The lukewarm reception that Windows 8 and 8.1 received meant that many customers held steadfast to their Windows 7 installations. Whilst it wasn’t a Vista level catastrophe it was still enough to cement the idea that every other version of Windows was worth skipping. At the same time however it also set the stage for making Windows 7 the new XP, opening up the potential for history to repeat itself many years down the line. This is something that Microsoft is keen to avoid, aggressively pursuing users and corporations alike to upgrade to Windows 10. That strategy appears to be working and Microsoft seems confident enough in the numbers to finally cut the cord with Windows 7, stopping sales of the operating system from October next year.
It might sound like a minor point, indeed you haven’t been able to buy most retail versions of Windows 7 for about a year now, however it’s telling about how confident Microsoft is feeling about Windows 10. The decision to cut all versions but Windows 7 Pro from OEM offerings was due to the poor sales of 8/8.1, something which likely wouldn’t be improved with Windows 10 so close to release. The stellar reception that Windows 10 received, passing both of its beleaguered predecessors in under a month, gave Microsoft the confidence it needed put an end date to Windows 7 sales once and for all.
Of course this doesn’t mean that the current Windows 7 install base is going anywhere, it still has extended support until 2020. This is a little shorter than XP’s lifecycle was, 11 years vs 13 years, and subsequently Windows 10’s (in its current incanation) current lifespan is set to be shorter again at 10 years. Thankfully this will present fewer challenges to both consumers and enterprises alike, given that they share much of the same codebase under the hood. Still the majority of the growth in the Windows 10 marketshare has likely come from the consumer space rather than the enterprise.
This is most certainly the case among gamers with Windows 10 now representing a massive 27.64% of users on the Steam platform. Whilst that might sound unsurprising, PC gamers are the most likely to be on the latest technology, Windows 7 was widely regarded as being one of the best platforms for gaming. Windows 8 (and by extension Windows 10 since most of the criticisms apply to both versions) on the other hand was met with some rather harsh criticism about what it could mean for PC gaming. Of course here we are several years later PC gaming is stronger than ever and gamers are adopting the newer platform in droves.
For Microsoft, who’ve gone on record saying that Windows 10 is slated to be the last version of Windows ever, cutting off the flow of previous versions of Windows is critical to ensuring that their current flagship OS reaches critical mass quickly. The early success they’ve seen has given them some momentum however they’ll need an aggressive push over the holiday season in order to overcome the current slump they’re finding themselves in. It’s proven to be popular among early adopters however now comes the hard task of convincing everyone else that it’s worth the trouble of upgrading. The next couple quarters will be telling in that regard and will be key to ensuring Windows 10’s position as the defacto OS for a long time to come.
New Windows releases bring with them a bevy of new features, use cases and controversy. Indeed I can think back to every new Windows release dating back to Windows 95 and there was always something that set off a furor, whether it was UI changes or compatibility issues. For us technical folk though a new version of Windows brings with it opportunity, to experiment with the latest tech and dream about where we’ll take it. For the last month I’ve been using Windows 10 on my home machines and, honestly, whilst it feels much like its Windows 8.1 predecessor I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.
Visually Windows 10 is a big departure from its 8 and 8.1 predecessors as, for any non-tablet device, the full screen metro app tray is gone, replaced with a more familiar start menu. The full screen option is still there however, hiding in the notifications area under the guise of Tablet Mode, and for transformer or tablet style devices this will be the default option. The flat aesthetic has been taken even further again with all the iconography being reworked, ironing out almost any 3D element. You’re also not allowed to change the login screen’s laser window background without the aid of a resource hacker, likely due to the extreme amount of effort that went into creating the image.
For most, especially those who didn’t jump in the Windows 8 bandwagon, the navigation of the start menu will familiar although I must admit after the years I’ve spent with its predecessor it’s taken some getting used to. Whilst the charms menu might have disappeared the essence of it appears throughout Windows 10, mostly in the form of settings panels like Network Settings. For the most part they do make the routine tasks easier, like selecting a wifi network, however once things get complicated (like if you have say 2 wireless adapters) then you’re going to have to root around a little bit to find what you’re looking for. It is a slightly better system than what Windows 8 had, however.
