“Right now we’re releasing Windows 10, and because Windows 10 is the last version of Windows, we’re all still working on Windows 10.”
Those were the words of Jerry Nixon, a developer evangelist of Microsoft speaking at the Ignite conference hosted by Microsoft during the first week of May 2015. Further the company defended Nixon’s view and stated that this was “reflective” of the company’s opinion in a later release to media.
Surprising… isn’t it? Is Windows going to be phased out? How would Microsoft maintain existing users and versions? Will Microsoft provide adequate support? If Windows 10 is the last version, what next? What would Microsoft do with their existing team, as the effort would reduce drastically? These are pertinent questions having considerable impact for stakeholders of Microsoft.
The Windows Operating System had its genesis in the Windows 1.0 Operating System released in 1985 by Microsoft. This had a “Windows-like” enhancement of look and feel over the first operating System from Microsoft, MS-DOS published during the 80s. During the latter half of the eighties, Microsoft released Windows 2.0 – 2.11 Operating System, which they dubbed as “More windows, more speed”. Those were the days of Intel 286 processor, and imagine the kind of “speed” they had – nowhere near the speed of current advanced processors.
During the first half of nineties, Microsoft released Windows 3.0 and shortly thereafter Windows 3.1, which was apt for 386 based processors and introduced graphics displays. However, it was 1995 when Microsoft announced Windows 95 Operating System. Windows 95 sold a record 7 million copies in the first five weeks. This was followed by Windows 98 Operating System in 1998, which was dubbed as an Operating System which “ Works Better, Plays Better”, Windows Me and Windows 2000 respectively. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Microsoft released Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. Windows 7 was an attempt to target the wireless world, with laptops becoming more popular by this time. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 released in 2012 and 2013 precede the next version in question – Windows 10 – “One product family, one platform, one store.”
So, having such a long history of about 3 decades, isn’t it surprising why Microsoft would draw a curtain to developing Windows as a product further? This decision seems to have a reference to Microsoft’s performance over the last few years. Microsoft and Windows were both fast losing their grip and relevance so far as the types of client systems were concerned. Smart machines in different forms had inundated the marketplace and Microsoft was slow to grab this opportunity.
The smarter players in the mobile space had garnered the market share. This was compounded by the release of Windows 8 which turned out to be unpopular. Absence of simple, though desired features like the Start Button in Windows 8 was a tremendous cause for customer dissatisfaction and disapproval of the software. Windows 8 was expected to provide dual experience of a PC (desktop or laptop) and a mobile application. It failed on both counts as on a PC, it faced users’ hatred and on the Windows tablet front, it could garner only about 4%, as there were already established players in this front. This prompted Microsoft to reintroduce the Start Button in Windows 8.1 to stem the declining PC software market, but considerable damage was already done. Steve Balmer’s exit and a new CEO in Satya Nadella did help Microsoft to rethink their strategy and offering. The uniqueness of offering in Windows 10 seems to be the logical culmination of all these.
Windows 10 ushers in a new era of “Windows as a service”, which means Windows 10 would be one unifying platform for all products – be it desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, or Xbox, which definitely is something to appreciate. Also, with this Software as a Service, the very nature of versioning for the user will not be required, as releases are expected to be simply updates to the Server software. The maintenance effort of such software is expected to be lower as compared to a client based system, however the security infrastructure is something which Microsoft needs to worry about now, as any malicious attack on the Windows Server would have global impact. Security impact of client based software versions till date have been localized.
Microsoft has also announced that anyone upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 within a year of its release can be provided the new platform “free”. So, what does this mean? Where is Microsoft going to draw the line? Under “Windows as a Service”, does Microsoft intend to provide a free service for some time in addition to a free upgrade, or charge for their services? Will the existing users, using licensed versions also pay for service charges, and whether they will agree to do so?
Finally, the success of a software depends on user acceptability and I am sure Microsoft will do what is needed to make it successful. However, if unfortunately, the users are unhappy with the new version, what would be the alternative? Would Microsoft change their strategy and launch Windows 10.1 or Windows 11?
Only time can tell….