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Windows 10: Revenge of Microsoft?

Jon Gosier | 8/5/2015, noon
Microsoft is not a company historically associated with minimalism. For quite some time, its operating system, Windows, has been plagued ...
A new button on the task bar takes you straight to a single screen that displays all your open apps and files (the old Alt + Tab trick). (Photo: From Microsoft)

— Microsoft is not a company historically associated with minimalism. For quite some time, its operating system, Windows, has been plagued by tedious customization and nettlesome bloat.

In the mid-1990s, Microsoft's "opt-out" versus "opt-in" approach to add-ons, upgrades, and middleware was notorious. Windows 95 was only exceeded in how annoying it was by the number of times a day "Macarena" played on the radio.

Microsoft's approach was the opposite of its competitors Apple and Google, which defined their products through style or a sort of "we'll take care of it for you" attitude, hiding complexities from users behind sparse interfaces.

But in 2015, a lot of things have been turned on their head. Apple is criticized for the usability nightmare associated with iTunes and Apple Music. Google is unplugging its products with Google Plus, which has been a disastrous and failed attempt to catch up on social media.

For the better part of the past two decades, Microsoft has struggled with its major updates but, refreshingly, the company seems to have found its stride with its recent releases. Windows 10 seems to be making up for lost ground with an operating system that is beautiful, easy to use, and dare I say ... enjoyable. Some have compared it to Windows 8 by noting some similarities. But Windows 8 had hiccups with a semi-functional and very intrusive touch interface.

Windows 10 has done a complete about-face to the mouse and keyboard experience that has defined most of Windows' history. Of course, the touch options aren't gone completely, they're just tucked away, ready to be activated when you need them. This means Windows users can still use apps that are optimized for touch.

What about upgrading? Seamless. Upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 10 is easy and an immediate improvement in every way. This is not a repeat of XP and definitely not Vista. Although XP eventually proved itself to be a pretty decent operating system, many of us remember how awful and buggy it was initially. Vista, on the other hand, was a prolonged disaster for both the company and its users.

Some Windows users recall the dread invoked by putting together the words "upgrade" and "Windows." Windows 10 takes away the headaches.

Windows 10 also marks a potential milestone in a change of direction for a company that has built a $170 billion empire by selling software. In Windows 10, the business model of Microsoft's future is laid bare. In short: It's all about data.

Microsoft is poised to compete directly with Google in an area that the latter has dominated so far. We're not just talking about search. Rather, it's about turning the entire desktop experience into a monetizing opportunity.

This is not Bing: The Sequel. It's something much bigger and smarter. At this point, Microsoft's operating system ships with a lot of services that users are already familiar with and dependent upon (e.g., OneNote, Outlook, Word, Excel). Windows 10 makes it clear that anything you do in these apps can (and likely will) be scanned, parsed, and sold to advertisers. Your emails, messages and documents -- nothing is off limits.