First Look at Windows 10

Chronologically speaking, Windows 10 makes no sense. Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10…right….

Then again, some of the best things in life never do make much sense. Circular pizzas delivered in square boxes. Deal or No Deal. Star Wars.

Windows 10 may just join that list, if Microsoft actually manage to pull off what we saw demonstrated at their ‘technical preview’ event this week.

The reason for the name jump, purportedly, is that this is the last major operating system update from Microsoft. Up until now, Microsoft have clung to the traditional approach of releasing new operating systems – i.e they make major changes, years apart.

When Windows 10 hits devices (likely to be well into next year), Microsoft will then release gradual updates for it, on a more frequent basis.

In that case, perhaps they will drop the number altogether and just be called ‘Windows’.

Presumably (though Microsoft didn’t reveal anything about pricing for Windows 10) this will work more like a subscription, much like their Office 365 pricing structure. You might make an annual commitment, and this includes all your updates.

When I say last major release, I do mean major. Microsoft (if they do pull it off) will be going one step ahead of their biggest rivals Apple and Google by creating an operating system with a common code base for every single device. And that includes consumer items like the Xbox One and devices that don’t even have screens, like fridges that are part of the internet of things.

Apple has iOS and Mac OS. Google has Android and Chrome. Microsoft will now have Windows 10, and that’s it.

Crucially, despite this being ‘one operating system to rule them all’ (as it’s been dubbed), it will still be tailored for each device. So how you use Windows 10 on a phone will be different to how you use Windows 10 on a PC. With Windows 8, Microsoft essentially just bolted on a touch user interface for everything, which wasn’t exactly user friendly.

What about 2-in-1 devices that can work as a tablet and a laptop? Microsoft have thought of that. They’d have been foolhardy not to in this mobile driven world, where we need something for both on the go and in the office (not forgetting their now signature device, the Surface Pro 3).

For these types of devices, say you’re using it as a tablet on the train, then you get off and head into your office. You plug your keyboard and mouse in, as you want to do some fiddly spreadsheet work.

As soon as you do that, you will get asked to ‘Exit tablet mode?’, as soon as the system recognises your keyboard. And of course vice versa (you can switch this command off if it becomes too irritating though).

Microsoft are calling this functionality ‘Continuum’, which is fairly appropriate given that you can switch modes right in the middle of your work, and not lose anything.

What we saw at Tuesday’s event was the very, very early beginnings of a new start for Microsoft. And the pun is intentional – they are bringing the Start menu back, this time with some friends – those live tiles we saw in Windows 8, which can be customised to suit.

Another item of note is the ‘Snap Assist’ function, which allows you to work on different things simultaneously on the screen (you can have up to four apps running, whether that’s a Word document, a website, CRM. Joe Belfiore (who runs Microsoft’s operating system experience team and who demonstrated Windows 10), showed an example of using Dynamics alongside a spreadsheet for expenses.

What we saw at the event was purely for the business audience. The consumer market (Xbox One, smartphones) was barely mentioned, other than to say they will get the operating system tailored for them. We are likely to get news on this in January/ February next year.

But what impressed me (almost as much as the one operating system approach) is Microsoft’s clear plan to gain feedback. They are running the ‘Windows Insider Program’ which is a chance for developers and people not too fussed about using something that isn’t entirely polished yet, to download the technical preview and actually start test driving things for yourself.

Microsoft will then continue to improve things over the coming months until Windows 10’s official release date.

This is a new era for Microsoft – stepping away from traditional release efforts, and aiming big with a single cross platform ecosystem that addresses the multi device world we now live in.

Trying to have one thing for everything could conjure a ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none’ impression. But here, there doesn’t seem to be much compromise because it is such a tailored approach for each device.

And, as Dave Altavilla sums up nicely in this Forbes article:

“It seems like a herculean effort for a company that was previously so set in their ways. Then again, since the recent changing of the guard in Redmond, it also seems like anything is quite possible.”

I’m sure we’ll talk more about Windows 10 over the coming months as my colleagues and I gain insight directly from Microsoft about the new features, and how our customers can benefit from this new platform. Please stay tuned.