SAN FRANCISCO—Little did attendees at DreamForce 2014 know Oct. 13 that they would become witnesses to a key Microsoft strategy data point regarding the world's most ubiquitous operating system.
Operating systems are simply not on the topic list at a cloud services conference like this one at the Moscone Center here. But Tony Prophet (at right in photo), Microsoft's new head of the Windows product development team, explained onstage to host Marc Benioff (at left in photo) why the company was skipping from Windows 8.1 directly to Windows 10. Well, sort of, anyway.
The latest version available now in general availability is the clearly unpopular Windows 8.1; this explains why the company is doing a quick turnaround for an all-new update. Enterprises are avoiding the clunky, nonintuitive 8.1 like the plague and instead are updating their XP laptops and desktops to the much-preferred Windows 7. Most laptops aren't outfitted for touch screens anyway, which is what Win 8 is all about.
Consumers Buy Windows 8.1 Only Because It's Already Installed
Consumers aren't asking for 8.1, and they're not downloading it in any kind of numbers; they get it only because it comes installed on new Windows tablets or laptops. The reviews and social network comments haven't been kind.
"It [v.9] came and it went," said Prophet, quoting Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who also has been answering that question in similar terms. It certainly had to have been too similar to Win 8 for Microsoft leadership's liking.
It's obvious that Microsoft doesn't want any associations whatsoever between the next version of Windows and the unpopular Windows 8 and 8.1. For example, the Surface 3 tablet is being positioned as "Win 10 Ready."
Prophet didn't say so in as many words, but his meaning was clear: Windows 9 simply wasn't a big enough change from 8.1.
No Incremental Step Is Windows 10
"Windows 10 is not going to be an incremental step from Window 8.1," Prophet told Benioff and about 3,000 other attendees in the hall. The clear implication was that Win 9 was, in fact, an incremental step.
"Windows 10 is going to be a material step. It will be an integration of one platform, one ecosystem that unites as many of the devices from the small embedded Internet of things through tablets, through phones, through PCs and, ultimately, into the Xbox," Prophet said.
Unlike Win 8, Win 10 will be Microsoft's most enterprise-friendly OS, Prophet said.
"Our purpose for developing Windows 10 is to use a new process," he said. "The Tech Preview, released two weeks ago and downloaded more than 1 million times, was made available much, much earlier than we've ever done before; the reason we're doing that is so we can listen to our customers.
"The objective is to build the best OS ever for an enterprise. Our aspirations are for people not to just like Windows 10; we want them to love Windows 10."
Microsoft claims that the upcoming OS builds nearly everything that businesses need right into the core of the product—including enterprise-grade security, identity and information protection features—in ways that can reduce complexities and provide better experiences than other solutions. Windows 10 also incorporates container-based data loss prevention features that extend protection to data as it moves between devices, email, USB drives and the cloud.
Pros and Cons From Windows 10 Testing
"If you're listening to your customers," Benioff asked Prophet, "then tell us one thing they like and one thing they don't like about Windows 10."
"Early users really love the changes to the UI," Prophet said. "They like multiple desktops, multitasking, the ability to take and run a modern app in a window on a desktop, which you couldn't do in Windows 8.1.
"Some of the things they don't like are the things they haven't seen yet," Prophet said. "We're working on a suite of features that are key to individual users; they involve identity, security of the device and the data, management and the climate—making it easy to use devices around the world and making it easy to provision them over the network.
"These are things that are not yet out there, and when people see the vision of this, I think they're going to love the whole thing."
Perhaps, and perhaps not. Windows 8 was tested for more than 1.24 billion hours before it was blessed for launch. One of its predecessors, Windows Vista, was tested similarly, yet it turned out to be one of the most vilified operating systems in history. Only Windows 7 has been well-accepted in recent years.
Will Windows 10 be able to follow Win 7 to popularity? Try it yourself; download it here. Check back here in about a year; we should have an update by then.