity.

Secondly Windows 10 needs to balance innovation (the reason to upgrade) with continuity. For many, Windows 8 moved too far and too fast from the world users understood and, despite all the interesting technology under the hood, changes to the look and feel were too drastic. Windows 10 needs to build on the successful elements of Windows 8 but also persuade the late adopter (of which there are many) that this is still their Windows.

3. Live happily with tablets and mobile.

The third thing Windows 10 needs to prove is that Windows can live happily on tablets and mobile. This is of course what Windows 8 promised — indeed, what it was designed to do — but apart from the interesting-but-niche hybrid devices like the Surface and the Lenovo Yoga, the tablet world is still dominated by Android and iOS.

Even though the initial excitement around tablets has died down a bit (and PCs may even make a bit of a comeback), getting beyond the PC is still absolutely essential for Windows. Windows 10 not only has to prove that it can be cross-platform, but that it can be relevant cross platform, and that it can offer real benefits to users (that is, something above and beyond giving Microsoft a chance to sell more Lumias or Surfaces).

What else does Windows 10 need to do to be a success? Does it look promising so far? Let me know in the reader comments below.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

Previously on Monday Morning Opener

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