Windows 10: The Last Operating System You’ll Ever Need

After spawning the disaster that is Windows 8, Microsoft has gone all out to deliver—and to be seen to deliver—a next-generation replacement. Shipping the first preview of Windows 10 only a couple of months after the most recent updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft is setting a pace bested only by Apple’s response to its botched iOS 8 release and refutation of its less-than-rigid case design. (“You’re putting it in your pocket wrong!”) My first impressions are that Windows 10 has gone a long way in addressing the biggest criticisms of Windows 8.

Installed in a VM with no touch interface available, Windows 10 is usable in a way that Windows 8 never was. Even in this early release, the overall user experience is significantly more polished than it was in Windows 8.1. Touch or mouse-driven actions that were difficult to perform in 8.1 are now readily accessible. And importantly, the integration of desktop apps and modern UI apps into a single coherent Start Menu has melded two very different menuing paradigms into an almost seamless whole.

One of the most commented-on leaks in the run-up to this week’s release was the suggestion that Windows 10 would have virtual desktops. It does; however, this is not the kind of desktop virtualization that we really care about. Windows 10 virtual desktops offer no more than the ability to have multiple active desktop pages that can be set up with multiple active applications open at the same time. So instead of using ALT+TAB to switch between individual applications, it is now possible to use another key combination, CTRL+WIN+ left or right arrow, to switch between whole screens of active applications. This has nothing to do with VDI or any other flavor of desktop virtualization.

In its current form, the virtual desktop feature is rudimentary at best: it doesn’t even allow individual virtual desktops to have their own wallpaper. It’s a long way short of a decent third-party desktop manager such as NVIDIA’s nView. Hopefully, as this is only a tech preview, Windows 10 will deliver a virtual desktop feature at least approaching something worthy of the name before it ships next year. However, if this is a foretaste of the level of effort that Microsoft is putting into Windows 10, it is likely to be a major disappointment.

Incidentally, the jump straight from Windows 9 to Windows 10 may not be a result of Microsoft’s just wanting to get some distance between the new OS and Windows 8. A Redditor to all who claims to be a Microsoft employee has asserted that it was a pragmatic hack to overcome a Y2K-style problem, with many coders taking a shortcut on OS version condition branching with code like:

if(version.StartsWith(“Windows 9”))

{ /* 95 and 98 */

} else {

instead of explicitly looking for either Windows 95 or Windows 98 and branching accordingly. A jump to Windows 10 would overcome any possible problems with code that cannot differentiate between running on Windows 95 and what might otherwise have been Windows 9. Unlikely? I don’t know, but there are plenty of examples out there if you take a look.

It is, of course, very unlikely that Microsoft will confirm as much; rather, it may claim instead that “Windows 10 carries Windows forward into a new way of doing things.” Although, isn’t that what Windows 8 was supposed to do? Even if this is Microsoft’s view, I can’t help but think that it might have been better for Microsoft to take a leaf from the informal practice of referring to forthcoming product versions as “.next”. Only this time, it would have to be “.last”. With Microsoft suggesting that Windows 10 will be the last major platform release before it transitions to a policy of smaller, more-frequent updates, Windows 10 could well be the last major desktop OS you will deploy.

And therein lies the rub: Microsoft has only just now succeeded in getting the majority of its enterprise customers off of Windows XP and onto Windows 7. Yet, it is already preparing Windows 10 for release. Given both the very visible reluctance that most enterprise IT organizations exhibit when offered the opportunity to deploy new desktop OS versions (I still see Windows XP being installed today), and given the startling user interface changes that Windows 8 introduced, does it seriously think that Windows 10 will gain significant market share on the enterprise desktop?

Beyond that, how will desktop admins react to an OS that has taken on the appearance of a DevOps-driven web app? Most enterprise desktop admins have neither the tools nor the desire to support a continuous release process. They likely will attempt to define their own milestone releases, taking on responsibility that used to be Microsoft’s. The bigger problem might come from application developers. Even today, maintaining pressure on application developers to ensure that their applications are compatible and supported on current operating system releases (both desktop and server) is very often akin to herding cats. If it is hard today, when OS major version updates come eighteen months apart, what will it be like if Microsoft converts a regular release schedule into a leaky faucet?

Will Windows 10 actually turn out to be Windows.last? And will it be the catalyst that drives the desktop operating system underground, to be replaced by a mixture of RDSH, HTML 5, and native mobile applications?

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