By Ed Bott
Microsoft released Windows 10 to the general public on July 29. In a bygone era, we’d still be waiting for another month or two for boxes to appear in the retail channel and for PCs to appear on store shelves
That kind of thinking is so 2009.
In the “Windows as a Service” era, releasing software to the web is the new “general availability.”
So what’s the story, a month after the big launch? A surprising amount of sound and fury, especially for a midsummer release. In this post, I call out some of the hits and misses, with the caveat that this is all going to continue changing very quickly in the coming months.
Judging by my inbox and my unscientific survey of user forums, the initial rollout of Windows 10 has been smooth. Remarkably so, given that the user base is at 75 million after less than a month and is continuing to grow. Yes, there are bugs, but that’s true of any point-zero release for a new operating system (ask a Mac owner about Yosemite in its first few months). The Threshold 2 release, coming this fall and available now in preview form for members of the Insider program, should resolve a lot of those early bugs, but the new features it adds will probably bring a fresh crop of brand new bugs.
Ironically, a lot of the reason why the Windows rollout so far has been so smooth has been telemetry. Or, as a vocal chorus of critics call it, spying. It’s literally impossible to deliver “Windows as a Service” in a way that doesn’t involve a lot of information passing between Windows 10 clients and Microsoft servers. The furor over Windows 10 privacy is overblown, but Microsoft was caught flat-footed by the first wave of criticism and still hasn’t figured out a reassuring explanation for what is, at its core, a perfectly reasonable design.
Maybe the biggest problem is that communication of these important issues has so far been done exclusively through legal documents. Privacy statements, service agreements, and license terms are almost never reassuring documents–they’re written by lawyers to reduce the risk of legal action and are filled with scary language. Microsoft’s business customers are used to that sort of language. Consumers aren’t.
As I explained a couple weeks ago, Microsoft dramatically changed the rules of product activation with Windows 10. Most people will no longer have to deal with product keys; the activation status for a device is stored in the cloud, making activation automatic even after a clean install. In the long term, this is going to be a huge usability success, although it’s going to confound anyone who doesn’t understand that Microsoft’s one-year, free Windows upgrade offer requires that you actually, you know, upgrade.
I heard from one reader this week who was shocked to learn that his usual routine–wiping a dozen machines and installing a clean image of the new Windows–wouldn’t work. He has a lot of work ahead of him, restoring those Windows 7 installations, activating them, and then upgrading to Windows 10.
When we look back on the release of Windows 10 in a few years, I am confident this will be the one feature that will stand out above the rest. The idea of shrink-wrapped software that doesn’t evolve quickly and update automatically will seem as quaint as physical keyboards on a smartphone seem today. But given that roughly 90 percent of all malware today arrives because the target device is unpatched, it’s necessary. Of course, making those automatic updates work reliably will require a lot of automatic feedback from the installed base.
Not spying. Feedback.
Seriously, this is how healthy, modern systems work.
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