To give myself the full Windows 10 experience I installed it on 2 different machines in 2 different ways. The first was a clean install on the laptop you see above (my trusty ASUS Zenbook UX32V) and that went along without a hitch. For those familiar with the Windows 8 style installer there’s not much to write home about here as it’s near identical to the previous installers. The second install was an upgrade on my main machine as, funnily enough, I had it on good word that the upgrade process was actually quite useable. As it turns out it is as pretty much everything came across without a hitch. The only hiccup came from my audio drivers not working correctly (seemed to default to digital out and wouldn’t let me change it) however a reinstall of the latest drivers fixed everything.
In terms of features there’s really not much in the way of things I’d consider “must haves” however that’s likely because I’ve been using many of those features since Windows 8 was first released. There are some interesting little additions however like the games features that allow you to stream, record and capture screenshots for all DirectX games (something which Windows will remind you about when you start them up). Microsoft Edge is also astonishingly fast and quite useable however since it’s so new the lack of extensions for it have precluded me from using it extensively. Interestingly Internet Explorer still makes an appearance in Windows 10, obviously for those corporate applications that continue to require it.
Under the hood there’s a bevy of changes (which I won’t bore you with here) however the most interesting thing about them is the way Windows 10 is structured for improvements going forward. You see Windows 10 is currently slated to be the last major release of Windows ever but this doesn’t mean that it will remain stagnant. Instead new features will be released incrementally on a much more frequent basis. Indeed the roadmaps I’ve seen show that there are several major releases planned in the not too distant future and indeed if you want a peek at the them all you need to do is sign up for the Windows Insider program. Such a strategy could reap a lot of benefits, especially for organisations seeking to avoid the heartache of Windows version upgrades in the future.
All in all Windows 10 is pretty much what I expected it to be. It has the best parts of Windows 7 and 8 and mashed together into a cohesive whole that should appease the majority of Windows users. Sure there are some things that some won’t like, the privacy settings being chief among them, however they’re at least solvable issues rather than showstoppers like Vista’s compatibility or 8’s metro interface. Whether Microsoft’s strategy of no more major versions ever is tenable or not is something we’ll have to see over the coming years but at the very least they’ve got a strong base with which to build from.
Left to their own devices many home PC users will defer installing updates for as long as humanly possible, most even turning off the auto-updating system completely in order to get rid of those annoying pop ups. Of course this means that exploits, which are routinely patched within days of them being discovered, are often not installed. This leaves many unnecessarily vulnerable to security breaches, something which could be avoided if they just installed the updates once in a while. With Windows 10 it now seems that most users won’t have a choice, they’ll be getting all Microsoft updates regardless of whether they want them or not.
Currently you have a multitude of options to select from when you subscribe to Windows updates. The default setting is to let Windows decide when to download, install and reboot your computer as necessary. The second does all the same except it will let you choose when you want to reboot, useful if you don’t leave your computer on constantly or don’t like it rebooting at random. The third option is essentially just a notification option that will tell you when updates are available but it’ll be up to you to choose which ones to download install. The last is, of course, to completely disable the service something which not many IT professionals would recommend you do.
Windows 10 narrows this down to just the first two options for Home version users, removing the option for them to not install updates if they don’t want to. This is not just limited to a specific set of updates (like say security) either as feature updates as well as things as drivers could potentially find their way into this mandatory system. Users of the Pro version of Windows 10 will have the option to defer feature updates for up to 8 months (called Current Branch for Business) however past that point they’ll be cut off from security updates, something which I’m sure none of them want. The only version of Windows 10 that will have long term deferral for feature updates will be the Enterprise version which can elect to only receive security updates between major Windows updates.
Predictably this has caught the ire of many IT professionals and consumers alike, mostly due to the inclusion of feature updates in the mandatory update scheme. Few would argue that mandatory security updates are a bad thing, indeed upon first hearing about this that’s what I thought it would be, however lumping in Windows feature updates alongside it makes a much less palatable affair. Keen observers have pointed out that this is likely due to Microsoft attempting to mold Windows into an as-a-service offering alongside their current offerings like Office 365. For products like that continuous (and mandatory) updates aren’t so much of a problem since they’re vetted against a single platform however for home users it’s a little bit more problematic, given the numerous variables at play.
