THREE YEARS AGO, on the 29 July 2015, a full 997 years to the day since Count Dirk III defeated an army sent by Emperor Henry II in the Battle of Vlaardingen, Microsoft’s long-awaited new operating system arrived.
The first question that most people asked was “what happened to Windows 9?” and, indeed, Microsoft had skipped forward on their numbering. “You’ll understand why when you see it” we were told.
1,000 days later, and we’re still none the wiser.
What we do know is that, following critical and relative commercial failure for Windows 8, followed by Windows 8.1 – a quasi Windows 9 which appeared in attempts to fix some of the least loved parts of its predecessor – Microsoft had one final roll of the dice.
If this was another “bad Windows” then it could spell curtains for any future ambition that Microsoft had in the field.
Incoming CEO, Satya Nadla, had a different approach. Instead of the endless cycle of new editions that become obsolete, he took inspiration for Windows 10 from the model of cloud computing, offering Windows-as-a-Service – a buy-once update-often model for bringing Windows into the 21st century.
The thing was, you see, that Windows, for all its necessity to the business model, wasn’t actually making a lot of money for Microsoft.
Fortunately, this new version changed all that, after a spectacular giveaway.
You may recall, after the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, that it was said that, if the product is free, then you are the product.
That’s what happened here. Windows 10 was given as a (heavyhanded – of which more later) free promotion for upgraders in its first year.
If you were running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (Windows 8 was already considered retired) you could switch up to Windows 10.
What the company lost in revenue, it gained both in quantities of scale – after all, if everyone is on a single operating system, there’s less need to keep servicing the others.
Plus of course, Microsoft’s new privacy rules meant that lots of valuable telemetry data could be harvested, especially from Microsoft Edge, the company’s new browser, exclusive to Windows 10 and unique in that, unlike other browsers, this one wasn’t finished.
Then there was the way it was marketed. You may remember an automatically installed little doofus called “GWX” – which was designed to nag anyone listening that they should upgrade.
Annoying but not sinister. Until it was discovered that Microsoft was actually pre-downloading Windows 10 onto people’s machines without permission. Several gigabytes were being squished onto machines, some with just 32GB of storage, effectively crippling them through lack of space.
INQ caught wind of this practice, which was causing end users to be charged for data on plans with limited allowances. Some were downloading it on mobile data, others were using up their entire monthly home allowance in a day, after multiple machines started downloading the file.
We christened it “Updategate”. You can learn more about that story here.
Microsoft, of course, refused to address the concerns properly, but in its defence, it added better support for metered connections, which could be set up and banned from downloading updates until they were back on unmetered connections.
Other issues included a change to security updates which were now sent out in a bundle with no control over which bugs to bash, and which would chew up your company’s proprietary software.
In fact, the whole thing was very much in the spirit of ‘we know what you want and what you need, stop telling us otherwise’.
Microsoft was upbeat, with Nadella telling the world that the aim was to have two million machines running Windows 10 within two years.
Three years later, and Windows 10 isn’t even on half that figure. Let’s not be too critical, it is, after all, on over 32 per cent of desktop/laptop machines and 15 per cent of all machines.
But we’re nowhere near the two billion figure. Once the free offer finished, updates stalled, whilst enterprise customers remained sceptical both of a need to update, and the possible disasters of doing so.
Those who had lived long enough to see Windows ME, Windows Vista and, yes, Windows 8 knew that a watch and wait would be prudent. Although enterprise numbers are creeping, they remain a low proportion of upgraders, despite repeated pushes from Microsoft.
Edge, still devoid of much of the functionality of its rivals such as Google Chrome, doesn’t make a great browsing experience, hence its appearance on just four per cent of active desktop/laptop uses, behind not only Google Chrome (61 per cent) but Firefox, and most embarrassingly, Internet Explorer 11.
So where do we stand on this third birthday? Windows 10 remains the second biggest operating system, behind, embarrassingly again, Windows 7.
It is, indeed being tirelessly worked on, not just internally, but by thousands of members of the Insider Program – a chance to run and evaluate the latest beta builds and bug bash them.
The Insider Program has proved immensely popular and provides us all with details of what’s next before it’s even ready.
And we must grudgingly accept Windows 10. It’s not going away. Several tweaks allow you to have your privacy invaded minimally, and the user experience is, for the most part, very… fixed.
But the one genie that Nadella has released from the bottle which it is difficult to return is the monetisation of Windows.
Recommendations of apps to try are invasive. Being nagged that Edge is better than Chrome? Invasive.
Asking how happy you are with Windows nagging in a random pop-up? Idiocy.
And so here we are with the latest version of the world’s most popular operating system. Our British psyche is full of BBC and NHS and so for us, the constant nagging of Windows 10 feels like a failure of standards for a public organisation.
In truth, the sad fact is, it’s capitalism. It’s a necessary evil that makes Windows viable. But in a world where alternatives like Linux (in its many forms) are well established, and free, we do have to wonder how long-term this plan is, or whether its subject to a change if we all jump ship.
Businesses, particularly, remain reluctant to budge, even though Microsoft salespeople are alleged to have been telling people that Windows 7 isn’t fit for purpose. Which it is. As Windows 7 comes towards its 2020 EOL date though, Microsoft will be pushing to ensure people don’t go to Linux. It’s already started.
But then – if our future was Generation Linux (which of course is now available as a sub-system of Windows anyway) wouldn’t we have done it by now? Microsoft is not above a bit of ‘lets see what policies we can get away with’ to see how badly customers push back.
One day, that kind of policy will backfire but right now, it seems to work. µ
Source : Inquirer