Microsoft’s 2012 dream was the make a wide range of computing devices work in the same way, so that users would become less concerned with the device they were using, and more focussed on its function and utility (Microsoft-powered naturally). In a world that was rapidly moving away from PCs to handheld devices such as tablets and phones, this made complete sense.

Unfortunately, Microsoft’s realisation of this dream was Windows 8, which delivered what Microsoft insiders may have regarded as the best computing environment of that moment, but sought to force it onto all the various platforms – PC, tablets and phones – whatever the consequences. As a result, a huge installed base of notebook and even (because, yes they do still exist) desktop users, were asked to consider a product and a raft of new ‘Metro’ applications that barely acknowledged their behaviours or requirements. These were touchscreen solutions scaled up for a big screen and a mouse.

As a result of this miscalculation, Windows 8 flopped, especially amongst the huge installed base of Windows PCs.  Cognoscenti (including most CIOs) stuck with the already good Windows 7, and left others to wrestle with the blue tiled monster now roaming on their desktop with the aid of various dodgy third party add-ons.  A substantial Windows 8.1 release a year later fixed the most pressing problems, but too late -- the damage was done. Everyone hunkered down to wait for the inevitable root and branch replacement.

Windows 10 is that replacement and it looks as if the PC version will be one of the first to appear this summer, with an increasing round of press announcements and events hinting at its arrival. The missing version number only serves to confirm the scale of the miscalculation and communications failures made last time around. This time Microsoft has been trickle feeding various beta versions of Windows 10  to all and sundry (There are 3.9 million Windows Insiders testing the product) in the hope that no one will be taken by surprise when a final version ships.  

The new operating system is being offered for free to all those disgruntled Windows 8 users, as well as all those sensible windows 7 users who chose to ignore the whole messy debacle last time around. The company has also redefined this Windows ‘upgrade’ programme as ‘marketing and promotional activity’, to avoid the need to reserve revenues against full licence sales of the product.

Accounting reasons aside, this is also a marketing programme because the goal here is not to simply flog users a new version of the Microsoft operating system. This is about Windows market penetration; deploying as many Windows 10 installations as possible as quickly as possible, across as many devices as possible. It’s only by getting massive traction that the applications and user community will have the necessary mass for the vital third party software development needed to define success. And maybe there isn’t very much time left to leverage the huge installed PC base…

Existing Windows users (7, 8 and 8.1) will be offered a free ‘upgrade’ to Windows 10 which will then be supported by Microsoft for the life to the device it runs on. Where previous versions of Windows have enjoyed a defined lifecycle of support (witness last year’s termination of support for XP). Microsoft is moving to a continuing, incremental, development model such as Android offers, where improved versions and fixes are pushed out as soon as they are available and ready to go.  Thinking in terms of operating system versions and lifecycles makes little sense when there is always new increment of the product coming soon. Instead it will be particular devices which are deemed incapable of running the new updates.  And presumably, just as the new Android Lollipop upgrade has not been pushed out to older mobile devices considered unable to benefit from the latest upgrade, a similar system will apply for Windows 10 across its hardware platforms.

All indications are that Microsoft has learned its lesson about the difference between a phone, and tablet and a PC user, and how each wants to use applications and software.  The broad concept being used is one of ‘universal applications’ which can be developed once and deployed to many different kinds of device, with appropriate screen scaling and UI adjustments happened automatically.  Though this may not be quite as easy for developers to realise as suggested, the Windows 10 developer toolkit is designed to ease the transition, as well as package websites as universal applications and repurpose Android and iOS mobile apps to give Windows 10 phones a sporting chance of competing against iPhone and Android. It’s all about the apps…

It’s clear that a lot of effort has gone into making sure that screen and input device support is flexible and appropriate, with the correct size screens and appropriate user input for the device in use. Continuum, for example, will allow a Windows 10 mobile phone to operate appropriately developed universal applications in much the same way as a Windows 10 PC would when docked to a large screen keyboard and mouse. So the phone in your pocket can truly serve as your PC at a remote hot-desk as well.

Naturally CIOs will want to to wait until they see final shipping code before considering their own ‘upgrade’ plans. Even then they are unlikely to want to be the first company off the blocks in supporting Windows 10. They should, however, already have a scratch machine somewhere running the Windows Insider beta versions, so that they are building intelligence and skills on the new product, environment and capabilities.

They can also have a reasonable expectation that this summer’s Windows 10 rollout will look more akin to the successful Windows 7 than the disappointing Windows Vista; and that it is a product which now has the potential to offer neat solutions to the cross-platform operational issues they are already grappling with.