Windows 11 chaos, and how copying Apple could have helped Microsoft avoid it

Five years is a long time in tech. Windows 10 has been around for too long.

So, it didn't take long for the Windows 11 chatter to go from oohs and aahs to screaming and shouting.

A broken compatibility checker, combined with a significant change to the system requirements that could see as many as 60 percent of existing Windows 10 PCs -- in real terms, that's a number hovering around the 800-million mark -- unable to upgrade to Windows 11.

On the one hand, Microsoft has good reasons to make these changes. In an unsigned blog post, Microsoft highlights how the changes will result in greater security and reliability.

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These are cornerstones to a happy and well-functioning digital life.

But on the other hand, consigning huge swathes of existing Windows 10 PCs to the scrapheap -- or at least leaving them stuck on Windows 10 until that train ride comes to an end -- is messy and painful for the end-users affected.

The problem is, Windows 10 has been around for too long.

First released in 2015, Windows 10 has built an install-base of well over a billion systems. Yes, I know that Windows 10 has seen many updates over that time, but the underlying minimum system requirements have remained the same.

That's a big install base, and changing the direction of a ship that big is going to bring with it big pain.

And five years is a long time in tech.

By leaving the system requirements unchanged for so long, it's created stagnation within the ecosystem. Even Microsoft itself, the primary driver of the PC ecosystem, is selling PCs today under its own Surface branding that currently cannot run Windows 11.

This is a mess.

It's also a mess having to cut adrift hundreds of millions of systems, but the truth is that if Microsoft had been doing a better job of managing the ecosystem, this number would have been far smaller because the culling would have been happening over time.

The solution is the one that Apple uses.

Yearly updates, and with that, a yearly thinning of the hardware herd.

An end to big monolithic releases.

Microsoft outlines the problems this has caused in the blog post I referenced above. It talks of how these changes to system requirements will improve security and reduce crashes. All important stuff, and perhaps the bigger story here is that there are hundreds of millions of systems out there that Microsoft thinks aren't secure enough.

Another thing to bear in mind is that these security vulnerabilities and crashes haven't come out of nowhere, they're problems and issues that are happening now, and are an admission of the problems with the Windows 10 ecosystem, failings that can seemingly only be addressed by drawing a line under the affected hardware.

As much as I have issues with Apple's aggressive update schedule for iOS and macOS, it controls the ecosystem and gives an expectation that things have a finite supported lifespan.

That said, Apple's not in the business of selling hardware that's going to become unsupported over the course of a few months. The fact that Microsoft is currently selling a high-end Surface Studio 2 that isn't supported isn't a good look.

Imagine just having dropped close to $5,000 on a system only to find that it's not on the Windows 11 compatibility list. It wouldn't surprise me to find the compatibility list tweaked soon so this system ends up being upgradable.

It's an inescapable truth that tech has a finite lifespan, and the pace of change is relentless. Throw security on top of that, and it's amazing that our tech lasts as long as it does.

But with better management, the inevitably painful transitions that happen as hardware makes its way through the lifecycle can be better managed. Trying to manage that in five-year chunks doesn't seem workable.