With Windows 10, Microsoft has built a fine sail, but has the ship already left harbour?

With Windows 10, Microsoft has built a fine sail, but has the ship already left harbour?

If anything encapsulates the change in the technology world in the last 20 years, it’s the relative reactions to the latest versions of Windows. Two decades ago, Windows 95 was unveiled to an enormous hoopla, with The Times newspaper sponsored by Microsoft to promote the software, the Rolling Stones brought in to sing Start me up as the theme tune for the big event, and a huge buzz around the launch.

When Windows 10 came out this week, outside the core IT commentators, the response was a general “Meh”. So what? And this was despite Windows 10 receiving far better reviews than its recent predecessors, especially the awkward, clumsy, uncomfortable hybrid of desktop and mobile that was the unlamented Windows 8.

On the positive side, Windows 10 shows us a Microsoft willing to learn and admit its mistakes for the first time in a while. Gone is the bluster and arrogance of the Steve Ballmer era, replaced with a thoughtfulness and humility under new CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft has been forced to accept that operating systems are now seen as a commodity, thanks to Apple and Google giving theirs away. Windows 10 is the first free version ever – albeit only for a year. Nadella has understood that Microsoft exists in a multi-vendor world and cannot rely on creating an all-Windows lock-in any more. And the regular updates promised to Windows 10 – instead of huge service packs every few months – is also a response to the iterative changes users of iOS and Android are accustomed to.

But none of this takes away the fact that in the space of just 10 years, Microsoft has seen Windows go from running 95% of all the world’s computers, to just 14% now.

The chances of Windows disrupting the dominance of Apple and Android in the consumer mobile market are slim to non-existent. Microsoft has lost the developer community targeting that sector – just look at the paucity of the Windows app store compared to its rivals. So have we really reached a point where Windows is now all about protecting Microsoft’s corporate base?

The promised seamless integration of software across mobile, tablet and desktop is clearly designed to appeal to IT managers looking to offer users more flexible working and greater choice of devices. And appeal to them it will – many big Microsoft shops will look to push users down the all-Windows route.

During working hours, PCs remain the primary device – this is reflected in web analytics for sites such as Gov.uk, FT.com and also ComputerWeekly.com. But that dominance is declining.

Windows 10 is both the last hurrah for the operating system as the centrepiece of enterprise IT, and the start of a new Microsoft. Nadella is clearly preparing for a time 10 years away when Windows is no longer the company’s most significant product – perhaps even no longer a significant source of revenue. A multi-platform Office 365 and Azure cloud services are the future of Microsoft.

Corporate IT was the making of Microsoft and the base from which Windows went on to dominate the world. Now the company has come full circle, and has to build again from its heartland in the enterprise.