Much has been written about Microsoft’s Windows 10 announcement overall, as well as their recent earnings. One key issue that I haven’t seen discussed in great detail, however, is the real-world impact that Windows 10 will have on the PC and tablet markets.
From my perspective, Windows 10 will likely have a very positive impact on the PC market, both consumer and commercial, and the forthcoming OS is likely to have more of an impact on tablets than Windows 8 ever did.
For PCs, Windows 10 provides a much needed “fix” for Windows 8, at several levels. To start with (pardon the pun), the importance of returning the Start Menu cannot be overstated. While it may seem like a foregone conclusion at this point, Microsoft’s untimely removal and now triumphant return of a well-enhanced, essential element of the Windows UI will impact more PC users more profoundly than anything else they’ve done.
Even better, Microsoft has managed to leverage the Start Menu’s return in such a way that they’ve nearly completely destroyed the dichotomies they created between Desktop Mode and Modern/Metro Mode in Windows 8. The whole Windows experience now feels much more coherent—frankly, it’s what they should have done with Windows 8.
They’ve also managed to combine the best of each environment, even on simple things: for example, “modern” apps can now float in a window and you can choose to close a “desktop” app by pulling down on its title bar. Neither are earthshaking, but they’re good examples of the unification efforts Microsoft has made with Windows 10 on PCs.
To keep things interesting, Microsoft has also added some new capabilities to the mix—most notably Cortana, the virtual personal assistant software they first introduced on Windows Phone. With Cortana, the company is finally delivering on promises it made years ago to bring voice recognition and voice-based interactions to PCs. While the jury is still out on how well it will work for most users, the possibility of letting an individual talk to their PC to do things like “show me all my photos from my trip to Hawaii,” could have a profoundly positive impact on how people work with their computers. Dare I say, it might even make working with a Windows PC fun again.
On the tablet side, the Windows 10 benefits are a bit more subtle, but I still think they can have an important impact. The new tablet mode in Windows 10 offers a few nice enhancements over the stock Windows 8 modern UI. More importantly, the company’s Continuum features make the process of using a convertible 2-in-1 like a Lenovo Yoga, or a detachable 2-in-1 like Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 3, significantly better. Now, when you flip the screen over or detach your keyboard, you get a smooth transition into a more touch-friendly environment. As soon as you flip back or re-attach, you get a smooth transition back to a keyboard and mouse-friendly environment. Again, it’s what I think a lot of people hoped Windows 8 would offer (but never did). Frankly, Windows 10’s Continuum is probably the best argument I’ve seen for the whole 2-in-1 category, and I think it will lead to a significant jump in shipments for those devices.[pullquote]Windows 10’s Continuum is probably the best argument I’ve seen for the whole 2-in-1 category, and I think it will lead to a significant jump in shipments for those devices.”[/pullquote]
Obviously, many of these capabilities are going to be beneficial to consumers, but I believe Windows 10 is equally important to business. Not only are most of these features potentially relevant for companies, Windows 10’s most critical business capability is a path forward. The truth is, very few business IT organizations had made the move to Windows 8 and quite a few were starting to consider other options. Now, however, the general consensus in business seems to be that companies can simply skip over Windows 8 (as many did with Windows Vista) and just migrate from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Though I don’t expect too many companies to make that move very quickly (late 2016/early 2017 are more likely timeframes), the mere fact that the option exists is a huge relief for many IT organizations.
One other question that’s come up is the potential impact on new PC sales because of Microsoft’s free upgrade policy as well as their shifting OS licensing model, particularly for smaller and lower-end devices. Long-time industry watchers know that very few people have actually made the effort to upgrade across versions of Windows. Obviously having a free upgrade will change that to some degree, but for many people sitting on very old PCs, just knowing that there’s a viable new option will likely lead to a reasonable number of consumer PC replacements.
In addition, it’s clear that, from a business model perspective, Microsoft is increasingly focused on web-based services, such as Office 365. As a result, the manner in which the company is making money is shifting rather profoundly and moving toward things like annual fees for services. Finally, as I suggested above, Windows 10 is also likely to drive much stronger interest in new types of form factors, both for consumer and commercial buyers, nearly all of which will require new PC purchases.
Microsoft has laid out a compelling vision for what Windows 10 is and what it can enable (and I haven’t even touched on things like universal apps, Xbox integration and other cool capabilities they’ve talked about). The challenge that remains, however, is executing that vision in a timely fashion. Their hardware partners clearly need a shot in the arm and, for the first time in quite a while, they’re looking relatively fondly towards their friends in Redmond and hoping that Windows 10 really can deliver. I, for one, believe it can.