Windows 10 is a historic release for Microsoft

If you’ve been following the news surrounding Windows 10, then here is a sample of the kinds of headlines you have probably been reading over the past year:
“Windows 10 will be the next Windows Release After Windows 8”
“Windows 10 will be a Free Upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 Customers”
“Windows 10 will be the last Version of Windows”
“All Future Upgrades to Windows 10 will be Free”
“All Updates to Windows 10 will be Mandatory”
“Windows 10 Available for Raspberry Pi 2”
“Windows 10 Shares your Wi-Fi keys with all your Friends”
“Candy Crush Saga will come Pre-installed on Windows 10”
“Solitaire in Windows 10 is a Free-to-Play app with Subscription”
“Faulty Update puts Windows 10 in Reboot Loop”

Just a few years ago, any or all of the above would have been the kind of headlines that would have made for nice April Fool’s Day prank articles. As of today they have all been realised. In the end though, they are mere headlines, the reality behind them is a whole lot more nuanced than can be captured in a few words.

Hopefully that nuance should become more apparent as you read further into thisFast Track.There are some things that immediately stand out when it comes to Windows 10. First of all, what’s with Windows 10 being free? Also what happened to Windows 9, and why is everyone saying that Windows 10 will be the last version of Windows?

Why Free

On first thought giving away Windows 10 for free seems like a huge loss of money for Microsoft, why would they do it? Why the sudden charity ? What’s next an open source Windows!First of all, this is a new Microsoft, one that has been warming up to open source, to the extent that despite an open source version of Windows is still an impossibility at this point, it no longer feels like that will never happen.

Operating systems market share

Even so, giving Windows 10 away isn’t an act of charity, it simply makes sense for Microsoft given their goals. Their goal being to unify the Windows platform such that all Windows devices run the same core OS.

Imagine instead if Microsoft had announced a huge marketing budget of billions of dollars for their next OS, few people would bat an eyelid. What better way to get people to adopt a product than to give it away for free? Also, let ‘s see where exactly Microsoft stands to lose this money.

Consider this fact, despite being around for a couple of years, Windows 8 only managed to achieve a meagre lead over Windows XP. Why ?The current batch of Windows users is made up of three kinds of users: The first who purchased a new device and either got Windows 8 with it, or bought a retail copy separately and got Windows 8 / 8.1. The second batch of users are those who purchased a Windows 8 upgrade for Windows7 or 8.

The basic apps that ship with Windows 10 can be installed and updated from the Windows Store.

And of course, as the good old saying goes, nothing is certain butdeath, taxes and piracy; the third group of users are those who pirated Windows 8. So the potential adopters of Windows 10 are also likewise of three kinds, those purchasing a new device, those running an older versions of Windowson their device, and finally those who’ll pirate the OS.

Windows 7 is the most popular version of Windows

The pirates always get Windows for free and don’t give Microsoft any money, nothing newthere, so we’ll leave them out. Now, Microsoft hasn’t made Windows 10 entirely free.

If you buy a new computer with Windows 10 on it, or you are building a new computer andyou want to get a copy of Windows 10, you still pay for it. Microsoft is still making money from new customers and new devices, and new licenses. No loss for Microsoft there.Then there are those running older versions of Windows. Amongst this group, not all would have been interested in purchasing an upgrade.

After all there are still many people running Windows 7, XP and Vista (yes there are some people still using Vista).

These people weren’t going to give Microsoft any more money anyway so what does Microsoft lose by giving them Windows 10? Just a little bandwidth, which those users use up any way with Windows updates.

Finally we have those who are running older versions of Windows, and who would be the kind to fork out money for an upgrade. This is not a very large audience to begin with. After all Windows 7 kept gaining a share despite the release of Windows 8 and 8.1, meaning that a majority of the growth of Windows 8.x came at the expense of XP, from new purchases.

While there are definite similarities between the OS X of today, and Mac OS X when it launched, it’s still come a very long way.

By giving away Windows 10 for free Microsoft is sacrificing the money it would get from those who would pay for upgrades, but in return they are converting Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users into the unified base of Windows 10. Their best case scenario is that all users running Windows 7, 8, and 8.1move to Windows 10.

Those running XP and Vista probably don’t have computers capable of running newer OSes or they just want to stick with what they know. Besides, if those users really want to upgrade, they still can, for a price.

Of course not everyone is going to upgrade to Windows 10, despite it being free, but Microsoft is likely to get a whole lot more people upgrading than usual, thanks to the free offer.

Why 10

Windows 10 makes perfect sense as the name for the successor to Windows 8, in the sense that Microsoft’s naming conventions have never made sense. Let’s take a brief look at the history of Windows releases to see Microsoft’s unentangleable mess of Windows versioning. After a tepid response to Windows 1.0 and Windows 2.0, Microsofthit it big with Windows 3 and 3.1.

So popular were they that Microsoft made another somewhat incompatible version of Windows that they called Windows NT 3.1. At this point the Windows line essentially split in two. On one hand you had Windows 3.x that was targeted towards consumers, which was succeeded by Windows 95, and on the other hand you had Windows NT 3.1that was succeeded by Windows NT 4.0 that was targeted towards servers and workstations.

Windows 95 led to the popular Windows 98, while for inexplicable reasons Windows NT 4.0 led to Windows 2000, which was internally labelled as Windows NT 5.0. With the dates now used for their workstation and server offerings, Microsoft started getting creative with their branding. The successor to Window 98 was Windows ME, or Millennium Edition, named for how long it would take to accomplish anything on the crash-happy OS. Those who consider Vista a disaster might sing a different tune if they encountered Windows ME.

