Windows 10

It has been a long time since an announcement from Microsoft made such a big impact. But Windows 10 is finally out and in its first 24 hours it was installed on 14m PCs, receiving “overwhelmingly positive” customer feedback, claims Microsoft.

So, will Windows 10 make desktop computing — and Microsoft — fashionable again? To capture the positive momentum created by the launch, Microsoft wants to “upgrade the world” to Windows 10 as quickly as possible. That is why it is offering the upgrade free of charge to existing users of Windows 7,8,or 8.1.

That’s a significant departure from past practice. Windows 8 was only offered to owners of earlier Windows versions as a paid-for upgrade, which cost £25 to download or £45 if bought in a shop.

Microsoft sold 40m licenses for Windows 8 in its first month of availability in 2012, so adoption of Windows 10 is running much faster — after all, who can resist getting something for free?

Another big difference is that while Windows 10 has attracted generally favourable reviews, Windows 8 was universally disliked because of the unfamiliar user interface. Indeed, the backlash against Windows 8 was so great that Microsoft had to quickly release a free upgrades, Windows 8.1, to make up for the shortcomings in Windows 8.

But the issue for Microsoft is not really whether its latest version of Windows is better or worse than its predecessor. The big question today is whether people still need Windows. In the three years that have elapsed since Windows 8, the world has moved on. Mobile devices now dominate our daily communications and they have become the “go to” computing platform for tasks that previously could only be done a PC.

To be sure, editing an Excel spreadsheet is a task that probably still is best done on a PC instead of a smartphone, but there are less and less cases where people feel the need to fire up a PC. If you want to quickly check your email, you do it more often than not on your smartphone. If you want to watch a YouTube video on your sofa you’ll reach for a tablet instead of your laptop.

Sales of mobile devices are almost four times greater than sales of PCs, and the programs that we interact with most often are increasingly cloud-based or “native” mobile apps, designed to be used on a mobile device not a desktop PC.

At least 800m users around the world use the WhatsApp instant messaging service to communicate with friends and colleagues. WhatsApp created that huge market in just six years without offering a version of its software for desktop PCs.

There is now a way for diehard PC fans to access WhatsApp on their PC, but it is clear that for WhatsApp — now owned by Facebook — and a growing number of young tech companies, the PC represents a bygone age. Uber doesn’t have a desktop Windows app, and neither does Pinterest or Instagram.

As the capabilities of mobile devices continue to improve and more computing is done in the cloud, the need to have the latest PC hardware and — most importantly for Microsoft’s top line — the latest operating system diminishes.

PCs aren’t going away any time soon and the shift away from the PC will be slower in the business market than for consumers. But for the PC hardware industry and software companies such as Microsoft that depend on it, the Golden Age of desktop computing is coming to an end.

That’s why Microsoft is keen to present Windows 10 as the first version of Windows that is “device-agnostic”, meaning that it is capable of running applications on any device. As well as the familiar Windows 10 for PCs, there will be versions for tablets and smartphones, for the Xbox One and even for Arduino, the open-source hardware platform that is creating such as storm in UK schools. But given Microsoft’s minimal share of the smartphone market it is difficult to see such a strategy winning many new customers.

Only time will tell if Windows 10 can enjoy the popularity of earlier Windows versions — 14-year-old Windows XP still has a 10 percent share — or whether it is destined to soon end up in the museum of computing history.

We will look at the practical implications of Windows 10 for Cloud2Me customers in the follow-up article.

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