Windows 10 is one, but find out more about Microsoft’s operating system through the years. Just don’t mention Windows ME
Windows XP (2001)
Once again backed by a major marketing push, this time sound-tracked by Madonna’s Ray of Light, Windows XP united the NT and 9x families into a single operating system. Available in two versions – home and professional – both featured a radically overhauled, very blue, user interface and a revamped start button that let you access folders and documents as well as applications.
However security was a major concern throughout its lifetime as Internet access became increasingly ubiquitous. Three major service packs were released to help address flaws and the company redirected resources away from any potential successor in order to secure the platform.
Other features added over XP’s lifetime included Windows Media Center and support for tablets – long before Steve Jobs wowed the world with the iPad in 2010.
Despite these problems, Windows XP was a hit, shifting over one billion copies and becoming firmly entrenched in the enterprise, many of which found out to their detriment when support ended last year – 13 years after launch. In fact Windows XP was so popular, 12 percent of all PCs connected to the Internet still use it.
Windows Vista (2007)
Where do we start? Windows Vista was a radical transformation from XP, but for an operating system six years in the making, it had a lot of problems. Microsoft shifted resources away from Vista’s development to secure XP, resulting in the longest gap between Windows releases ever.
When Vista arrived, it featured the ‘Aero’ GUI, which allowed for transparent window effects, new search and networking capabilities, new applications for email, calendar and photos, a mobility centre for laptops and the ability to use a USB flash drive to boost performance, It even had a sidebar that could mimic Mac OS’s popular widgets.
But, it was expensive and demanded significant hardware requirements. Reports emerged of businesses deliberately downgrading their systems to XP and many firms skipped Vista entirely because of the problems. Still, Vista peaked with a 19 percent market share at the time of Windows 7’s release.
Windows 7 (2009)
Windows 7 was an incremental release that in many ways delivered the original vision of Vista – mainly by not being terrible. It built on the Aero interface, allowed users to pin applications to the taskbar, added live thumbnails, file libraries and homegroup features. There was also some touch screen support and a starter edition made available for low-end PCs like netbooks.
It was well-received in terms of usability, security and speed and is currently present on 61 percent of all PCs connected to the Internet, boosted by the end of support to Windows XP, as businesses finally made the jump to a modern operating system.
When Microsoft released Windows 8 they probably thought the press reception couldn’t be as bad as Vista, but they were wrong. Windows 8 was designed to be a platform that could work just as well on a PC as a tablet.
It was intended to revive flagging sales in the PC market and allow Microsoft to carve out a share in the growing tablet sector.
But many users felt changes like touch-first Metro apps, cumbersome menus and, gasp, the removal of the Start Menu, were being forced upon them and made the operating system more difficult to use with traditional keyboard and mouse.
Windows RT, built for low power ARM processors used by the majority of smartphones and tablets, couldn’t support legacy apps and was restricted to the slim-picking of the Windows Store. Exacerbating this, was the fact Microsoft decided to launch its own tablet, the Surface, which alienated the manufacturers the company hoped to serve.
Windows 8.1 did much to repair the damage, improving keyboard and mouse support, extending OneDrive integration and re-introducing the Start Button, but not menu, however many enterprises have shied away from the platform, preferring to stick with Windows 7.
On the eve of Windows 10 launch, Windows 8 and 8.1 have a combined 16 percent share of the PC market – just four percent more than XP.
The latest in the ‘one good, one bad’ cycle of Windows editions is Windows 10. It wasn’t just a PC operating system, but a unified platform targeting smartphones, tablets and IoT connected devices.
Microsoft’s target of one billion systems seemed ambitious at the time and even more so now, but a free upgrade for Windows 7 and 8 users helped encourage adoption.
The Start Menu returned with more functionality, settings were overhauled to be simpler and Cortana was introduced to PC, helping Microsoft compete with Siri. Metro apps were less intrusive and dare we say useful for desktop but this came at a cost: privacy.
The Wi-Fi sense feature, which automatically shared network credentials with contacts, was scaled back but the aggressive tactics Microsoft employed to encourage people to upgrade have also been criticised.
Still, at least with the free upgrade offer now over, surely this will come to an end… right?