While Windows 8 was clearly a stumble, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella made it clear at the company's 2014 investors meeting that the Windows brand remains an important part of the tech giant's strategy. The launch of Windows 10 (the company skipped 9 in order to symbolically divorce itself from the consumer backlash to its current operating system) shows the new boss has a firm vision with Windows playing an important role going forward.
"There's a vibrancy with Windows," Nadella told shareholders as he spoke about the company's transformation since he took charge early this year.
The CEO's optimism was obvious, and his enthusiasm for how Windows 10 would correct its predecessor's troubles shined through.
Windows 10 is about you
"Windows 10 is the start of a new generation of Windows that's more personal," Nadella said. "It will unlock new experiences for customers to work, play, and connect."
The new version of the OS has been designed to further the company's goal of making computing more natural by integrating touch, speech, and vision in logical ways. It has also been designed to fit with Nadella's idea that Microsoft is a productivity company and that everything it builds should help its customers be more effective.
The new Windows will also offer a unified user experience across all devices, from PCs to tablets to phones. Microsoft drew closer to that with Windows 8, but Windows 10 will complete the vision. The new OS will also offer a universal platform for developers to deploy apps. That's something even Apple lacks, as its Macs, iPhones, and iPads all operate on different -- albeit similar, in the case of the phones and tablets -- operating systems.
Offering a universal experience in which a phone app closely resembles its tablet and PC counterparts should provide a seamless experience for Windows users as they switch between devices. This will actually expand beyond phones, tablets, and PCs: Nadella said he expects Windows 10 to power even "the smallest Internet of Things devices," offering the same experience across the board.
No release date has been announced for Windows 10, but most signs point to a late summer/early fall 2015 launch.
The company is listening
Under former CEOs Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, before the ascendance of Apple and the rise of tablets, Microsoft had a virtual monopoly on PCs. That meant the company could force consumers to accept whatever it delivered. If a version of Windows was unpopular, like Windows Vista, the company did not need to capitulate to its user base, because they remained Windows customers even if they held on to an older version of the OS.
That changed with the rise of Apple's iOS and Google's Android, which created viable computing alternatives to Windows-based PCs. Ballmer was slow to recognize that world, and in many ways, Windows 8 was designed without acknowledging that customers could abandon an unfamiliar product they did not like. Windows 8 was a radical departure from its predecessors, designed to work best on touchscreen devices -- machines many, if not most, of Microsoft's customers were not yet using. The OS may have been visionary, but it dropped too many familiar features and showed little regard for keeping the existing user base happy.
With Windows 10, the company looks to be fixing those problems and designing an OS that is both innovative and reflective of what customers want. This includes correcting what might have been the biggest mistake made with Windows 8.
"So here I'm running Windows 10 technical preview," said Microsoft's Ashley Frank as she took over on stage from Nadella at the investors meeting, "and you can see that we've brought back the familiar Windows Start Menu."
The return of the Start Menu, which never should have been dropped in Windows 8, or at least should have been returned in the 8.1 update, shows the company is willing to listen to customers while still pressing forward with new innovation. The returning menu will do more than its exiled predecessor, and it integrates the enhanced functionality within a familiar package.
The two home screens are back to one
Another troubling aspect of Windows 8, which could not be fixed simply via an update, is that the product featured two separate home screens. The default was the iPad-like "Metro" interface, while the secondary screen was a variation of traditional Windows.
Windows 10 scraps that while keeping some of the better features from its troubled predecessor. Live tiles -- the little boxes that update with current information, such as sports, scores, or stock prices -- will still be there, but they will be an extension of the Start Menu.
In many ways, Windows 10 is the product Windows 8 should have been. It looks and feels like Windows while advancing the product and making it touch, tablet, and phone friendly.