Microsoft, what is it that you're doing with Windows 10?
On shifting strategies, real priorities and commitment issues… again
Stop me at any time if this reminds you of anything.
There’s this big IT Company that has created some pretty successful Software in the past. A specific piece of said Software was actually what propelled the Company to market dominance… once. But the Company is heading in a different direction these days: the suits want to sell Services now. The Software, though, is being used by hundreds of millions around the world — the Market, in fact, is asking for a new version of that Software. So what do the suits do? Well, they go ahead and make one.
The new version of the Software is not revolutionary by any means, just better than the previous version. But the suits want to sell Services badly, so they offer everyone a free upgrade to the new version and even use different versions of the Software on different devices (so they can sell Services to all of them later). They also use some questionable tactics to “promote” the Software… but this Company’s suits were never strangers to those anyway.
A bit of time goes by and the Software does not prove to be all that popular for a number of reasons. The suits grow impatient and turn their focus fully on Services. By the end of the second year in the market, a far smaller department of the Company is left with the task to support and further develop the Software, while the others move on.
So does the now limited department further develop the Software in any meaningful way? No. Right, but does it try to leverage innovative technologies that take full advantage of modern hardware? Also no. OK, but does it at least deliver quality-of-life updates in a trouble-free manner? Hell no, quite the opposite: many updates cause a lot of problems to a lot of consumers, while the Company even used some of those consumers as beta testers without their explicit consent from time to time.
So here we are, having more than 1.3 billion people that depend daily on the Software — which they have paid for, one way or the other — while the Company’s priorities have shifted. Most new computers are sold with the same Software, so more consumers have to deal with broken updates and substandard support every day. The Software’s decimated department may be doing what it can, but it’s clearly not enough.
How would you feel about this Company’s suits now?
In case the metaphor was not painfully obvious the Company is Microsoft, the Software is Windows 10 and this is how the Company suits are treating you.
All this comes to mind as the next such Windows 10 “feature update”, the one called “Version 21H1” gets closer to release without any noteworthy new features to speak of. It comes to mind because, despite all the marketing talk suggesting the opposite, Windows 10 is in maintenance mode and has been for almost three years now: this will be the fifth consecutive Windows 10 update “focusing on security, stability and performance”.
That’s just the thing, though. Security updates aside, Windows 10 has not been stable enough for an awful lot of people — and has not been performing any faster or as reliably as it should — for a long time. What’s happening instead is that we have this industry tradition now: wait for a new Windows 10 “feature update”, report on what it broke on thousands or even millions of PCs when released, report on the fixes for weeks and months on end… then wait for the next “feature update”, the next wave of problems and fixes.
The matter of erratic updating has become so serious that users don’t even fully trust the regular Windows 10 updates anymore (the “Patch Tuesday” ones), crossing fingers that nothing upsetting happens when they install them — let alone the two annual “feature updates” Microsoft has settled into nowadays. It’s an embarrassing situation for the company but an infuriating one for PC users the world over.
So here’s a question. If Microsoft does not add anything new or innovative to its OS, and if it does not do a good enough job ensuring that its updates for Windows 10 are not causing trouble to people’s computers, then what does it do with this operating system, exactly? Windows 10 does happen to be the most widely used OS in the world right now, after all.
Anyone following the development (or “development”) of Windows 10 closely knows that people at Redmond have not been sitting on their hands. Apart from the security side of things, they’ve made changes to the operating system’s codebase so that updates are delivered faster and in a way that is less likely to cause trouble: a mechanism that effectively blocks the updating from happening if there’s a known issue with a computer’s hardware configuration (emphasis on “known”). They’ve put some nice touches on a few of the default apps. There’s also this bit-by-bit, gentle Fluent Design graphics interface transition. But… that’s it. Frankly one can hardly be impressed.
Microsoft does have plans for Windows 10 that sound more impressive than that. A full transition to a fresh user interface based on Fluent Design is slated for 2021. A new graphics subsystem that will help PC graphics cards work in a more direct way with SSDs — more like an Xbox Series X — is in the works. There’s talk about a “cloud” or “streaming” version of Windows 10 coming. There’s even the ongoing — unsuccessful so far in terms of performance and compatibility — effort to bring Windows 10 to ARM processors.
All that’s well and good (if a little vague), but what 1.3 billion PC users around the world would rather have is the suits re-committing to the current form of Windows 10. Right now. For Microsoft, in other words, to just come out and publicly announce that they are making a sizable investment in hiring proper beta testers, more programmers, quality assurance managers and others whose job is to ensure that a product as widely used as Windows 10 is meaningfully enhanced, uneventfully updated and fully supported.
Then we’d all know what Microsoft is actually doing with Windows 10: getting behind their most widely-used OS in a way that inspires trust. And then stories like this would not have to be written anymore. Cross fingers?