Windows 10 revisits Microsoft’s vision for the future of personal computing

Windows 10 is most certainly Microsoft’s response to the criticism they faced for Windows 8; even the name suggests the Redmond giant is trying to distance itself from Windows 8 as much as possible.

A Microsoft developer suggested that the name was chosen to avoid compatibility issues with poorly coded software mistaking it for Windows 95 or Windows 98, but there’s much more to the name than that.

Windows 10 is a line in the sand. On one level it’s just the next iteration, but on another, it’s a new start for Microsoft.

Windows 8 had some good ideas, but the execution wasn’t there. In 2009, Microsoft’s former chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, coined the phrase “three screens and a cloud”. The idea was that computers, phones and televisions should all share similar data, applications and services, and communicate through the internet – more specifically, the cloud.

Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Xbox were meant to the cornerstones for realising this vision. Windows 8 was meant to be about much more than a touched-optimised operating system – it was meant to be the operating system that could run anywhere.

This was a fantastic idea. I remember late-night, whisky-fuelled conversations with friends about how this kind of convergence could genuinely shake-up personal computing (yep, that’s my idea of fun). To start with, being able to develop one app that could easily run on three different platforms would dramatically strengthen the Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox ecosystems (and make developers’ lives a lot easier).

But it didn’t work quite as well as hoped.

Windows RT, Microsoft’s ARM-based tablet operating system was a confusing mess. Windows Phone wasn’t an attractive proposition, and was dramatically behind the competition. And while the Xbox 360’s user interface was re-designed to match Windows 8 and Windows Mobile, the underlying architecture was completely different.

Now that Satya Nadella has taken over the reins at Microsoft, the company is no longer about “three screens and a cloud”, it’s “mobile-first, cloud-first”.

Despite this new strategy, Windows 10 appears to be about convergence. It’s not just about Windows on three screens, it’s about Windows on all screens. And not just different products called Windows, but the same Windows. The experience will be tailored to each individual device, but the core will remain the same.

Windows 8.1 only requires 1GB of RAM (and Windows 10 is expected to require the same). Most entry-level phones boast at least 1GB of RAM and almost every high-end smartphone doubles that. We’re seeing quad-core processors in AUD$200 smartphones, and we’re seeing triple AAA PC and Xbox 360 titles being ported across to varying mobile app stores. So why not put the exact same operating system on mobile too?

The idea that Windows 10 will run on any device, whether it’s a desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, Xbox or TV is fantastic, and the promise of universal apps that run on any screen-size is even better. If a developer can genuinely make an app that runs on desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile and Xbox in roughly the same time it would take to make just one, that’s going to mean amazing things for the Windows ecosystem. More importantly, it could certainly fix Microsoft’s app problem, and give Windows a fighting chance in the smartphone arena.

If all of these devices are running the same operating system and same applications, the potential for cross-device communication becomes limitless. It means Microsoft could easily take another page from Apple’s book and enable users to work on one task across multiple devices. iOS users can now start writing an email on their iPhone, and pick it up from the same place on their iPad. If all Windows devices run the same software, there’s no reason Windows 10 users shouldn’t be able to do this as well.

But that’s just in the tip of the iceberg: imagine watching TV in the morning, and having the ability to pause, then resume from the very same place on your phone or tablet on the train. Or handing off a Skype call from your mobile to your PC as you enter the house. Or even using the Surface Pro’s touch screen as an input device for another computer.

If Microsoft can achieve this, Windows 10 will be the operating system Windows 8 should have been. It could just be what it takes to realise Microsoft’s grand vision of “three screens and a cloud”. And if it works, it won’t just be Windows on three screens, it will be one Windows on every screen.

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