Given that Windows 10 is slated to go out to the general public in just over a week it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be drastically changing this position anytime soon. For some this might be another reason for them to avoid upgrading to the next version of Windows although I’m sure the lure of a free version will be hard to ignore. For businesses though it’s somewhat less of an issue as they still have the freedom to update how they please. Microsoft has shown however that they’re intent on listening to their consumer base and should there be enough outrage about this then there’s every chance that they’ll change their position. This won’t be stopping me from upgrading, of course, but I’m one of those people who has access to any version I may want.
Not everyone is in as fortunate position as I am.
Windows 8 was supposed bring with it the platform by which developers could produce applications that would have consistent experiences across platforms. This came in the form of Metro (and now Modern) apps which would be powered by the WinRT framework, something which had all the right technological bells and whistles to make such a thing possible. However with the much maligned desktop experience, most of which was focused specifically at the Metro apps, the platform unification dream died a quick death. Microsoft hasn’t left that dream behind though and their latest attempt to revive it comes to us in the form of Universal Applications. This time around however they’re taking a slightly different approach: letting the developers build what they want and giving them the option of porting it directly across to the Windows platform.
Under the hood the architecture of Universal Apps is similar to that of their Metro predecessors, providing a core common set of functionality across platforms, however the difference comes in the form of developers being able to create their own platform specific code on top of the core binary. This alleviates the main issue which most people had with Metro apps of the past (I.E. they felt out of place pretty much everywhere) and allows developers to create their own UX for each platform they want to target. This coupled with the new “4 bridges” strategy, which defines a workflow for each major platform to come into the Universal App fold, means that Microsoft has a very compelling case for developers to spend time on bringing their code across.
As I talked about previously the two major smartphone platforms get their own bridge: Project Islandwood (iOS) and Project Astoria (Android). Since the first announcement it doesn’t seem that much has changed with this particular strategy however one key detail I didn’t know at the time was that you’d be able to directly import your Xcode project into Visual Studio, greatly reducing the effort required to get going. What kind of support they’ll have for Android applications, like whether or not they’ll let you import Eclipse projects, still remains to be seen unfortunately. They’ve also announced the bridge for web applications (Project Westminster) although that’s looking more and more like a modern version of ActiveX rather than something that web developers will be actually interested in pursuing.
The latest bridge to be announced is Project Centennial, a framework that will allow developers to port current Win32 based applications to the Universal platform. Whilst this likely won’t be the end game to solving everyone’s woes with migrating poorly coded applications onto a more modern OS (App-V and other app virtualization technologies are the only real treatments for that) it does provide an avenue for potentially aging code bases to be revamped for a new platform without a herculean amount of effort. Of course this means that you’ll need both the original codebase and a willingness to rework it, both things which seem to be rare for old corporate applications that can’t seem to die gracefully. Still another option is always welcome, especially if it drives further adoption of the Universal Platform.
Universal apps seem to have all the right makings for a revolutionary platform however I can’t help but take a reserved position after what happened with WinRT and Modern Apps. Sure, Windows 10 is likely shaping up to be the Windows 7 to the ills of Windows 8, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the technological innovations that come along with it will be welcomed with open arms. At least now the focus is off building a tablet/mobile like experience and attempting to shoehorn it in everywhere, something which I believe is behind much of the angst with Windows 8. It’ll likely be another year before we’ll know one way or the other and I’m very keen to see how this pans out.
The date for the final version of Windows has been set: July 29 of this year.
The announcement comes as a shock to no one, Microsoft had repeatedly committed to making Windows 10 generally available sometime this year, however the timing is far more aggressive than I would have expected. The Windows Insider program was going along well although the indications were that most of the builds still had a decidedly beta feel to them along with many features being missing. Indeed the latest build was released just three days ago indicating that a full release was still some time away. Microsoft isn’t one to give soft dates, especially for their flagship OS, so we can take the July 29 date as gospel from here on out.
