Should I upgrade to Windows 10?
But Windows 10 is about more than a single piece of software. It represents a transformation of Microsoft from a PC software company with a small smartphone division into a grand unified platform, spanning mobile devices and servers. It will also soon take in consumer devices such as wearables and the Xbox One, as well as interesting one-offs such as the Surface Hub – a whiteboard-sized conferencing system and display – and the HoloLens, Microsoft’s forthcoming augmented-reality headset.
It’s all underpinned by the idea of Universal apps: touch-friendly, mobile-style applications that run on Windows 10 devices. Fundamentally, it’s an evolution of the Windows 8 app concept, but we’ve come a long way since then.
The old Metro app platform (later renamed Modern) was clunky and ill-suited to desktop and laptop PCs. It made more sense on tablets, but Microsoft was pushing Windows RT and consumers were reluctant to buy in. They were wise to stay away: Windows RT has proved to be an evolutionary dead end. Windows RT devices are incapable of being upgraded to Windows 10, although Microsoft says that future releases of RT will see at least some of Windows 10’s features being brought to the platform.
Windows Phone, meanwhile, despite sharing design cues with Metro, was a different platform with a separate app framework. The Windows Store initially bombed, setting back Microsoft’s dreams of emulating Apple’s success in the emerging tablet-friendly world.
Universal apps make the idea work at last. In Windows 10, it’s possible to open a Universal app on your desktop PC, then grab an Atom-powered Windows 10 tablet and carry on working with the same app – in full-screen mode with touch controls. It will even be possible to run the same software on your Lumia phone once the Windows 10 Mobile update arrives (probably in early 2016).
Ready to rumble
We’re not just talking about games here. Microsoft has already unveiled Universal ports of Office, and it’s making a strong case for businesses to adopt the platform for internal projects. It has unveiled new SDKs that allow established developers to import Android and iOS apps into Visual Studio and adapt them to the Universal app framework.
Updated design guidelines mean Universal apps should be more attractive and usable than their forebears. Where Windows 8 emphasised big text and white space, Windows 10 allows apps to be laid out more like web pages, with a greater use of links and scroll bars, and no more need for “edge-swipes”. And the fact that Universal apps can be run in both desktop and fullscreen modes, depending on your device and preference, should also encourage faster take-up.
Another form of Universal app will be the hosted web app. Like Chrome apps, these are fundamentally HTML 5 applications that can be downloaded and stored locally on your device, meaning you can use them offline.
A developing story
How this plays out in the real world depends on third-party support, of course, which has so far been the Achilles’ heel of the Windows Store. But the proposition will be far more attractive to developers than it was when the Store launched three years ago.
Microsoft is promising a wide range of payment options for the Windows 10 Store, including the ability to sell recurrent subscriptions to services. Developers can choose whether customers will be allowed to buy an app once and run it on all their devices, or whether separate platforms must be paid for individually.
And, thanks to Microsoft’s generous upgrade terms, Windows 10 will be a huge market, with the company aiming for a billion installations by 2017. In short, this time Microsoft has got the ingredients right.