Disclosure Microsoft is a client of the author.
I started focusing on Windows as an external analyst in 1994, during the ramp-up to Windows 95. In fact, 1995 was a near-magical time for me as the top launch analyst for Windows; made it the first and only year at Dataquest in a journey and excessive investment in media.
Note: in 1995, laptops were not very useful. They cost a fortune, have no performance, and battery life is measured in minutes. There’s no build-it-yourself desktop option yet, the hardware has been preserved for over five years, and on desktops and monitors, you can have any color you want, as long as it’s a sick beige.
Each beta version of Windows 95 leads to hours of shuffling floppy disks and resolving driver and application incompatibilities; in conjunction with regular crashes, these problems will always erase all progress on whatever you are writing if you do not save the files regularly. I did my first system build that year and discovered that restoring from a backup is painfully long and incredibly annoying when you fry a hard drive. (The motherboard will not fit in the case due to lack of time standards.)
However, Windows 95 is an improvement over DOS / Windows, and the actual launch was an event I will never forget.
Windows experiences have changed significantly in the last decade, with none of the train wreck moments created by Windows Millennium, Vista, or Windows 8. Windows 10 has become very stable, more secure, and quite a dream. to cooperate. I thought Microsoft would make another mistake Windows 10X – to be announced this month – but the company changed its mind. At Windows 21H1 (I just installed it this week), so far has proven to be a pleasant surprise.
Let’s talk about Windows 21H1 and why Windows 10X is a mistake.
Bifurcating Windows is a bad idea
Microsoft has bifurcated Windows several times over the years, and every time it does, the decision to do so has ended badly. First, there was OS / 2 vs. Dos / Windows, then Windows 95. OS / 2 preceded its time; the desktop hardware is not yet capable of running a heavy OS. Even with IBM, the main supporter of OS / 2, many departments avoid such a plague for compatibility and slow boot factors, even if it can be said to be more reliable. Then came Windows NT, an updated, clean room version of NT, and Windows 9x.
Windows NT went from being a successor to UNIX to becoming a “corporate” desktop OS. Windows 9x was consumer-focused, but the fight between the two groups was ugly, and when Windows 2000 (following the NT) and Windows Millennium came out, neither OS was unloved. The Millennium, in fact, is a train wreck.
Windows 2000 became Windows XT, but there were embedded versions of Windows and versions that worked with an ARM that sucked as failed Windows Mobile and Phone platforms. Whenever Microsoft tries to have multiple desktop versions of its OS, things end badly.
I expect Windows 10X to continue that trend. Unfortunately for us, someone at Microsoft got tired of dealing with new variants of Windows and decided to roll out many of the features of Windows 10X in a full update to Windows 10. So, we got Windows 10 21H1.
Windows 10X vs. 21H1
Windows 10X, which was initially targeted at education, should have a new Taskbar that looks like a copy of Apple’s taskbar and a new start menu that came with a smartphone. (Users are really angry when you change user interfaces, and throw it at students who are unlikely to end well.) You’ll be glad to know that those interface changes appear to be gone in 21H1. Nor has it changed as in Windows 10X: the file explorer. In fact, after the latest update to Windows 10, my system generally didn’t feel that much different.
What has changed is that Windows Update seems to be faster, allowing you to load updates quickly. Platform security appears to be more robust, with tighter controls and protection over OS files and better resistance to malware. With this change, I expect the whole class of malware to fail if they try to implement anything malicious.
Another improvement is the Windows 10 21H1 which seems to handle multiple cameras better. I have two cameras, a Poly 15 that I mostly use for videoconferencing, and a released Dell Video camera that I mainly use for Windows Hello. It seems now I can switch between these cameras faster and should switch to other cameras more smoothly after this update.
With increasing concerns about malware attacks and hacking, an update primarily focused on improving the update experience and platform security is likely to be better received than Windows 10X. I’m not saying that improving usability at some point won’t make sense. But as we emerge from the pandemic and try to decide whether we will travel again or go to the office again, this is not the time to make significant interface changes.
A concept called “minimum required change” applies to highly disruptive times like this. Windows 10 21H1 appears to follow that concept, as it appears to change what we need to change, and almost leave everything else behind. We’re dealing with enough change right now.
So far, the release of 21H1 has been painless and pleasant, which is all I’m looking for in any Windows update. The 1990s were fun. But I have no desire to revisit the pain of earlier versions of Windows and I expect Microsoft to stick to the “minimum necessary change” concept.
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