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November 2015The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

Windows 10

What's in a name? Why did Microsoft skip the number 9? To answer these questions let's consider the history of this operating system and what we know of Microsoft's future plans.

In fact the name of the various versions of this operating system have changed several times since Microsoft created version one back in 1987 when they were still in partnership with IBM. Their name for the operating system back then was OS/2. It was a replacement for the antiquated 16 bit operating system called DOS that they had introduced on the original IBM PC that was designed to take advantage of the partial 32 bit capability of computers based on the Intel 80286 chip used by IBM AT computers and similar.

Back in those days there were lots of third party graphical interfaces that could be run on DOS and none of them were of any real significance. Microsoft had one they called Windows but everyone ignored it. While still in partnership, Microsoft combined their original graphical interfaces together and relaunched the combined version as Windows 2. Everyone still ignored it.

Work was about to start on a second version of the OS/2 operating system that would be the first true 32 bit operating system and it had a proper graphical interface built in. That's the point at which Microsoft and IBM decided to go in different directions. Microsoft decided to try again with their graphical interface for DOS and released Windows 3 which everyone still ignored while IBM continued with the second version of OS/2.

It was only after Microsoft patched their graphical interface and released Windows 3.1 that their graphical interface actually became popular and effectively wiped out the competition. You could still run anyone's graphical interface on anyone's DOS but Microsoft's GUI on Microsoft's DOS was the most popular choice.

Meanwhile IBM was continuing to work on OS/2 version 2 and so Microsoft decided they'd better build their own 32 bit version of the operating system as well. To cash in on the popularity of their Windows 3.1 GUI they called the second version of their OS/2 operating system Windows NT 3.1.Over the next few years those wanting a proper 32 bit operating system were as likely to choose OS/2v2 where the GUI was properly integrated into the operating system as they were to pick Windows NT3.1 where it acted more like a separate layer on top of the operating system. For those still using antiquated 16 bit systems the Windows 3.1 GUI came to dominate but it could still be run on any of several different company's DOS versions. Microsoft decided to try to knock out the competition with a launch of a new version of DOS with the GUI properly integrated. They did this with a huge launch of what was effectively DOS 7 that they had renamed Windows 95. Of course everyone who knew the difference still stuck with either OS/2 or Windows NT 3.1 both of which were proper 32 bit operating systems.

Windows 95 knocked all of the other DOS versions out of the market. To do the same to IBM's OS/2 Microsoft created a third version of their OS/2 operating system that they called Windows NT4. This version had the far superior Windows 95 graphical interface (that was equivalent but different to the IBM one) into Microsoft's 32 bit operating system. This meant that they had an equivalent product to IBM and a better marketing team. While IBM's OS/2 went through several more versions and was eventually renamed eCommStation after it became the default operating system for kiosk machines they were effectively an also ran in the mainstream browser market.

At this point Microsoft's main competitor to their proper 32 bit operating system was Microsoft's patches on top of patches 16 bit operating system. It was time to try renaming their 32 bit system again in the hope of getting more people to switch across. As their DOS operating system had been renamed Windows 95 and then Windows 98, Microsoft called the fourth version of their OS/2 based operating system Windows 2000. This was less successful than their previous campaigns as they were up against themselves this time and had done too good a job of convincing people to stick with flakey old DOS. More drastic action was required and Microsoft decided to discontinue DOS completely and to force people to switch if they wanted the latest features. They'd get a proper 32 bit operating system at the same time. The fifth version was renamed again and had the name Windows XP.

Finally Microsoft were successful in getting everyone to move to a proper operating system and the DOS they'd hacked together quickly for the IBM PC and patched to death could finally be retired. Unfortunately Microsoft had become their own worst enemy and the sixth version Windows Vista included many interface changes for the sake of change and most people preferred to stick with what they knew.

Microsoft did listen (if not to what people were saying then to their accountants who told them how little they'd made from people upgrading to Vista). They also decided that the old GUI was now far enough in the past to switch to a simpler naming convention and simply called the seventh version Windows 7 even though the earlier numbered Windows versions were simple graphical interfaces on DOS and not an operating system at all.

By this time hand held devices such as mobile phones and tablets were becoming popular as alternatives to computers and so with Windows 8 Microsoft decided to produce an operating system more suitable for such devices but they went to far making that version of their operating system far more difficult to use on conventional computers.

Now it was time for a complete change of direction. With the internet now dominating computer usage automatic downloads to patch software and even to introduce minor enhancements had become a common practice. If Microsoft could get everyone running the same version of Windows and then simply force downloading of all the updates then they'd have one version of their operating system to support instead of the two or three different versions with numerous patch levels that currently existed. This would make support far easier. They decided that their next version of Windows would work this way and that since the name would be in use for far longer than any of the prior versions they decided to simply call it Windows 10 skipping 9 as the 10 was no longer a version number but an indication that this operating system would be upgraded until it was 'perfect'. To encourage everyone to switch to this new operating system Microsoft decided to offer everyone who would upgrade in the first year a free upgrade provided they were running a currently supported version. Only those still running unsupported versions or who failed to upgrade within the year would need to pay to put Windows 10 on their existing computer.

So what do I think we can expect from Microsoft in the future? Well Microsoft are hoping that everyone who can will take advantage of the free upgrade. This should leave very few people running Windows 7 or 8 and Microsoft should then be able to drop supporting those operating systems sooner than originally planned. The cost savings from having fewer versions to support will more than make up for the free copies. After all people will eventually upgrade their hardware and when they do they generally buy a new copy of the operating system to run on it. In this case Microsoft isn't giving a choice as under their new model the operating system is tied to the hardware. No longer can you transfer an operating system you bought to your new computer after uninstalling it from the old one. So Microsoft will continue to make money from sales of Windows 10 whenever anyone buys new hardware to run it on. That's why giving it away now makes sense because it gets them to their new cheaper to run support model much sooner.

Another thing I expect to see is that the 10 will disappear from the name just as soon as the prior versions have been gone for long enough. It just doesn't make sense to call the only version of Windows that exists by a number when simply calling it Windows will be sufficient to distinguish it from the alternatives none of which are called Windows.

I think that we can also expect Apple to move to a similar model for their computers. The cost savings from only having one version to support rather than several main versions with lots of minor variants is significant. Only open source operating systems have any reason to delay copying Microsoft.

Everything hasn't been perfect for Microsoft with this implementation. A few of the new programs built into Windows 10 such as Mail and Edge are still lacking in some features that all of their competitors have.. Some patches have broken the operating system for some users putting their computer into a reboot loop. There are some programs that are incompatible with the new operating system so that upgrading wont work. You can even find your computer automatically rolling back at the end of the install for no apparent reason. Microsoft is working through these problems and fixing them. I think that we can reasonably expect that as we get closer to the July cutoff for the free upgrade that there will be fewer problems with the new operating system and more and more reasons for upgrading. If you have the upgrade link appearing on your computer then Microsoft have decided that your computer and the programs you are running should be compatible with Windows 10. While it might be reasonable now to take the view that it isn't broken so there's no need to fix it, don't take this attitude once we get into the last three months before Microsoft start charging. Don't leave upgrading to the last minute when everyone else is trying to do so and overloading the servers.
 

On Site

A second month of mostly JavaScript pages so I am now seriously looking for other things to write about and hope to provide a greater range over the coming month. I finally succeeded in getting Windows 10 to install and so there may even be some pages about how it differs from earlier versions of Windows.
 

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