WE ARE NOW about nine months in to the Windows 10 era, and things are going great or not so great, depending on to whom you listen. Microsoft keeps touting ever growing numbers of active users of its latest operating system, which it claimed had passed 200 million by the start of this year.
Meanwhile, figures from market research firms such as IDC and Gartner appear to show that sales figures for PC systems have not shown the recovery that was predicted once Windows 10 was available.
This has been blamed partly on the fact that Microsoft has made Windows 10 available as a free upgrade for the first year following its release, meaning that people did not necessarily feel the need to buy a new system.
However, a steady stream of negative stories about Windows 10 may have coloured the perception of the platform among potential users, and could be discouraging many from taking up the free offer.
This could be worse for Microsoft than it first appears. It comes at a crucial time when Windows is arguably going to sink or swim, and the company cannot afford to take a misstep right now.
I've covered the release of many versions of Windows during my time as a tech writer, and it often seems to me that Microsoft can be its own worst enemy at times. Windows Vista set out to cure the security holes in XP, but ended up doing it in such a ham-fisted way that people quickly lost patience with the continual User Account Control prompts. It was also heavy on system resources.
Then Windows 7 came along and pretty much fixed all the problems with Vista, and everyone was happy for a while until Windows 8 came along. This was meant to be Microsoft's answer to consumers preferring tablet devices with their intuitive touch-oriented user interfaces, but it turned out to be such a kludge and a compromise that it proved deeply unpopular.
Microsoft seemed to have steered itself back on track with Windows 10. As preview versions trickled out, people were encouraged by the return of the desktop environment and the Start menu, which Microsoft had cleverly integrated with the Live Tiles of Windows 8. It boasted innovative features like Continuum, and handled touch and keyboard input well, and Microsoft was prepared to let existing users upgrade for free.
So it came as a disappointment when the first people to install the release code of Windows 10 reported that it had several settings relating to the collection of user data that the system sends back to Microsoft. Most of these are enabled by default unless you opt to customise settings during the installation. Microsoft, it seemed, had taken too many tips from web companies that collect as much personal information as they can.
Then there is Microsoft's increasingly aggressive tactics to get everyone running Windows 10. It started with a simple notification on the taskbar of Windows 7 and 8, making people aware of Windows 10 and offering to let them 'reserve a copy' to download when available.
However, Microsoft then started pre-emptively downloading the Windows 10 installer to those who had opted to reserve a copy, taking up gigabytes of space. This was so that the update would be ready to hand when users opted to install it, Microsoft claimed.
Windows 10 was then published as an 'Optional Update' via the Windows Update service, before being escalated to a 'Recommended Update' this year, which means that installation is triggered automatically depending on the user's Windows Update settings.
This has led to what the INQUIRER has dubbed 'Updategate' after users claimed that Windows 10 had suddenly installed itself without their knowledge or permission. Microsoft disputes this, saying that the Windows 10 installer offers the choice of accepting or declining the upgrade.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Windows 10 is starting to acquire a tarnished reputation. Many have decided to stick with Windows 7, in a repeat of the 'XP Forever' phenomenon that dogged Microsoft's attempts to kill the ageing operating system.
This hasn't been helped by the company's decision to take control over Windows Updates away from users. Any update or security fix in Windows 10 is automatically downloaded and installed, at least in the consumer version, which means that it's impossible to stop an update installing even if the PC owner knows it will cause compatibility problems.
The danger for Microsoft is that there are perfectly good alternatives to Windows these days. Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint now offer an ease of use comparable with Windows, and many tech-savvy users, including yours truly, will be tempted simply to ditch Windows in favour of Linux because Windows 10 is starting to seem more trouble than it's worth.
And this could turn into a real problem for Microsoft if the next generation of techies grows up with more experience of using Linux than Windows.
In some ways, the writing is on the wall already, as shown by Microsoft adding features like the Bash command line shell from Linux into Windows 10, even if this was done to please the increasing number of developers working with Linux workloads running in the firm's Azure cloud.
Meanwhile, a whole generation of youngsters in this country is getting a taste of Linux thanks to the Raspberry Pi low-cost computer, which runs a version of Linux as its default environment.
Windows 10 was seen by many as a make-or-break release for the future of Microsoft. It would be ironic if the firm has sabotaged this through its own stupidity and heavy-handed tactics. µ
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