We don't have to guess at the name any more. Windows One? No. Windows 2015? No. Windows 9? A surprising no. Instead the next Windows will be Windows 10, putting clear blue water between it and Windows 8. As Terry Myerson repeatedly told his San Francisco audience, there are 100 million Windows 7 users out there, and it's clear that's who he expects to be most of Windows 10's audience.
That 100 million weighs heavily on Windows 10, and while much of the user experience is still a work in progress, what we were shown today (and what will form the heart of the technical preview) is focused on keyboard and mouse users. Myerson noted that Microsoft has a wide range of users it nee3ds to support, from the novice home user to the experienced IT professional. That's a huge challenge, and one that's going to take time to get right.
Launching a preview program this early in the development cycle of the OS is clearly part of how Microsoft intends to solve this conundrum. Getting Windows 10 in the hands of IT admins and enthusiast users is going to give Microsoft access to two diametrically opposed schools of thought -- one conservatively looking for an OS that's easy to manage and that meets the needs of business, and one that's willing to push the envelope on hardware and applications. There are more than 200,000 businesses running Windows, and Myerson needs to get as many as possible thinking about Windows 10. That means addressing key business concerns quickly.
That makes this is the BYOD Windows. With Microsoft's focus on productivity (or as we sometimes think of it as "letting you do your stuff"), it's clear that while Windows 10 focuses on what Myerson described as a "continuum of devices," the version demonstrated today was very much aimed at the traditional desktop and laptop user. The Start menu returns, as a hybrid of the familiar Windows 7 Start Menu and the Windows 8 Start Screen, complete with Bing-powered search that delivers web and Windows Store results alongside the usual app and file results. You can have a wide horizontal start menu, or a tall vertical one -- or just stick with the Windows 8 start screen.
Much of the final UI remains to be revealed, and today's preview looked much like a tweaked Windows 8. Familiar task switching controls give access to the new quadrant-snap views that let you mix Windows Store apps with traditional Windows apps, and to the new virtual desktop that can be used to separate workspaces -- and to help reduce distraction. As Myerson pointed out, Windows needs to be familiar to enterprise users, keeping training time to a minimum while still supporting new scenarios and services. That means rethinking how the Windows 8 charms bar and task switching work, and adding support for many of the Windows 8 features to a new drop down menu on the top left of windowed Windows Store apps.
One feature that won't be in the preview is one that's intended to bridge the gap between tablet and laptop and support two-in-one devices like Microsoft's own Surface Pro. Demonstrated in a video, it lets devices operate like Windows 8 tablets until a keyboard is connected, at which point users will get the option of switching to Windows 10's desktop mode. It's a compromise, and will be interesting to experience when it finally gets released (which is likely to be as part of a second, consumer-focused, preview in the early part of 2015).
Microsoft is clearly thinking about the shift to BYOD in Windows 10. One aspect of that is shown by how Windows 10 separates user and corporate information. Work data and personal data are held in separate containers, and can't be copied from one store to another. Corporate apps will only be able to work with corporate data, and the Windows clipboard will not work across the boundary between the two workspaces. Where this differs from tools like Samsung's Knox is in the ability to "enlighten" apps so that they can work in both user and corporate spaces, while still maintaining the boundaries between them. You can be working on your Great American Novel in the same copy of Word as you're editing the company annual sales reports.
That's the heart of Microsoft's enterprise sales pitch for Windows 10. IT departments can apply all the controls they want to corporate applications and information, while users can install all the Minion Rush and Twitter apps they want. CIOs will know the information they're entrusted with securing won't leak across into those games and social media, while users will know that an IT admin can't flick a switch and delete all their photographs of their kids.
Balancing enterprise and user needs is a challenge, but Microsoft has time to learn. A timeline Myerson displayed at the event seemed to show Windows 10 launching in late 2015, with consumer and developer previews to follow this enterprise launch. With the new preview program including tools for handling on-the-fly A/B testing and with forums that promise interactions between testers and engineers, Microsoft is going to be deluged with feedback in the months between now and general availability. Segmenting preview releases this way will also allow it to focus on testing tooling (a separate server and management tools preview will launch shortly).
While this may be the most open Microsoft has been about a new OS, there's still much to be discussed. The rumored "Metro 2.0" reworking of Windows Store apps still remains under wraps, and questions of pricing were quickly shut down. Under the hood there's even more to learn, as Microsoft rolls out enhancements to its Universal apps model; and with the announcement of an April date for its BUILD developer event, we're still a long way from getting full details of how developers will build apps that scale across the Windows 10 family of devices.
Taking Windows 10 to the enterprise first makes a lot of sense. With a rumored free upgrade for consumers on the cards, and with lower licensing revenue as a result of the Windows with Bing SKU and zero cost Windows for small tablets, enterprise licenses will be a significant element of the Windows 10 revenue stream. Microsoft needs to get a significant portion of those 100 million Windows 7 users to migrate to Windows 10, and it needs to get them to do it as part of a volume licensing agreement.
Getting system admins and CIOs on board early is going to be key to the next upgrade cycle. The consumer focus of Windows 8's launch alienated IT departments, and made it a touch sell into those valuable enterprise accounts. By addressing key complaints and by adding features that solve significant business issues, Microsoft is doing all it can to repair those bridges into the enterprise, while at the same time offering its Windows 8 users access to the touch features they've grown to love.
It's a big challenge, keeping moving on the generational changes that Windows 8 offered and at the same time supporting conservative, slower moving enterprises. We're going to need to see how Microsoft's management and server tools change alongside Windows 10 to get the whole picture, but at first glance what could have been a relatively boring Windows release has suddenly become very interesting indeed.
This story, "Windows 10: The BYOD Windows" was originally published by CITEworld.