Windows 10 appeared five years ago today – and generated very mixed reactions. A lot has happened since then. And the system has developed very differently from what was expected at the time.
It was a big step for Microsoft. Windows 10 should be the last major update of the operating system, announced CEO Satya Nadella at the launch. Instead, they want to operate the former cash cow as a service in the future. Five years after the start of sales, his vision has come true in many ways. And failed in another crashing. But in retrospect, numerous fears about the system also turned out to be unfounded.
The expectations of the new Windows in 2015 were high. With Windows 8, the company had released one of its most unpopular systems, and the unfamiliar user interface had offended many users. Subsequent changes such as the return of the popular start menu with Windows 8.1 could no longer get the child out of the well. When Windows 10 appeared, they ran according to “Statcounter” just 19.2 percent of all Windows computers with the system, more than 60 percent of users still rely on Windows 7. Even the age-old Windows XP achieved 11.4 percent.
The last Windows
No wonder Microsoft wanted to do everything right with Windows 10. By skipping version 9, the name was a big step away from the predecessor. Radical changes like the tile surface Metro were evaporated, the tiles were now only in the start menu. The new system felt more like a successor to Windows 7 in many ways. With its last system, Microsoft reversed radical change and chose the smooth transition.
The decision of number 10 as the last Windows did not come out of nowhere, but it was still surprising at the time. The time of the total hegemony of the operating system over the computer world was already crumbling thanks to the rise of the smartphone, but when it appeared, more than 50 percent of all Internet devices were still running on a Windows system.
Unlike the free updates for smartphones, Windows users were still used to paying for the latest update every few years. Windows 10 changed that in one fell swoop: Not only should all Windows devices receive all features free of charge in the future, all owners of a license from the predecessor Windows 7 and Windows 8 should be able to switch to the new system at no extra charge. Microsoft wanted to miss billions in revenue in one fell swoop.
A window for everyone
There was of course a calculation behind this. Group boss Nadella had recognized the signs of the times and correctly suspected that the era of the classic PC was drawing to a close. With Windows 10 he had given the group a new direction: “Cloud First, Mobile First”, server services and mobile devices first, was the new motto of the group. And everything should run with the same Windows, from PCs to consoles and tablets to smartphones and smartwatches.
At least the last part was a crashing failure. In theory, it sounded completely plausible: If the same system, namely Windows 10, is running on all devices, the customer becomes completely independent of the end device. So you could prepare the presentation in the office, give it the finishing touches on the smartphone on the way to the meeting and finally present it on the large monitor in the meeting room. Even the video game started on the game console should then be able to continue playing seamlessly on the tablet, according to the vision.
But precisely the most important aspect failed because of the old mistakes of the group. Because the smartphone was underestimated under Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer, rivals Google and Apple were able to conquer the market with their systems. By the time Microsoft finally took mobile devices seriously, it was too late. Like Windows Mobile, Windows 10 remained a niche phenomenon on smartphones. Despite smart ideas like “Continuum”, in which the smartphone with screen and keyboard turned into a fully-fledged desktop computer, the market share was in the low single-digit range. Microsoft pulled the rip cord: Windows 10 Mobile was officially discontinued in 2017, and has no longer been supported since the end of 2019.
Distance from the 8th
On the desktop, however, Windows 10 reconciled many users who had been deterred by Windows 8. Although the free upgrade is at least officially no longer possible, the market share continues to grow. Even if not as fast as expected: Windows 10 only overtook Windows 7 for the first time in December 2017, and the system now runs on 73 percent of Windows computers. Which is certainly also due to the fact that Windows 7 is no longer officially supported since the beginning of the year. Microsoft then reached the biggest milestone with a delay: they wanted to have an installation base of one billion devices after three years, but in fact it wasn’t until this March, almost two years according to plan. Last but not least, this is probably also due to the failure of the smartphone strategy.
The fact that Windows 10 started so slowly was also related to numerous fears about the start. The announcement that Windows would now operate as a service was interpreted by some in such a way that a subscription fee for the operating system would soon follow. But while Microsoft actually switched to a subscription model for the Office program, Windows did not. The only exception: a Windows version is included in the subscription for some professional Office packages. But you don’t have to pay extra for it.
The changing operating system did not lead to the permanent construction site, which some had feared. At least not in the long run. After Microsoft made a gigantic mistake with the 1809 update in autumn 2018 and even withdrew the update from the server after a few days, they have now become much more cautious. All innovations are tested for months, even changes to the design, which are likely to be pending soon, are carefully checked.
And elsewhere, too, the excitement has long since subsided. Windows 10 is a spy program, warned Stiftung Warentest at the start. The system constantly evaluates its users, and the voice assistant Cortana is always listening. In fact, Microsoft has done a lot to regain that fraudulent trust. Many of the analysis functions can be turned off, and Microsoft is now using a tool to let users check exactly what data has been collected about them. And even Cortana can be completely deactivated in some versions of the system.
The assistant is unlikely to have met the high expectations anyway. Like the new Edge browser, it should ensure that Windows users use Microsoft services such as the search engine Bing instead of leaving their valuable data to competitors such as Google. But the plan didn’t work out. Microsoft does not reveal user numbers for Cortana, but banned them from the start bar last year without a fuss. Even with Edge, the Windows 10 successor to Internet Explorer, the group saw no stab. Although the browser has also appeared for smartphones, practically nobody uses it. At 1.7 percent of Internet users, the market share is just 0.3 percentage points ahead of Internet Explorer, which has been out of date for five years. The days of dominance are over for Microsoft in these areas.
Strategy without dominance
The fact that the company is still more valuable than ever before is due to the fact that Nadellas relied less on Windows as a basis than it initially appeared. Because although Windows acts like a separate goal for all devices, the operating system should only become the vehicle for the new stars of the group: the cloud platform Azure and MS Office.
While the cloud services in the year before the market launch were still under the heading “Commercial Other”, a heading that accounted for less than ten percent of sales, they are now responsible for more than 30 percent of the group’s income. With a turnover of 38.5 billion US dollars, the intelligent cloud brought more than twice as much money into the coffers as Windows in 2019, which was only $ 18.5 billion of the total revenue of $ 125.8 billion.
The vision of a user experience for all devices is now being implemented without Windows as a basis. The group has become significantly more flexible under Nadella. While one tried to force competitors out of the market in the past, cooperation is now sought. All services are available for all operating systems, Cortana shares a place with Alexa in the Amazon Echo. The most important symbol for the change is probably the Surface Duo announced for the end of the year: It is the first Microsoft smartphone since the end of Windows Mobile – and runs with Android.