Since everyone in the Insider program has had their hands on Windows 10 for some time now the list of features likely won’t surprise you however there were a few things that caught my eye in Microsoft’s announcement post. By the looks of it Office 2016 will be released alongside the new version of Windows including a new universal app version that’s geared towards touch devices. Considering how clumsy the desktop Office products felt on touch screens this is a welcome addition for tablet and transformer devices although I’d hazard a guess that the desktop version will still be the preferred one for many. What’s really interesting though is that OneNote and Outlook, long considered staples of the Office suite by many, will now be included in the base version of Windows for free. It’s not a big of an upset as including say Word or Excel would be but still an unexpected move none-the-less.
Many of the decidedly lacklustre default metro apps will get some new life breathed into them with an update to the universal app platform. On the surface this removes their irritating “takes over your entire desktop when launched” behaviour and makes them behave a lot more like a traditional app. Whether or not they’ll be improved to the point of usable beyond that is something that I’ll have to wait and see although I do have to admit that some of the built in apps (like the PDF reader) were quite useful to have. How the well integration between those apps, the cloud and other devices that can run universal apps, works remains to be seen although I’ve heard positive things about this experience in the past.
It seems that Microsoft has had this date in mind for some time now as all my home Windows 8.1 installs last night chirped up with a “Reserve your free Windows 10!” pop up late last night. This is the realisation of the promise Microsoft made back at the start of the year to provide a free Windows 10 update to all current consumer level customers, something I thought would likely be handled through a redemption portal or similar. However, based on the success Microsoft had in getting people to upgrade from 8 to 8.1 with a similar notification, I can see why they’ve taken this approach as it’s far more likely to get people upgrading than a free Windows 10 serial would.
What will be truly interesting to see is if the pattern of adoption continues with major Windows versions. Windows 7, which is now approaching middle age, still remains unchallenged by the previous two upstarts. The barriers to transitioning are now much lower than they once were, however customers have shown that familiarity is something they value above nearly everything else. Windows 10 has all the makings of a Windows version that consumers want but we all know that what people say they want and what they actually want are two different things.
Windows 10 is fast shaping up to be one of the greatest Windows releases with numerous consumer facing changes and behind the scenes improvements. Whilst Microsoft has been struggling somewhat to deliver on the rapid pace they promised with the Windows Insider program there has been some progress as of late and a couple new features have made their way into a leaked build. Technology wise they might not be revolutionary ideas, indeed a couple of them are simply reapplications of tech they’ve had for years now, but the improvements they bring speak to Microsoft’s larger strategy of trying to reinvent itself. That might be awfully familiar for those with intimate knowledge of Windows 8 (Windows Blue, anyone?) so it’s interesting to see how this will play out.
First cab off the ranks in Windows 10’s new feature set is a greatly reduced footprint, something that Windows has copped a lot of flak for in the past. Now this might not sound like a big deal on the surface, drives are always getting bigger these days, however the explosion of tablet and portable devices has brought renewed focus on Windows’ rather large install size on these space constrained devices. A typical Windows 8.1 install can easily consume 20GB which, on devices that have only 64GB worth of space, doesn’t leave a lot for a user’s files. Windows 10 brings a couple improvements that free up a good chunk of that space and bring with it a couple cool features.
Windows 10 can now compress system files saving approximately 2GB on a typical install. The feature isn’t on by default, instead during the Windows install the system will be assessed to make sure that compression can happen without impacting user experience. Whether current generation tablet devices will meet the minimum requirements for this is something I’m a little skeptical about so it will be interesting to see how often this feature gets turned on or off.
Additionally Windows 10 does away with the recovery partition on the system drive which is where most of the size savings comes from. Now instead of reserving part of the disk to hold a full copy of the Windows 10 install image, which was used for the refresh and repair features, Windows 10 can rebuild itself in place. This comes with the added advantage of keeping all your installed updates so that refreshed PCs don’t need to go through the hassle of downloading them all again. However in the advent that you do have to do that they’ve included another great piece of technology that should make updating a new PC in your home a little easier.
