Windows 10: Rethinking The Operating System

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Windows 10 is about a week away from being available to the world. In truth it has been available to everyone for a very long time, just they needed to sign off on having a potentially buggy beta version of software running on one of their machines. Yes, I realize most people do not have multiple personal computers. So does Microsoft. That’s why they disclaim the heck out of everything necessary for a user to get into the Windows Insider’s Program. Once opted in users may play with a new, experimental version of an operating system that may or may not end up looking like what you get. AT least that was the case up to about a month ago, when Microsoft stopped adding on new features and shifted the focus on removing bugs and optimizing performance.

For a lot of techie people, like me, playing with new stuff is fun. Even the bugs and finding a work-around for them become an adventure. It’s kind of like taking a dare as a kid. You know? But for most people, playing with really buggy software that you use everyday on a machine would be frustrating and is ill advised. Having said all that, Insiders have the option of continuing to receive regular updates and experimental versions of Windows 10 even after it is officially released. You see, the version that was released a little over a week ago to the Insider community, Build 10240, is called TH 1 Threshold 1. Microsoft is already working on TH2, the next version of Windows 10 which may make it as a released update later this year.

The overall idea behind the perpetual beta testing is sound for a company like Microsoft that has always been in the business of making applications that work for the mainstream on a variety of platforms. Granted, they are probably best at writing code that works on their own operating systems but they develop stuff for other OSes as well. Most people are unaware, for example, that MS is one of the largest software developers for Mac OS.

The Redmond, Washington tech giant has always been focused on applications. That is where most of their money is made, licensing software to businesses and consumers of such programs as MS Office.

How did MS get into the operating system business? One day in the distant past IBM approached them with the idea of creating a disc OS that would work on a personal computer that would compete head-to-head with what Apple was making. The result was PC-DOS and, a little while thereafter later, MS-DOS that worked on brands of personal computers other than IBM.

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IBM and MS continued in a development partnership for a while in an attempt to create a more user-friendly Interface. Most people think this came in response to the first iteration of Mac OS, but in fact OS2 was in the works even as Apple was developing “Lisa”, which was the precursor to Mac OS. When MS and IBM had a falling out over the direction of the new operating system, OS2 emerged from IBM’s portion of the code and Windows was released from what MS took. The two systems were mutually compatible with DOS and, up to Windows 3.1 and OS2 Warp 3.0, could actually run programs cross platform. Sometimes new drivers needed to be loaded in order to get full support from things like sound cards and graphics accelerators, but you could actually run Windows in OS2. After all, up to that time Windows was really an application that rode on the backbone of DOS.

Apple introduced the personal computer world to using a mouse and a graphical user interface years ahead of the IBM-MS world. Although there were functions created for a mouse that worked in DOS-based applications, quite honestly, they felt primitive when compared to what was happening from the folks in Cupertino, California. Apple was driving innovation – sometimes, even often, in strange and unexpected directions that ended in failure. But that is the essence of living on the frontier. You fail more often than you succeed and, if you are smart, you end up figuring out how to market your failures, repackaging the idea under a fresh disguise. Apple has been good at doing that. I would dare to say that the ill-fated Newton of the 90’s was the conceptual precursor to the iPhone, iPad and iOS. Certainly, it was the first hand-held personal computing device, years ahead of those somewhat less clunky things Compaq, HP, Sony and others foisted in the early part of this century as handheld devices.

The evolutionary step, the innovation all others lacked in gaining mass appeal, came when Apple integrated a cellphone into the device. Remember the lambasting Apple received in the tech press for the first iPhone? “This is not the best cellphone out there” one reviewer said after completely missing the point of the device.  The access to the cellphone network made the iPhone a truly portable, handheld computer able to access the Internet from virtually anywhere and fit into your pocket. Oh, by the way, because it could access the Internet through the cellphone network, here’s a phone application and a text messaging application just in case you want to use those.  What’s more the keyboard for text messaging was integrated into the operating system! in 2007 those were major tech coups for Apple.

It’s easy to forget  – or perhaps we would like to forget – where we have been and what we have been through with recent operating system development.  Following the rollicking success of MS Windows XP, which was the first OS to integrate the nifty feature set and hardware support of Windows 95/98 into an operating system for the mainstream that shared the business OS, Windows NT, core, Microsoft decided to explore the possibilities of a really pretty and sometimes functional graphical user interface with the ill-fated Windows Vista. I can tell you, from personal experience, Windows Vista was so bad that it drove me to playing with various flavors of Linux as my home computer interface and eventually prompted me to cross-over to the dark side – using Mac OS X.

