To Windows 10 or Else?

In 2015 Microsoft expected Windows 10 to be running on a billion — yes, that’s right, a thousand million — devices within a couple years. Nearly three and a half years later, it’s supposedly running on 700 million devices. That’s a pretty significant shortfall, and remember, Microsoft really, really wants people to upgrade (see my prior blog entry).

Why has Microsoft had to push so hard to get people to use Windows 10?

First, take a look at the ranking of operating system share for the six most recent Windows versions. According to, as of December 2018, it goes like this:

  1. Windows 10 — 40.86%
  2. Windows 7 — 36.37%
  3. Windows 8.1 — 5.07%
  4. Windows XP — 4.08%
  5. Windows 8 — 1.04%
  6. Windows Vista — 0.27%

Now look at that same list, in order of release date/age, newest to oldest:

  1. Windows 10 — July 29, 2015 / 3 years, 5 months — 40.86%
  2. Windows 8.1 — October 17, 2013 / 5 years, 2 months– 5.07%
  3. Windows 8 — October 26, 2012 / 6 years, 2 months — 1.04%
  4. Windows 7 — July 22, 2009 / 9 years, 5 months — 36.37%
  5. Windows Vista — November 30, 2006 / 12 years, 1 month — 0.27%
  6. Windows XP — October 25, 2001 / 17 years, 2 months — 4.08%

What’s going on? Windows 7 and Windows XP, with a combined age of 26 years 7 months, still account for more than 40% of the desktop OS share. Meanwhile, Windows 8.1 and 8 together account for just over 6 percent and Windows Vista has all but disappeared.

It’s beginning to make more sense as to why Microsoft seems so motivated to move users to a new OS, but how did we get here?

A little more history of Windows versions post-9/11, according to the Oracle:

Windows XP was released in October 2001 and it became very popular. It was tricky to install, but it was stable and fast. For a lot of users it replaced any one of a bunch of earlier 16- or 32-bit versions of Windows. It ran a lot of legacy software. And it remained popular for a long time, because…

Windows Vista was a major disappointment. It was slow. It introduced a lot of annoying prompts for permission to do things, which baffled and annoyed people. It made connecting to a wifi access point harder than it had been in XP, which also baffled and annoyed people. It cluttered up the Desktop with a bunch of crap nobody needed, including a big analog clock. Yes, this was in addition to the digital clock in the lower right hand corner of the screen, which had been a feature of Windows as long as anyone could remember. Few companies saw the point and the Great Recession came along. Windows XP became more entrenched. Next…

Windows 7 fixed a lot of what was wrong with Vista and seemed to put Windows back on a better track. Setup got easier. A long development cycle meant that Windows 7 handled more hardware straight out of box than its two predecessors. 64-bit software started to make more sense, especially in the workplace. Some editions of Windows 7 also included a licensed version of XP that could be run in a virtual machine to maintain compatibility with older software. This was a big deal to companies that had business processes running in old versions of apps, such as Access 97. Windows 7 was a hit, and Windows XP lived on. And then Microsoft lost its mind and pushed out…

Windows 8. What were they thinking? Microsoft wanted to compete with iPhones and Androids and iPads and Chromebooks and… nobody cared. Windows 8 was a one-size-fits-nobody solution. What problem did it solve? If businesses needed the capability of capturing signatures, for example, that hardware already existed. Digitizing tablets already existed. Touchscreen Windows-based computers ALREADY EXISTED. But many companies had just replaced their last CRT monitors with flat panels. Were they supposed to throw those out and buy touchscreens? Oh, and end users were FORCED to use an entirely different user interface, because the Start menu was hidden and users couldn’t easily get it back. Watch productivity soar as end users try to figure out how the hell to use what was essentially a completely new computer! Wait, what’s this Microsoft Store thingy? Watch productivity be forgotten as end users try to install games on their workplace PC’s! Or stay on Windows 7 and wait for…

Windows 8.1, with which Microsoft displayed an amazing determination to repeat a big mistake. Version 8.1 made small concessions on the user interface, but the Start menu was still missing and the changes were too little, too late for most businesses to care. Microsoft also became pushier about online services, such as OneDrive. In 2014 support ended for Windows XP, but remember, some Windows 7 editions (including 7 Pro and Enterprise) could run Windows XP Mode, which ran older apps in a virtual PC. Who needed 8? Not too many people, it turns out.

Which brings us to Windows 9, which of course doesn’t exist. Would it be too confusing to talk about Windows 9 when there had already been a Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows 98 2nd Edition? Would everyone think we were partying like it was 1999? Would we have to go through Y2K all over again? Too scary! Skip 9 and go right to…

Windows 10, “the best Windows ever.” Windows as a service. The last version of Windows.

The question is, should you use it?

Windows 7 enters its last year of support this week, with end of support on January 14, 2020. Some of Microsoft’s big customers with deep pockets may end up paying for extended support, but that won’t help you or me. The clock is ticking.

Windows 8.1 will be supported until January 10, 2023, for all the difference it makes: 94% of desktop OS users are not running Windows 8.x and can’t buy it, even if they wanted to (which they don’t).

So, what to do?

If you are running a version of Windows prior to 7, get off the Internet NOW. Your computer is unsafe, your browser is probably unsafe (or soon will be) and it’s only going to get worse.

If you have a Windows 7 machine and you like it, you’re still fine for now, but the end is in sight. See the paragraph above.

Sadly, when a computer operating system and web browsers become unsupported, the only truly safe move is to take them offline. Yes, you can still run installed programs, and you can print and scan locally. You can play media. For most of us it’s a stretch to remember when we had a standalone PC, or even one that did not have an “always on” connection to the Internet. Think about it.

Windows 10 is probably in our future, but it’s going to be as private as I can make it, and with as little reliance on the cloud as possible. Sorry Microsoft, it’s still my computer, my content, my brain.

I’ll probably be experimenting with Ubuntu on one of these old computers soon. Coming from a longtime Microsoft user and recovering support tech, well, that’s a big change.

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