Windows 10 will include the option of downloading PC updates via a P2P system which you can configure to download updates only from your local network or also PCs on the Internet. It’s essentially an extension of the BranchCache technology that’s been a part of Windows for a while now but it makes it far more accessible, allowing home users to take advantage of it. If you’re running a Windows home (like I am) this will make downloading updates far less painful and, for those of us who format regularly, help greatly when we need to get a bunch of Windows updates again. The Internet enabled feature is mostly for Microsoft’s benefit as it’ll take some load off their servers but should also help out users who are in regions that don’t have great backhaul to the Windows Update servers.
If Microsoft continues to release features like this for Windows 10 then it definitely has a bright future ahead of it. Things like this might not be the sexiest things to talk about but they address real concerns that have plagued Windows for years. In the end they all amount to one thing: a better experience for the consumer, something which Microsoft has fervently increased its focus on as of late. Whether they’ll amount to the panacea to the ills of Windows 8 remains to be seen but suffice to say I’m confident that it’ll line up well.
It’s not widely known that Microsoft has been in the embedded business for quite some time now with their various versions of Windows tailored specific for that purpose. Not that Microsoft has a particular stellar reputation in this field however as most of the time people find out that something was running Windows is when they crash spectacularly. However if you wanted to tinker with it yourself the process to do so was pretty arduous which wasn’t very conducive to generating much interest in the product. Microsoft seems set to change that however with the latest version of Windows 10 to run on the beefed up Raspberry Pi 2 and, best of all, it will be completely free to use.
Windows has supported the ARM chipset that powers the Raspberry Pi since the original 8 release however the diminutive specifications of the board precluded it from running even the cut down RT version. With the coming of Windows 10 however Microsoft is looking to develop an Internet of Things (IoT) line of Windows products which are specifically geared towards low power platforms such as the Raspberry Pi. Better still the product team behind those versions of Windows has specifically included the Raspberry Pi 2 as one of their supported platforms, meaning that it will work out of the box without needing to mess with its drivers or other configuration details. Whilst I’m sure the majority of users of the Raspberry Pi 2 will likely stick to their open source alternatives the availability of a free version of Windows for the platform does open it up to a whole host of developers who might not have considered the platform previously.
The IoT version of Windows is set to come in three different flavours: Industry, Mobile and Athens; with a revision of the .NET Micro framework for other devices that don’t fall into one of those categories. Industry is essentially the full version of Windows with features geared towards the embedded platform. The Mobile version is, funnily enough, geared towards always-on mobile devices but still retains much of the capabilities of its fully fledged brethren. Athens, the version that’s slated to be released on the Raspberry Pi 2, is a “resource focused” version of Windows 10 that still retains the ability to run Universal Apps. There’ll hopefully be some more clarity around these delineations as we get closer to Windows 10’s official release date but suffice to say if the Raspberry Pi 2 can run Universal Apps it’s definitely a platform I could see myself tinkering with.
These new flavours of Windows fit into Microsoft’s broader strategy of trying to get their ecosystem into as many places as they can, something they attempted to start with the WinRT framework and have reworked with Universal Apps. Whilst I feel that WinRT had merit it’s hard to say that it was successful in achieving what it set out to do, especially with the negative reception Metro Apps got with the wider Windows user base. Universal Apps could potentially be the Windows 7 to WinRT’s Vista, a similar idea reworked and rebranded for a new market that finds the feet its predecessors never had. The IoT versions of Windows are simply another string in this particular bow but whether or not it’ll pan out is not something I feel I can accurately predict.
The rumour mill has been running strong for Microsoft’s next Windows release, fuelled by the usual sneaky leaks and the intrepid hackers who relentlessly dig through preview builds to find things they weren’t meant to see. For the most part though things have largely been as expected with Microsoft announcing the big features and changes late last year and drip feeding minor things through the technical preview stream. Today Microsoft held their Windows 10 Consumer Preview event in Redmond, announcing several new features that would become part of their flagship operating system as well as confirming the strategy for the Windows platform going forward. Suffice to say it’s definitely a shake up of what we’d traditionally expect from Microsoft, especially when it comes to licensing.
