After the Windows 8 fiasco, Microsot could well be in last place, for all the public cared.
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Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online since 1983
August 9, 2015
Windows 10, Part 3:
Bringing Microsoft back from the brink
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
Surely that message is written in the minds of Microsoft's software engineers at the company's sprawling campus in Redmond, WA.
Look at how many things they had in the back of their minds:
Windows XP was full of unpatchable security holes.
Windows Vista was awful.
Windows 7 was a good try, missing essential modern features.
Windows 8 was inexcusably bad.
Windows 8.1 was a valiant effort, rushed to users to cover the embarrassment of Windows 8 but failing to rid that version of its neither-here-nor-there nature.
The horrible experience of Windows 8 itself -- lost sales, lost confidence and lost momentum in the market -- left Microsoft's management with a terrifying prospect, afraid that the next version, no matter how good it could be, would forever be the butt of jokes, and the company, slipping so badly in the operating system market, would be forced to sell off its Windows business and keep its head down while keeping afloat solely from the revenue accrued by Microsoft Office.
But we have only one choice: learn from our mistakes or fail. One way of learning is to toss out the old and bring in the new. That's one thing Microsoft did. A new guy took over from Steve Ballmer, the last man standing who had a teenage relationship with founder Bill Gates. New programmers joined the Windows team. A new attitude took over. Microsoft was no longer the leader. It wasn't even in second place. It could well be last, for all the public cared. And the Windows programmers knew that.
Another thing Microsoft did was simple. It looked in the mirror. It saw nothing that resembled the company it had presented to the public. Its failed attempts to one-up Apple with the non-Windows "Windows RT" Surface tablet and its utter failure to get partner companies to push their own Surface-like tablets hadn't just been mistakes; they'd been disasters. In the mirror was a bumbler, old and artless, impotent and tired.
Windows 10 is the first offspring of this soul searching. It had better be good. Not good enough. Really good. Or maybe better.
Windows 10 is clearly better. Like Windows 7, the last cohesive, all-of-a-piece version of Windows, version 10 has a "just right" feel; it's clear that Windows 10 was forged and then honed under a singular vision. There's none of the "committee" feel to the way it works.
Amazingly, this is achieved despite the awful Tinker Toy accompaniment of the Windows 8 baggage -- the gross and insulting tiles, the settings screens that look like they were imported from a kindergarten teacher's lesson book, the maddening way some ordinary activities such as visiting the Windows store pop open in these godawful screens -- and it succeeds regardless of the embarrassment of these childlike appendages when you show off Windows 10 to a newcomer; you can chuckle at the silliness of grafting a turkey onto the Honda without laughing at Microsoft itself.
Windows 10 is a splendid achievement, a fitting comeback for a company whose pedigree had been tarnished badly in the Ballmer years. Its sole handicap is, of course, the dreadful Windows 8 ghost that follows every keystroke. I'm already looking forward to Windows 11, if, as I suspect, the turkey experiment is shown to be a marketing mistake as well as a programming nightmare. A clean, lean Windows 11 would be magnificent.
Al Fasoldt is a retired technology writer for The Post Standard newspaper in Syracuse, New York. His landmark column, Technofile, is the world's longest running online column. Read any of the thousands of current and previous columns at technofileonline.com.