All Eyes on Redmond with Windows 10 on the Horizon

On Wednesday, Microsoft will host the media for a day-long drill-down of the eagerly-awaited Windows 10 at its Redmond, Washington campus. While this isn’t our first look at the new OS, it will by far be the most detailed, and the company will for the first time explain how this system will work on smartphones, tablets and other devices, in addition to PCs. And if you were burned by the lackluster Windows 8, you might want to stay tuned to this event.

And stay tuned you can: I’ll be live-tweeting from the event via my Twitter feed, and Microsoft will live-stream the group briefing portion of the event starting at 9 am PT/12 pm ET. You can find out more about this event from my post Watch the Windows 10 Consumer Event Live Online.

In the unlikely event that you don’t understand the significance of Windows 10, I think I can explain it pretty easily: Windows releases have become somewhat like “Star Trek” movies where every other one is well-received, but the others are garbage. And we’re coming off what is clearly the worst release ever.

Let’s review.

After years of delays, Microsoft finally shipped Windows Vista to stunned customers in late 2006, but then followed it up with the acclaimed Windows 7 release in 2009, fixing bugs and performance issues, and cleaning up the user experience. But the 2012 Windows 8 release was Microsoft’s biggest clunker of all, a nearly universally-disdained melding of mobile and desktop paradigms that didn’t do either particularly well. Since then, the software giant has been scrambling to set things right, and while interim (and free) releases like Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 have helped to calm some customers, much more work needs to be done.

If you’ve done your math right, then you’re probably thinking that Windows 10 is poised to be one of the good Windows releases. And sure enough, all of the information I’ve seen indicates that will be the case.

But Windows 10 has big shoes to fill, and the same market trends that doomed Windows 8 make this release all the more important. Think back to Windows Vista for an easy comparison: In the world of 2006, the iPhone and iPad hadn’t happened yet, and if you accept Google’s imaginary timeline, Android was to be a Blackberry-like system that ran on devices with tiny screens and hardware keyboards. So Microsoft swinging for the fences and missing with Vista was bad, but not an extinction event, and Windows was still able to easily swat away erstwhile competitors like the Mac and Linux-powered netbooks.

Windows 8 was different because it was launched into a world of mobile devices, and Windows isn’t just not the biggest platform anymore, it’s not even number two: It now has to compete in a world of much more popular Android and iOS devices. So with Windows 10, it’s not as simple as tightening things up. Microsoft really needs to get it right.

The good news is, I think they have.

Based on my early pre-release experience with Windows 10, I can say that traditional PC users will experience a far more natural upgrade from Windows 7, with a desktop OS focus that includes a Start menu and removes virtually all of the Metro gunk that users found so objectionable in Windows 8.

But what this week’s event will show us is how well Windows 10 works on other devices. Smartphones. Tablets. Hybrid PCs that can transform between PC and laptop form factors. And even Xbox video game consoles and, possibly, tiny headline “Internet of Things” devices. I’ve been told to expect surprises. Good surprises.

Windows 10’s applicability across such a diverse range of devices—on which it will share a common app platform and store, a boon to developers—is what makes it so special. And if Microsoft can pull this off, it will be the tech comeback story of the decade.

To be clear, I don’t see Windows racing ahead of Android and iOS, ever: that ship has sailed and Windows will instead coexist in a heterogeneous world of devices and services. But if Microsoft can extend Windows past the PC with this release, it can grab a smaller percentage of a much bigger market and can become more relevant to all of us as a result. If you’ve spent your life supporting Windows and the people who use it, that’s a big deal.

See you in Redmond. I can’t wait to find out what Microsoft reveals.