The announcement that headlined the event that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade for all current Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 customers who upgrade in the first year. This is obviously an attempt to ensure that Windows 10’s adoption rate doesn’t languish in the Vista/8 region as even though every other version of Windows seems to do just fine Windows 10 is still different enough for it to cause issues. I can see the adoption rate for current Windows 8 and 8.1 users to be very high, thanks to the integration with the Windows store, however for Windows 7 stalwarts I’m not so sure. Note that this also won’t apply to enterprises who are responsible for an extremely large chunk of the Windows 7 market currently.
Microsoft also announced Universal Applications which are essentially the next iteration of the WinRT framework that was introduced with Windows 8. However instead of delineating some applications to the functional ghetto (like all Metro apps were) Universal Apps instead share a common base set of functionality with additional code paths for the different platforms they support. Conceptually it sounds like a great idea as it means that the different versions of the applications will share the same codebase, making it very easy to bring new features to all platforms simultaneously. Indeed if this platform can be extended to encompass Android/iOS it’d be an incredibly powerful tool, although I wouldn’t count on that coming from Microsoft.
Xbox Live will also be making a prominent appearance in Windows 10 with some pretty cool features coming for XboxOne owners. Chief among these, at least for me, is the ability to stream XboxOne games from your console directly to your PC. As someone who currently uses their PC as a monitor for their PS4 (I have a capture card for reviews and my wife didn’t like me monopolizing the TV constantly with Destiny) I think this a great feature, one I hope other console manufacturers replicate. There’s also cross-game integration for games that use Xbox Live, an inbuilt game recorder and, of course, another iteration of DirectX. This was the kind of stuff Microsoft had hinted at doing with Windows 8 but it seems like they’re finally committed to it with Windows 10.
Microsoft is also expanding its consumer electronics business with new Windows 10 enabled devices. The Microsoft HoloLens is their attempt at a Google Glass like device although one that’s more aimed at being used with the desktop rather than on the go. There’s also the Surface Hub which is Microsoft’s version of the smart board, integrating all sorts of conferencing and collaboration features. It will be interesting to see if these things see any sort of meaningful adoption rate as whilst they’re not critical to Windows 10’s success they’re certainly devices that could increase adoption in areas that traditionally aren’t Microsoft’s domain.
Overall the consumer preview event paints Windows 10 as an evolutionary step forward for Microsoft, taking the core of the ideas that they attempted with previous iterations and reworking them with a fresh perspective. It will be interesting to see how the one year free upgrade approach works for them as gaining that critical mass of users is the hardest thing for any application, even the venerable Windows platform. The other features that are coming along as more nice to haves than anything else, things that will likely help Microsoft sell people on the Windows 10 idea. Getting this launch right is crucial for Microsoft to execute on their strategy of it being the one platform for time immaterial as the longer it takes to get the majority of users on Windows 10 the harder it will be to invest heavily in it. Hopefully Windows 10 can be the Windows 7 to Windows 8 as Microsoft has a lot riding on this coming off just right.
For the longest time, far too long in my opinion, XP had been the beast that couldn’t be slayed. The numerous releases of Windows after it never seemed to make much more than a slight dent in its usage stats and it reigned as the most used operating system worldwide for an astonishing 10 years after its initial release. It finally lost its crown to Windows 7 back in October of 2011 but it still managed to hold on a market share that dwarfed many of its competitors. It’s decline was slow though, much slower than an operating system which was fast approaching end of life should have been. However last quarter saw it drop an amazing 6% in total usage, finally dropping it below the combined usage of Windows 8 and 8.1.
The reasons behind this drop are wide and varied but it finally appears that people are starting to take Microsoft’s warnings that their product is no longer supported seriously and are looking for upgrades. Surprisingly though the vast majority of people transitioning away from the aging operating system aren’t going for Windows 7, they’re going straight to Windows 8.1. This isn’t to say that 8.1 is eating away at 7’s market share however, it’s up about half a percent in the same time frame, and the upgrade path is likely due to the fact that Microsoft has ceased selling OEM copies of Windows 7. Most of those new licenses do come with downgrade rights however though I’m sure few people actually use them.
