Windows: Microsoft's power of 10

The latest version of Windows needs to mark a return to form, if the company is to hold its own on the desktop and personal devices

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Inside the Enterprise: If Microsoft made wine, they would be a vineyard that produce award winning vintages but sometimes just plonk that is best kept for cooking.

The company's track record, when it comes to operating systems, is patchy. Windows XP was a successful vintage that has matured since its release; it is still widely used today, despite entering end of life in April 2014.

Windows 7, again, was widely regarded as a fine blend of performance, security and usability.

But surrounding these are more forgettable years. Windows Vista was flat and colourless, and failed to excite the palates of either CIOs or consumer PC buyers. Windows 8, for all its ambition and its attempt to bring together the ideas behind the desktop OS and mobile device software, has yet to make its mark. A new release Windows 8.1 is largely the same wine in a new bottle.

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Windows 10, which was unveiled earlier this week, represents Microsoft's latest attempt to win over the world's PC users. Of course, most PC users still run Microsoft Windows, and Windows 10 will be installed on new PCs from next year.

The challenge for Microsoft is to convince computer users to upgrade their operating system software, or to replace struggling, older PCs with new kit. Microsoft also needs to persuade buyers to invest in desktop computers (running Windows) rather than to divert their budgets to tablets, smartphones, and other fizzy new gadgets.

The early signs are promising. Like a Grand Cru winery, Microsoft is allowing the experts in early for tastings. In fact, the company is running its largest ever testing and evaluation programme, with end users able to download and try out Windows 10, and give the company feedback.

Already, we know the Start menu is coming back. There will be greater support for universal software applications, which can run on both conventional PCs and tablet, or hybrid, devices. The use of touch-screen interfaces will reach further into the Windows code base.

And security is being tightened. The addition of a new feature, that lets organisations segregate business and personal applications, and control the movement of data between them, is more than a nod towards the trend for Bring Your Own Device.

This could be a very powerful feature, allowing system administrators to block even simple operations such as cutting and pasting between the business and personal side of the device. As yet, rival operating systems, such as iOS and Android, have no comparable features.

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Whether this is enough to persuade buyers to come back to Microsoft, and invest more in PCs or even opt for a Windows tablet or phablet instead of an Apple or Android one, remains to be seen. That is Microsoft's prize. But, for the millions of PC users out there, a better, more flexible version of Windows will be very welcome, all the same.

Microsoft will probably never tell us what happened to Windows 9, though.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.

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