A New Support Plan for the Windows 10 Field Guide

Posted on January 21, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Uncategorized with 34 Comments

In November 2015, we published the initial release of the Windows 10 Field Guide, an ebook reference and guide to Microsoft’s flagship desktop platform. Since then, this book has been updated hundreds of times, often to address new features in the system and its bundled apps, and we have adjusted the content accordingly.

I’m somewhat amused to go back and read the original plans for the book, in which I initially agreed to update it through at least Windows 10 version 1809. Mostly because I continued updating the book, for free, for two more years past that, or for a total of five years. Those updates ranged from continuous to sporadic, depending on the year and the depth of the changes in each Windows 10 version. But I hope that most readers would agree that the book is, if anything, a good value.

I think it is. I also think it’s a good book. In doing a thorough reevaluation of the work, and not for the first time, I’m struck by how useful much of it feels. I know, I wrote it. But in returning to chapters that I’ve not read in a year or more, I occasionally stumble over a bit that I feel is particularly well-done. It’s something that deserves to continue, to evolve as Windows 10 evolves.

The problem, of course, is that continually updating the existing book for free isn’t worth the effort. Though we’ve done well overall, revenues for the Windows 10 Field Guide now range somewhere between non-existent and barely noticeable, and when you consider that whatever money we made was spread over 5 years, it doesn’t amount to much, especially last year. There’s certainly a labor of love aspect to this, but it also needs to make sense financially.

I considered many ways to move the book forward, but what we arrived at is simple and logical enough: Rather than continually update the same book over and over again, I will create a new version, or edition, or whatever, of the book for each Windows 10 version. So the current book can be thought of as the Windows 10 Field Guide for Version 20H2. The next one will be for version 21H1, if there is one, or for version 21H2, and it will be a new book that must be purchased separately.

This model is like that used by travel writers. If you consider a book like Rick Steves’ Paris, you may know that there is a new book for each year, so Rick Steves’ Paris 2020, Rick Steves’ Paris 2021, and so on. Each book is not completely new, but is rather based on the previous edition/version, but is completely up-to-date.

Going forward, the Windows 10 Field Guide(s) will follow this model, but with one major difference: As before, each will be updated as needed to address any changes that occur to that version of Windows 10. I see this as one major release to address the system changes and then mostly smaller subsequent updates for app updates and typos and other fixes.

At just $9.99, the book is inexpensive enough, I think, to justify what you might think of as an annual fee, but I’m also not naïve enough to expect most people to just buy it again every year. But hopefully, they will do so when needed, perhaps because of buying a new PC or because some future version of Windows 10 is a big enough change to warrant the purchase. We’ll see, but what I do know is that basically no one is “rebuying” the book now because anyone who bought it in 2015 is still getting free updates today.

That said, I’m not done yet with the current edition/version. In fact, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the past two or three weeks working on the book almost every day to get it completely updated, and thus “completed,” a term I’ve not considered for this book in the past. Existing customers will see that work in the form of updated versions of every chapter soon. Most will be subtle updates, of course. But there are a few big areas of change and additional content, like the Edge chapter while some previously planned updates are being pushed back. For example, I’ll be adding a nearly completed additional new chapter, called Command Lines, to the next edition/version of the book.

Related to this, one of the issues I experienced over the past year—and, yes, I think some of the problem here is just pandemic stress-related—is that updating the book and pursuing new programming projects have gotten in the way of each other. Writing (or even just updating) a book and learning new programming languages, frameworks, and capabilities are both difficult tasks that require a lot of attention and energy. And what I’ve finally figured out is that I just can’t do both well at the same time.

This new Windows 10 Field Guide schedule will help with this: During the time in which a new Windows 10 version is being completed and then released, I will only work on the book. During the off times, I will turn my attention to software development projects and, hopefully, writing about them as I’ve done previously with my various versions of .NETpad.

With regards to the book, however, there are a few more open items.

I mentioned previously the notion of hosting a web-based version of the book, and that is something I’d still like to do if it can make sense. How/where to do that is still up in the air, but one obvious possibility is to make it available on Thurrott.com, most likely as a feature for Premium members. I haven’t discussed this with anyone at work yet, but I will do so.