If XP’s current downward trend continues along this path then it’s likely to hit the low single digit usage figures sometime around the middle of next year. On the surface this would appear to be a good thing for Microsoft as it means that the majority of their user base will be on a far more modern platform. However at the same time the decline might just be a little too swift for people to consider upgrading to Windows 10 which isn’t expected to be RTM until late next year. Considering the take up performance of Windows 8 and 8.1 this could be something of a concern for Microsoft although there is another potential avenue: Windows 7 users.
The last time Microsoft has a disastrous release like Windows 8 the next version of Windows to take the majority of the market share was 7, a decade after the original had released. Whilst it’s easy to argue that this time will be different (like everyone does) a repeat performance of that nature would see Windows 7 being the dominant platform all the way up until 2019. Certainly this is something that Microsoft wants to avoid so it will be interesting to see how fast Windows 10 gets picked up and which segments of Microsoft’s business it will cannibalize. Should it be primarily Windows 7 based then I’d say everything would be rosy for them, however if it’s all Windows 8/8.1 then we could be seeing history repeat itself.
Microsoft is on the cusp of either reinventing itself with Windows 10 or being doomed to forever repeat the cycle which consumers have forced them into. To Microsoft’s credit they have been trying their best to break out of this mould however it’s hard to argue with the demands of the consumer and there’s only so much they can do before they lose their customer’s faith completely. The next year will be very telling for how the Microsoft of the future will look and how much of history will repeat itself.
Windows has always had a troubled relationship with security. As the most popular desktop operating system it’s frequently the target of all sorts of weird and wonderful attacks which, to Microsoft’s credit, they’ve done their best to combat. However it’s hard to forget the numerous missteps along the way like the abhorrent User Access Control system which, in its default state, did little to improve security and just added another level of frustration for users. However if the features coming from the technical preview of Windows 10 are anything to go by Microsoft might finally be making big boy steps towards improving security on their flagship OS.
Whilst there’s numerous third party solutions to 2 factor authentication on Windows, like smartcards or tokens, the OS itself has never had that capability natively. This means that for the vast majority of Windows users this heightened security mode has been unavailable. Windows 10 brings with it the Next Generation Credentials service which allows users (both consumer and corporate) the ability to enrol a device to function as a second factor for authentication. The larger mechanics of how this work are still being worked out however the application has a PIN which would prevent unauthorized access to the code, ensuring that losing your device doesn’t mean someone automatically gains access to your Windows login. Considering this kind of technology has been freely available for years (hell my World of Warcraft characters have had it for years) it’s good to see it finally making its way into Windows as native functionality.
There’s also extensive customization abilities available thanks to Microsoft adopting the FIDO Alliance standard rather than developing their own proprietary solution. In addition to the traditional code-generation 2 factor auth you can also use your smartphone as a sort of smartcard with it being automatically recognised when brought next to a bluetooth enabled PC. This opens up the possibility for your phone to be a second factor for a whole range of services and products that currently make use of Microsoft technology, like Active Directory integrated applications. Whilst some might lament that possibility the fact that it’s based on open standards means that such functionality won’t be limited to the Microsoft family of products.
Microsoft has also announced a whole suite of better security features, many of which have been third party products for the better part of a decade. Encryption is now available for the open and save dialogs natively within the Windows APIs, allowing developers to easily integrate encryption functionality into their applications. This comes hand in hand with controls around which applications can access said encrypted data, ensuring that data handling measures can’t be circumvented by using non-standard applications. Device lock down is also now natively supported, eliminating the need for other device access control software like Lumension (which, if you’ve worked with, will likely be thankful for).
It might not be the sexiest thing to be happening in Windows 10 but it’s by far one of the more important. As the defacto platform for many people increases in Windows security are very much welcome and hopefully this will lead to a much more secure computing world for us all. These measures aren’t a silver bullet by any stretch of the imagination but they’ll go a long way to making Windows far more secure than it has been in the past.