As a computer tech I had experience with Apple products over the years and had, on occasion, needed to use that knowledge to fix this or that for an Apple aficionado. It was just that I had never previously made the leap on my own home system until 2007. I switched to a Mac and, although there is a saying that once you go Mac you never go back, I have bucked the system by returned to using Windows earlier this year.

Here’s why I jumped off the Apple platform. Despite loving Mac OS and the Apple universe of things, I’ve been seeing some chinks in Apple’s shining armor. Maybe it’s just me but after Steve Job’s tragic death I think the vision in Cupertino is a lot more like it was in the mid 1990’s – when Apple ousted Jobs for a while and began a period of struggle that nearly ended the company. Yeah, I could be wrong. Apple is a giant in the industry right now and the most valuable company in the world. It is still doing a lot of things right. But I think its relative gain in PC market share over the past few years has been due to MS’s failings. Also the entire pie is shrinking as more and more people discover that their tablet and/or phone does most everything they used to do on their PC. More and more people don’t need at PC at home. With Windows 10 that trend may be ready to reverse to some extent.

Not only does Windows 10 do whatever you can do on Mac OS, but it also ups the ante a bit here and there along the way. In other words, the folks in Redmond, Washington are back to innovating things that people like as well as things people want to do with their computers, such as using them as virtual assistants and automating everything in a home or business with one shared interface. Overall, for consumers, the immediate future could be a lot of fun as Apple and Microsoft strive to outdo one another again – like in the old days.

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About a week ago, Microsoft released Build 10240 to Windows Insiders – aka beta testers. This was, in essence, the Release to Manufacturer (RTM) version of the OS. But, unlike what happened with every previous version of Windows, it did not receive the usual fanfare. Golden discs were not flown via helicopter to the major manufacturers that use Windows as the operating system for their lines of personal computers. Let’s face it, folks, the PC world has changed. It is not a growing industry anymore. It is actually in significant decline, near double digit decline on an annualized basis.

Despite how ubiquitous Windows has always been in the business world it’s market share in the home has been steadily eroded over the past few years. From personal experience I can attest that Mac OS is easier to learn. Also, it doesn’t require you to know how to build a clock in order to tell time – if you know what I mean. Windows has always had some maintenance issues like installing updates and running utilities in the background to correct things that don’t work right all the time. It has always been a huge target for viruses and malware not because it is inherently easier to attack than Mac OS but because there are more devices in the world running Windows. As Mac OS has become more prevalent viruses have begun to appear in that side of the universe as well.

Although there are updates and such in the Mac world the end-user does not have to do as much or as often as with a Windows-based machine. For the most part, the updates install in the background and many users aren’t even aware that it is happening until there is a prompt to accept the changes to the OS and/or reboot the system.

In defense of Microsoft, they have always had quite a load on their table -to write code that works over a broader spectrum of devices than does Apple. One of Apple’s strengths is that they control the hardware side of things and they do, at times, decide that certain machines are just too old to support with a new and improved OS. That happens about every seven to ten years.

Perhaps the innovation lag of late for MS products verses Apple was due to the amount of time and resources needed for MS to be all things to all users. But, in the past year or so there has been a subtle change in the PC industry. Microsoft is staging a come back in a huge way but has done so rather quietly compared to the fanfare, swagger and bluster of previous OS launches. I doubt anyone would have paid attention to such a campaign anyway. For the majority of people the launch of Windows 10 is receiving a group yawn. The people I know who are anxiously awaiting it are techies or people who hate the OS that came with their PC and want something that runs better and is more usable. The vast majority of the later group have machines that came with Windows 8.

Microsoft has taken some advantage of Apple’s stumbles, slips and falls over the course of history and these times may prove to have similar conditions. I’m not a harbinger or anything like that, but I switched to back to Windows in April for a reason. It was mostly a functional change because I liked the features of a Surface Pro 3 verses the best of the best (with a newer processor) that Apple was offering at about $200 more. Also I ended up replacing a iPhone 4 with a Windows Phone a while back. So a lot of the trouble others has getting used to Windows 8 was not something I experienced.

There is a lot a value to the integration of the Windows operating system across platforms, especially for gamers using Xbox but also for business users. Even if you need to keep your present iPhone or Android device, Windows 10 has a phone connection application that works, allowing you to easily transfer your files between devices. That may prove to be one of it’s most immediately ‘cool’ features that people enjoy.

Microsoft embraces the idea that an operating system should be usable for anyone, but they have also focused on creating an piece of software that is essentially the same across every computing device you use. Part of their failure with Windows 8 was trying to force a transition to a UI that was friendly to the mobile devices but also worked on non-touchscreen devices as well. That met with much resistance. Windows 8 and the somewhat corrected Windows 8.1 had many shortcomings for people who use mice and external keyboards. On a tablet like the Surface, Windows 8.1 may actually be the pinnacle achievement in functionality.