Rafael and I also discussed the possibility of creating a Windows 10X Field Guide, which would be a smaller and (even) less expensive book if it happens. Scanning over the chapter files for the current book, I can see that many of them could be converted for 10X relatively easily, and that the amount of new content would be manageable. Whether it makes sense to write a Windows 10X book at all is, of course, open to debate. We’re still doing that, debating, but it’s a possibility.

Ultimately, what all of this reflects is how important Windows is to me, and how central this product is to my professional life and career. I recognize that mobile and web computing have surpassed the desktop in popularity and usage, but as this past pandemic year has driven home, Windows and the PC are still very important and will be for the foreseeable future. And I see no good reason not to ride out this wave, given my interests and preferences. This is an area in which I feel l can still contribute in a positive and meaningful way. And so I’ll keep trying to do so.

I hope this all makes sense.

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Comments (34)

34 responses to “A New Support Plan for the Windows 10 Field Guide”

  1. jumpingjackflash5

    Very nice that you are using diaresis for naïve. Thanks.

    And also that your Windows efforts continue. Yes desktop needs care too.

  2. Paul Thurrott

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone.

    I should address some of the common questions that maybe I should have anticipated.

    First, with regards to how many versions/editions might be released in a given year, I think it’s fair to say that it will be just one each year. There’s no guarantee that Microsoft will continue with any particular H1/H2 release cadence/strategy (big/small, small/small, whatever). But I feel like publishing more than one version/edition of the book in any given year is overkill. In keeping with my travel book comparison, an annual release schedule makes sense. And maybe that’s how I should name them, really. Windows Field Guide 2021, etc. The naming scheme is still unclear.

    Several people brought up Thurrott Premium and the notion that the book should be cheaper or free for those members. That’s completely understandable, but I suspect most don’t understand the logistics because they see my name on the site and assume that it is me. It’s not. Thurrott.com is owned by BWW Media, and I’m just an employee of that company. I don’t get paid extra or whatever if you subscribe to Thurrott Premium. I get to keep my job. And I don’t know if anyone is keeping track of this, but I publish something 7 days per week almost every week. It’s not like I’m mailing it in.

    Anyway, one of the few things I negotiated when I signed on at BWW was that I could continue writing books separately from the company and that those books would be mine. So when you buy the Windows 10 Field Guide, I do get paid “extra” for that, beyond my salary, that is, though I split that payment evenly with my coauthors after Leanpub’s cut. Point being, there is some incentive to sell more books, obviously.

    All that said, I did gift all Premium members a free copy of the Windows 10 Field Guide one year ago, by the way. That offer ended after a month or so, I don’t recall, but I did so at the time because the royalties were already dropping off and I knew that we’d be making some change within the year.

    Finally, some raised the notion of different business models, like annual licenses or separate addendums to cover just the changes. I did consider both of those, and others, but I feel pretty good about this way forward. The website thing is still an open question, but if the book is paid, and it is, I don’t see just putting it on the web for free. I will discuss this with work at the next meeting, regardless.

    Overall, these kinds of things are hard for me to discuss. I’m not comfortable asking for anything, let alone money. That’s just my own thing. But as I noted in the post, I really do think it’s a good book, and that it has some value. And $9.99 isn’t a particularly high price, especially given the amount of time I’ve put into it.

    Again, thanks.

  3. ken_loewen

    Have you thought about whether, instead of being a book, the field guide should become a "book"? By that, I mean not a read me in a book reader app type of book but a membership only website - like Thurrott Premium. I recently developed an Introduction to Power BI course for my employer and included four lab manuals that, due merely to habit, I formatted as portrait-aligned, 8 1/2 x 11 pages as if I recommend that users print them out on dead trees. We're deciding how to format the same type of content in the Intermediate Power BI course such that it expects that everybody will view it on one of multiple monitors, with the Power BI Desktop open in another monitor.

  4. smartin

    Gonna be honest. Since my retirement as a Software Engineer, I find sticking to the Premium edition of Thurrott.com to be harder to justify. I mostly do it because I want to support what you do. So I personally would like to see the field guide become a part of the Premium sub here.

    And how about a Sr. discount? ?

  5. curtisspendlove

    I think it’s a pretty good compromise to try to make it more worthwhile to work on.

    The Field Guide is great and I’ve recommended it to quite a few people. Thanks for all you do for the Windows community, Paul!

