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Windows 10 Is the Product of a Chastened, Changed Microsoft

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Yahoo Tech

(Rob Pegoraro/Yahoo Tech)

On Wednesday, Microsoft will ship a new version of Windows. And no, you haven’t seen this movie before.

Compared to every other operating system to ever come out of Redmond, Windows 10 is a different kind of upgrade. It should be: This release, already drawing warm reviews even from some of Microsoft’s stronger former critics, comes from a company that scarcely resembles the one that many of us loved to hate in 1995.

Free, Not Paid

You might as well start with the upgrade price: zero. Yes, free for a “full version of Windows 10, not a trial” (as the company’s Get Windows 10 app assures us). This from the the same company that once charged $109 for the bug-fix/Windows 95 patch that was Windows 98.

It’s true that, if you wait for a year and then decide Windows 10 is worth a try, you’ll have to pay (according to Microsoft) about $119 for a retail version of the Home edition. That’s not as generous as Apple’s free upgrades, but it’s still an enormous break with precedent.

The new pricing strategy could make great business sense if it helps break the long-running habit among many Microsoft’s customers of sticking with older versions of Windows for years after newer ones appear. 

It doesn’t hurt that Windows 10 is not Windows 8—a release so unpopular that computer vendors even now continue to sell PCs with Windows 7 six years after its release. Yet 10 imposes basic system requirements no tougher than those of its predecessor.

Listening, But Also Leading

I also have to give Microsoft credit for listening to its users when designing Windows 10. Instead of persisting with Windows 8’s removal of the Start menu, for example, the company brought it back.

But instead of cloning one overgrown interface on top of another (à la many third-party Win 8 Start-menu add-ons), Microsoft has crafted a modern replacement that—like the home screen of Windows Phone—can incorporate updates from your apps.

Like Apple, Microsoft has spent the last few years infusing its desktop operating systems with elements from its mobile software. But Microsoft’s mobile-ization has gone much further than Apple’s, by making touch a core part of the user experience. That, in turn, has given life to an entire category of “convertible” laptops that transform into tablets.

Apple’s response to that innovation is to say, in so many words, “No, you don’t actually want a device like that.”

I will admit that when Windows 8 shipped in 2012, I thought Microsoft was leaning too far forward. Three years later, however, I recognize that it had a good idea—just a lousy implementation.

Open, Not Closed

You can find another unflattering comparison between Microsoft and Apple when you look at the way they integrate cloud services into their operating systems. With Apple, iCloud exists primarily as an extension of OS X and iOS; the company supports other platforms in a time and manner of its choosing.

Microsoft once operated along those same lines, never less than when it shipped Windows 95 with a proprietary dial-up online service and then abused its market power to shove aside competing Web browsers like Netscape in favor of its own Internet Explorer.

The arrogance behind such efforts to cut off its competitors’ air supply seems to have vanished. Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service is open to more Macs than Apple’s own iCloud (which supports desktop access only in a version of OS X that many older Macs can’t run).

And Microsoft is not only bringing its Cortana virtual assistant to iOS and Android, it’s even shipping some apps like the new Send mail app for competing mobile platforms before its own, slow-selling Windows Phone. If the Microsoft of 1995 could have looked into the future and seen the development priorities of the Microsoft of 2015, it would have been confused and angry.

Finally, Internet Explorer, which has improved immensely from the hideousness that was IE 6, has itself been ushered offstage for the brand-new Edge browser.

Will This Stop You From Buying Yet Another Mac?

But look at me: I’m typing this on a desktop Mac. I probably won’t replace that system with a Windows desktop: I am a creature of habit, and the thought of moving over a dozen years of digital photos to another app without any automated import procedure fills me with dread.

Laptops are another question. I do like my MacBook Air. But I also have a 2011-vintage ThinkPad that’s due to be replaced; Windows 10 will almost certainly be its last major software update. It’s very possible that the ThinkPad’s successor—I don’t know the exact machine I’ll get, but it’ll be a convertible—will prove to be so enjoyable that my MacBook will become my secondary laptop, spending most of its time at home. 

I say it’s “possible.” But something tells me that I’ll still see a nearly-unbroken sea of Apple logos in the crowds at tech events, even at Microsoft’s own. And that makes me start to feel sorry for Microsoft—another thing that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago.

Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

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