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Now we are at the cusp of change once more. Windows 10 is about to release and it promises to be an upgrade packed with a lot of fixes and some new features that merge the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. Having never really used Windows 7 (I was living on the darkside by then) I can only say that Windows 10 returns the start button for those who may have missed it. By the way, do you recall the heat MS took in 1995 when they innovated the start button? How times have changed!

The start menu looks like Windows 8.1, Live tiles work to keep you up-to-date on the status of your news, weather, market and sports apps. And you can switch if you are using a tablet or use the OS in desktop mode.

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I’m using Windows 10 now to access the blogs interface on the Internet, and have a external monitor plugged into my Surface Pro 3’s docking station. Obviously it works. I’m also using Windows Edge, the new, faster browser.

Most of what is different in Windows 10 is how it bridges the gaps in function between Windows 7 and the attempted leap forward with the Windows 8, “Metro” GUI. There were a lot of things I liked about Windows 8 – like the “charms bar”. Many people hated that and I get the reasons why, but it was pretty easy to access with a touch interface the features usually found on top of any open window. I guess the average end-user couldn’t grasp that concept or perhaps it was just ahead of its time. I kind of hope MS brings the charms bar back as an option, but the settings for each application are now displayed across the top of the open Window. There is peace and harmony restored to the PC universe.

As for the rest of Windows 10, I like it. I recommend it. There are still some lingering things that need to be addressed, such as allowing the use of a PIN to log in while in Tablet mode and support for some email servers I use. If you are going to upgrade to Windows 10 you need to rethink things about your expectations of an operating system. As of July 29th, Windows is a service. That means, MS will be responsive – more so – to the feedback they receive from end users. Complain about something enough and, provided others are having a similar problem or need, things will change – hopefully for the better.

As a service, Windows is not really finished and it never will be. It has never been intended to be finished. It is not revolutionary but, instead, evolutionary. Like previous versions of Windows there is continuity with the past but, at the moment, the impending release of Windows is merely a snapshot due to go public next week. In time it will be upgraded whether it is “fast ring “or “slow ring” – terms beta testers understand and, as soon to be end users of Windows 10, you are about to learn all about. This OS will be an evolving entity for at least the next ten years that MS supports it. And it works on machines that support Windows 7 SP1 – so it runs on some pretty old hardware. That in itself is remarkable.

It is offered as free to upgrade from Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 – for the first full year after official release. So, if you decide to wait and see whether it is worth the time and effort to upgrade, you can. As a continually evolving system it will always be as new as the latest update you download and just as fresh. This will allow the OS to have security features and new integrated applications offered on-the-fly to address changing consumer needs and desires. Yes, in lieu of all that, you give up some of the nice, comforting feel you get from having just installed an operating system from a DVD that you can store on a shelf just in case things go haywire and you need to do a clean install. You can certainly purchase a disc or flash-drive version of Windows 10 but be warned, as soon as you complete an install you will be on the Internet downloading updates. The longer between the creation of the version on your disc and the present, the more updates.

A lot of people, some of them at Microsoft, have called Windows 10 the last version of Windows. With change coming every couple of seconds (if not faster) in the PC world there are always new demands and Windows as a service addresses the critical need for an operating system on your personal computing devices that is agile enough to rapidly adapt. The benefit is that your system will always be up-to-date and more secure than ever before. The downside is that you lose a modicum of control, feeling that you own something when, in fact, you never really did own previous versions of Windows but purchased a license to use software for whatever length of time MS supported it. In essence, nothing has changed except the wording in the End User’s Licensing agreement. From now on, once you upgrade to Windows 10, you will receive periodic updates for the duration of the product’s support period on your machine. You have only the option to select whether it will be done immediately upon receiving the update (fast ring) or sometime within a month of the update’s release (slow ring).

Windows will run on your machine and receive periodic updates for security and additional features you may or may not use. Microsoft is only going to support systems with the latest version of the operating system and despite the blowback they are receiving from some circles of end users, this is actually necessary for all concerned. People with unsecured operating systems threaten to infect everyone else’s computers. Not only that, but they create a lot of headaches for MS customer support.

Operating systems have come and gone but Windows 10 is here to stay for the next ten or so years. I’m excited about where the PC world could be heading. But time will tell, just as it always does, whether the latest and greatest operating system lives up to its potential. Microsoft has disappointed us in the past. My hope is that Windows 10 fulfills all expectations. So far, having used several early variants of it, I like it a lot.

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About ElgonWilliamsAuthor

Professional author and publicist with Pandamoon Publishing. Author of Fried Windows. The Wolfcat Chronicles, Becoming Thuperman, The Attributes and One Over X. Currently live in Orlando, 3 adult children, divorced.
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