Microsoft held an event to preview the next version of Windows this morning in San Francisco. The most startling piece of news came at the very start, when the company’s operating system honcho, Terry Myerson, announced that the upgrade everybody has been calling Windows 9 will instead be called Windows 10.
Myerson said we’ll understand why Microsoft decided to skip a version number when we see Windows 10 in all its fullness. The company expects to ship the new version around the middle of 2015. But hardcore Windows enthusiasts and others who want to get a head start on experiencing what’s next will be able to download a preview version tomorrow. Myerson says that their feedback will help shape the final edition in a way which has never happened before.
The demo which Microsoft gave at its event was intentionally not all-encompassing. For one thing, Windows 10 is still very much a work in progress. For another, Myerson and his colleague Joe Belfiore stressed that the event was about starting a conversation with business customers. A high percentage of those customers have chosen to stick with the familiarity of Windows 7 rather than move to the disorienting, incomplete, would-be-great leap forward known as Windows 8.
So the main point of the glimpse we got at Windows 10 was to emphasize that it aims to make you happy even if you’re running the same businessy apps you always have and have no desire to give up your mouse and keyboard. For instance, we got a closer look at the revived Start menu which Microsoft previewed at its Build conference in April: It looks a lot like the classic Windows one on the left side, but incorporates Windows 8-style Live Tiles on the right.
As Microsoft showed at Build, you’ll be able to run Windows 8-style “Metro” apps in windows alongside ones with the old-school Windows interface. There are a number of new features designed to make that easier. And the company is even updating the command-line interface–the last vestiges of Windows’ DOS origins–to make it easier to hop between it and Windows apps.
Very little of the event was dedicated to the stuff which Microsoft played up as being key when it released Windows 8, such as the touchscreen experience. But Belfiore did show how Windows 10 will be able to switch into a touch-optimized interface when it notices that you’ve tapped the screen–and then return to something more conventional when you switch back to keyboard and mouse.
Though Myerson and Belfiore didn’t say anything that sounded like an apology for Windows 8, there were hints throughout the presentation that Windows 10 is, in part, about undoing things which some people disliked about Windows 8 (and which prompted other folks to avoid even trying it). And Belfiore did explicitly say that the company has changed its mind about one key aspect of Windows’ interface. Windows 8 gave you the new interface and the old one, and wanted you to work in one or the other, but not both at the same time. Windows 10 is about one interface which works with both old apps and new apps.
The new approach stands a decent chance of resonating with an awful lot of people who are willing to give change a try, but who don’t want it force-fed to them, as Windows 8 did by booting up in the new Start screen and denying users some familiar features from past versions. It should also help with the ungainly duality that’s still an issue in Windows 8.1: Even if you love the new interface, you still need to go back to the old one to get to basic features like much of the Control Panel’s functionality.
In short, Windows 10, if it lives up to its promise, could take a step forward by taking a step back. You’ve got to wonder: Knowing what it knows now, is the company sorry that it didn’t release something like this back in 2012 instead of the Windows 8 we got?
More thoughts to come once I’ve tried the preview myself.