Microsoft’s Windows 10 event didn’t include flashy features, sexy videos, or big unveils, it was about two things: fast improvements and feedback. While the new desktop features show where Windows is heading, the big news was behind the scenes, hidden in the words Microsoft chose to unveil Windows 10. The software maker has been quietly reengineering Windows to focus on faster updates. It’s a crucial change that will see Microsoft test weekly or monthly builds of Windows 10 with the public, instead of "dogfooding" them in private. Microsoft has hit the turbo button, and it’s about to change Windows forever.
It has gone back to business, and it’s bringing the desktop version back to look and feel like Windows 7 today, but sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company showed less than 10 percent of all the features it’s readying for the final release. Windows 10 will change rapidly, and just like early releases of the many versions of Windows before it, the final product will look a lot different. Microsoft is building a different operating system a different way, and it's going to radically change what Windows 10 looks like when it comes out in 2015
The big advantage of this new engineering effort is the ability to shape Windows 10 fluidly, but the development process of Microsoft’s new OS will have far-reaching effects on how future updates are delivered. As ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley noted recently, Windows is now treated as a service at Microsoft, and the Windows 10 Technical Preview is a giant test of this model. If it all goes to plan, it means Microsoft will be able to push out updates to Windows in a matter of days. It’s something the company is already doing with the Xbox One, but applying that work to Windows is far more complex. Microsoft has to balance the needs of consumers versus businesses who adopt versions of Windows at a slower pace for fear of breaking things. At the end of the test, the future of Windows should look a lot like Chrome browser updates: fast, unobtrusive, and with lots of improvements.
Feedback is key for Microsoft as it works to avoid another Windows 8
Over the coming months there will be updates to the Windows 10 Technical Preview very regularly, and the pace will change depending on what features Microsoft wants to test. "We’re inviting our most enthusiastic Windows fans to help shape Windows with us," says Windows chief Terry Myerson. "We know they’re a vocal bunch, and we value that so much and we really, frankly, look forward to all of their feedback." That feedback is an essential part of Windows 10. When you navigate around the operating system there are little prompts where Microsoft wants to know if things were easy to discover, or whether a particular feature worked well. The whole OS, in its Technical Preview form, is geared towards extracting feedback at every step.
"We’re planning to share more than we ever have before, frankly earlier than we ever have before," explains Myerson, an unusual and new way forward for Windows at Microsoft. The engineering effort to speed up Windows releases is being tested on the public today, and part of it is an admission from Microsoft that it didn’t build Windows 8 correctly. "When we changed the UI [in Windows 8]…that was trying to salute the idea that people would be productive on these touch devices, but we didn’t quite get it right," admits Joe Belfiore, head of PCs, phones, and tablets at Microsoft. "With Windows 10 we think we have a better approach."
Microsoft showed less than 10 percent of Windows 10 features
That new approach, which isn’t quite ready for Microsoft to test publicly, is a mix of touch and desktop for two-in-one devices, and it’s reasonable to expect Microsoft will be testing this vigorously with Windows 10 Technical Preview users once it’s ready.
What Microsoft really revealed this week wasn’t a better version of Windows 7, but a strong understanding of those who use Windows. Whether it’s Windows fans, enterprises, or power users, Microsoft’s feedback loop is a change to the forced nature of Windows 8, and should result in a better version of Windows next year. Microsoft seems eager, more than anything, to ensure Windows 10 is a very different version of Windows. If Microsoft truly listens, watching Windows 10 grow will be an interesting and unique operating system experiment that no other software company is even capable of.