Windows 95 introduced a UI paradigm that has been used by all versions of Windows since, with some deviations in Windows 8 / 8.1

Quick on the heels of Win-dows ME came Windows XP,that despite its age and obso-lesce still runs on a significantnumber of computers. Internally Windows XP was basedon Windows 2000 and wasversioned as Windows NT 5.1.

At this point the old lin-eage of DOS-based Windows versions was over as Windows XP merged Microsoft’s two lines of products, theDOS-based ones for home users, and the NT-based ones for servers and workstations into a single NT-based OS family – something they wanted to do since NT was first introduced.

Then came another OS that most people would like to forget, but one that lay a lot of important groundwork for what Windows is today, and that is Windows Vista. Internally Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 featured Windows NT 6.0 and this is somewhat significant for reasons that will become clear soon.

When Windows 7 came out, the name made sense given that Microsoft wanted to go back to version numbers, and that the previous version was internally Windows NT 6.0. However Windows 7 wasn’t very different at it score, and was mostly compatible with Vista.

Since the kernel was mostly the same internally, Windows 7 only updated the Windows version to NT 6.1. So when Microsoft finally updated its branding to reflect the version of Windows beneath it, well the version of Windows beneath it no longer followed the same numbering scheme!

Windows 8 bumped this ver-sion to 6.2 and then Windows 8.1 brought this up to 6.3.Windows 7 is the mostpopular version of Windows ever released, but it was basi-cally Windows Vista. 1 Now we come to Windows 10, and you probably feel comfortable betting that Windows 10 will internally be Windows NT 6.4.

One of these is Windows NT 3.1 and the other is Windows 3.11 guess which is which (there is a hint in the image)

You are wrong, and we are most happy to rub this in your face. Windows10 is in fact Windows NT 10.0 as well.

To be fair to you though, early builds of Windows 10 actually represented themselves as Windows NT 6.4 and Microsoft might have stuck with that. So to all those asking, what happened to Windows 9, we only ask in return, what happened to Windows 5 and 6? Heck what happened to Windows kernel versions 7, 8 and 9.

Also Windows NT started at version 3, so what happened to Windows NT 1 and 2? If you count regular consumer versions of Windows, then Windows 7 is the 9th release (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 95,98, ME, XP, Vista and then 7).

If you look at kernel versions then it is 6.1,what it isn’t is 7 in any way other than in name. Let’s just say version numbers are arbitrary and misleading, and like the ‘XP’ in ‘Windows XP’ or the ‘Vista’ in ‘Windows Vista’, the ‘10’ in‘Windows 10’ is just branding, a pure marketing tool.

After all, 10 is a‘cool’ number, it’s the number nails most people have growing on their hands, that’s probably where that comes from, it’s as reasonable a theory as any alternative.

Why the ‘Last’

Is Windows 10 the last version of Windows?

The idea of no more Windows versions seems odd. It depends on how you look at version numbers though. As we just explained, Windows 10 is now simply the brand name for Windows.

If Windows were a game franchise, then Windows 10 would be likethat reboot that drops all sub-titles and numbers. Windows is now simply ‘Windows 10’ and it is that product that will receive constant upgrades. There is a comparison to be made with Apple’s Mac OS. Before Mac OSX, there once was ‘Mac OS 9’.

Ever since the release of Mac OS X though, Apple has been releasing major new operating system releases under the OS X name. In fact with the release of OS X Mountain Lion or 10.7 Apple dropped the ‘Mac’ and called it simply ‘OS X’. Much like the OS X of today is wildly different from the initial Mac OSX release nearly 14 years ago. Windows 10 might easily still be called Win-dows 10 in another 14 years, but it will likely be a completely different OS.

Windows XP was the first consumer version of Windows to use the Windows NT kernel.

Where Microsoft’s approach differs from that of Apple is that Microsoftis also changing its release strategy. In previous versions of Windows, updates would generally only fix things, bugs, security, performance etc. Once there were enough updates they would be bundled together as a Service Pack. This was supposed to be devoid of any new features, but Windows XP SP2 famously bucked this trend. Likewise Windows 8.1 toobrought significant changes.

With Windows 10, Microsoft no longer differentiates between updates that fix ths OS and those that add new features (and possibly new bugs). In Windows 8 we saw some of this in the form of apps that Microsoft shipped with the OS getting updated with new features through the Windows store separate from the OS. Now the entire OS will work the same way.

Microsoft will keep releasing updates to its core apps though the Win-dows 10 store, and will keep updating the core Windows 10 experiencethrough new builds delivered via Windows Update.

People were understandably confused when Microsoft made a Windows upgrade free, and then started talking of Windows-as-a-Service and ofconstant new upgrades. The first thought everyone had was that after the first free year of the upgrade, Microsoft would start charging for upgrades.

This notion was probably a fundamental misunderstanding of what Microsoft is trying to accomplish brought on by their own poor communication.

To clarify then, when you buy Windows 10, or upgrade to it for free from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 you get a license to Windows 10 that includes all upgrades to the OS for free. It is a service, but the kind that has a one-time payment that is included in the price of the device you purchase, or the retail license for Windows 10 that you purchase.

Perhaps what is more interesting today is not that the Windows 10 upgrade is free, and that it is the last version of Windows, or that it nowuses a Software-as-a-Service model, but that all of these things make sense(to an extent) given the eco system of devices today.