  6. thetsart

    I could not even tell you how many times I have attempted to buy your book on Leanpub. I've tried every card I have, I even went out and bought a Visa gift card, and Leanpub could not process any of them. Even following the instructions they have for that problem, it wouldn't work. So, I'd say whatever you do get rid of Leanpub as I can't help but wonder how many sales you've lost from it. If the web-based version does that, please go with it.

  7. PanamaVet

    Like you I have to focus on things that are worthwhile.

    You are free to charge whatever you want. It is your privilege to do so.

  8. youwerewarned

    It is worth $9.95 to see "on-premises" used properly and consistently. Maybe even $14.99.

  9. rwtodd

    Years ago, when my family had a print encyclopedia, each year we'd buy "year books" that had the most important new items and updates to the encyclopedia from that year. So we'd have the 1984 encyclopedia plus the 1985, 1986, 1987 year books, and then in 1988 we'd refresh the set. I wonder if that model makes any sense for you as new editions of Windows 10 come out? So each year existing customers can choose between the new full edition for $$, or a booklet of excerpts from the big ticket items for $.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to rwtodd:

      I was wondering about something like this too, but it might be kinda tricky when there are just a few small changes to certain chapters or such.

      I was also wondering about a “supplement” set of books too...specializing on certain apps or subjects or such?

      Microsoft Terminal, for example.

      Not sure how much value vs time invested would work out though.

      Honestly, I’d buy the hell out of a Hyper-V Field Guide.

  10. hecticpolecat

    $10 per annum seems cheap, and I'll gladly pay it. Bundling it into Premium would also seem sensible but I guess there are folks out there keen for the Field Guide but uninterested in a thurrott subscription.

    It all seems like reasonable investment to have trusted experts doing the hard work of never ending industry research and analysis.

  11. nemo

    well worth an annual subscription. a great asset. Glenn Danzler Ph.d

  12. patrickd

    $9.99 is totally reasonable and worth it. Especially that it comes in multiple downloadable forms. I can just put it on my phone in PDF and refer to it whenever I want. I am in for $9.99 for yearly editions for sure. Good luck.

  13. WarWizard

    I feel it is more than fair to have new books for each major version of Windows 10, as writing a book, especially a technical book covering the depth of an OS like Windows 10 takes a lot of time and effort.

    Thanks for all that you do.

    Keep up the good work. :)

  14. olditpro2000

    A paid update per year makes sense, that's what Tony Redmond and the guys who do the Office 365 for IT Pros have been doing (successfully I believe.) :)

  15. eelinneman

    Paul, this is a generous option for people. Most reference books are not supported at all. Looking forward to the next version. The current one has helped me understand so many Windows quirks that it's some of the best money spent.

  16. matthewitt

    You keep writing them and I'll keep buying them. Keep up the good work Paul.

  17. stukelly

    Would there be two books per year for each update?

    Would the book be free or discounted for Premium members?


  18. cseafous

    Whichever works best for you works for me. I like the idea of a web-based version too, but I would hate for everyone to not have access to it.

  19. js8229

    I think the yearly book release, or new edition, is a great idea Paul. Would it be too much to cover every release? You could instead just write one for whichever release is the feature-release (or end of year wrap for both releases.). Makes more sense to me that way rather than one for "h1" and "h2", etc.

    • Kendog52361

      In reply to js8229:

      My understanding of what I read was that there would be one new book each year, but that the "smaller (Windows) update" would likely be added to that book as an update for that year's book.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Sure. Given that this is still new to me/us, I'm still working through it. There will be at least one new version/edition each year. Probably just one. If H1 is big and H2 is small, that year's edition would cover both. I don't see a big H1 release followed by a big H2 release. I guess we'll cross that bridge if it ever happens.
  20. jwpear

    Makes complete sense and seems absolutely fair. I take a stroll through it from time to time and am amazed at how much I forget.

  21. james_makumbi


    Can we have an annual license for the field guide?

    I have the latest version already but must admit I haven't read it (yet).

    If we paid a subscription and could access the book online and search it for specific sections that would help.

    Also, a version history page or change log could help.

  22. cwfinn

    Best 10 bucks (2 cups of coffee!) I'll ever spend each year. Where and when do I send the money Paul?

  23. crmguru

    I am looking a writing a technical book. And I have done my research and this model seems to be the very best way to go. I think you have saved me hours of frustration.