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Goodbye, Windows 8 — Thanks for Nothing

Daniel Bean
Assistant Editor
Yahoo Tech

The wholly regrettable software experiment that was Windows 8 didn’t do a whole lot right. In fact, the best thing it may have done was to inform Microsoft engineers of what not to do with its follow-up.

Windows 10, which we can only imagine is not named Windows 9 for fear that contiguous attachment to Windows 8 might harm its credibility, was showcased yet again by Microsoft executives Wednesday, this time at a flashy consumer preview event in Washington. And a lot of the features the company chose to put on display emphasized improvements over  –– and even outright reversals from ––  Windows 8.

There’s (finally) been a merging of “PC Settings” and “Control Panel,” so you won’t have to look for system preferences in two places. A slick, new web browser that doesn’t seem to stink as much as Internet Explorer was also unveiled. Oh, and Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will be given away as a free upgrade when it’s ready for release.

Yep. This one will be on the house. It’s like you ordered a steak at a restaurant, and it was way overcooked, so they brought you a new steak, cooked more to your liking, gratis. 

What’s more, despite the fact that its next OS is only partially finished, Microsoft has given customers a chance to register as “Insiders,” which will allow those poor souls using Windows 8 the opportunity to install the new developing versions of Windows, also for free, as soon as they’re completed. Called the “technical preview” release of Windows 10, it has some bugs here and there, sure, but jumping onto it will spare you even another minute of fumbling through Microsoft’s doomed and deeply flawed Windows 8.

I’ve already spent plenty of time with Microsoft’s Windows 10 technical preview. I’ve also spent more than enough time with Windows 8. And I can tell you that upgrading will bring you a Windows experience that includes everything Windows 8 should have been.

So what exactly was it that made Microsoft’s last attempt at an OS refresh so bad?

Windows 8’s epitaph will include phrases like “disastrous shakeup that customers never asked for,” and “half-hearted attempt at a PC touch interface innovation.” Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising, it still lags far behind Windows 7 and Windows XP in terms of global uptake.

Most Windows 8 computer users don’t even load an app a day.

Much of that is due to a confusing, confounding design. Windows 8 combined a touchscreen interface (“Metro” or “Modern” design) with the original Windows icon and Start menu look (minus the Start button) in one experience. The touchable tiles had an intriguing visual draw, but many users wound up disoriented. The mouse-and-keyboard desktop look was buried behind a native app-centered, touch-first “Start Screen” mode –– even though most desktops and laptops in use didn’t feature touchscreens. 

The outcry became so fevered that Microsoft decided to offer an olive branch release in the form of a free “.1” update to Windows 8. In it, the company included an option to bypass the unwanted “Start Screen” at boot, and it even placed the onscreen “Start Button” back in the taskbar of the desktop, where Windows people had grown used to seeing it since Windows 95.

Windows 10 has taken the 8.1 about-face even further by altogether banishing the “Start Screen” and bringing the “Start Menu” back. And Microsoft, in its newest version, is at the same time finally forging ahead with a proper plan for getting developers to actually build apps for its operating system.

Microsoft rolled out several app stores at the launch of Windows 8: one that serviced Windows 8 and Windows RT for PCs and tablets, and one for Windows Phone 8 for smartphones. This was not great for Windows users or developers.

Sounds good! Now let’s see it work.

In its new effort to develop a unified Microsoft Store, Microsoft has built a Windows 10 platform so that apps can run on PCs, tablets, and smartphones alike. In doing so, Microsoft is tempting developers with the ability to simply write one app, place it in one app store, and have it be available on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

The good news for Microsoft is that, in the two years that Windows 8 has been the company’s flagship operating system, Windows lost no significant ground in its share of the computer market. This is despite the continuing growth in popularity of Apple’s luxurious line of Mac computers and the supreme faceplant of Windows 8, both among critics and consumers.

Microsoft has received critical acclaim for its latest Surface Pro laptop/tablet hybrid. And several laptop and smartphone makers, including Nokia and Lenovo, have earned respect for their attractive hardware. The table sure would seem set, then, for the wiser and friendlier Windows to hit it big, and on multiple platforms.

This device will be infinitely better once Windows 10 is installed on it.

Windows 10 appears to be a vast improvement over almost all of what made its predecessor unpleasant or unusable. But can Microsoft make people forget Windows 8 with this new version? In the coming months, we’ll see how willing people are to give Microsoft a second chance.

Well, second chance if we’re not counting Vista, that is.

OK, third chance then?