What began as the second in a series of minor updates to Windows 8 has been transformed into a major new platform release that binds together multiple device types, providing a cohesive strategy for Microsoft’s future. Windows 10, originally codenamed Threshold, has been released to manufacturing by Microsoft. Here’s the journey it took, seen through the lens of my previous reporting.
And there’s been a ton of it.
To date, I’ve written well over 200 articles specifically about Windows 10 for PCs, over 30 about Windows 10 Mobile, dozens (maybe hundreds) more about related apps and services, and a couple of hundred pages of a new e-book called Windows 10 Field Guide. Point being, Windows 10 has been top of mind for me for quite some time. I suspect it will remain so for some time to come.
Looked at from a high level, Windows 10 is most successful, I think, on traditional PC form factors and on transforming devices like 2-in-1 PCs where the primary interaction is with keyboard and mouse/touchpad. This is important because there are almost 1.5 billion users on traditional PCs, many disenchanted with Windows 8, many unsure about the future. Windows 10 should clarify things for them nicely and will be warming received, I bet.
Less clear is how Windows 10 will fare on tablets, though the touch experience is just about as elegant as that offered by Windows 8. And of course phone remains an open question: with Microsoft scaling back its Windows phone ambitions, we will need to wait and see whether Windows 10 Mobile—which will run on both phones and smaller tablets—makes any impact at all.
I’ll save further navel gazing for my eventual review, but these observations capture my general state of mind with regards to Windows 10 as the versions for PCs and tablets head off to hardware makers. Here’s what it was like over the time of Windows 10’s development…
Rumors of a plan by Terry Myerson for a unified Windows strategy had been swirling for months in 2013, and as I wrote in November 2013, I expected “the have-nots”—Windows Phone and Windows RT—to be consolidated. “Windows Phone and Windows RT will in effect be merged and that no matter what the resulting name of that products is—how about “Windows”?—it will simply be a single platform that runs on mobile computing devices from phones to phablets to tablets to hybrid PCs, with just software-based changes necessitated by differences in the form factor or mission of the devices on which it runs,” I wrote in November 2013.
In early December, I first wrote about the release that would become Windows 10. At the time, Microsoft was working on a series of post-Windows 8 updates that were codenamed Blue. These started with Windows 8.1, and would continue with post-Windows 8.1 updates called Update 1 and Update 2. Threshold, first revealed by Mary Jo Foley, was the name for Microsoft’s post-Blue updates, not just for Windows, but for Windows Phone and Xbox too. This confirmed those unified Windows rumors, I wrote at the time.
“It is the release that will put Microsoft on the threshold, if you will, of a truly consolidated OS,” I noted. “Threshold … is a release wave, three separate releases that will likely be timed to occur simultaneously or nearly so. More important, this set of Threshold releases is designed to bring Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox One closer together, functionally. It is a way to provide that single experience that Microsoft today promises across its platforms.”
A week later, I dropped my own bombshell: Threshold would provide two items that users were clamoring for: the ability to run modern apps in floating windows on the desktop and, yes, the return of the Start menu. Around this time, I started referring to this release as Windows 8.2, since that is what it really was, at least from a traditional PC perspective. I even dropped another bombshell, also proven correct: “What if Windows RT/Phone was free, for example?” I wrote. Indeed. What if?
In early January 2014, I wrote that “a goal of post-8.1 releases is to get Windows back on track with its legacy roots after a disastrous spell in which Windows 8.0, in particular, removed legacy interfaces, triggering a violent pushback from Microsoft’s corporate customers. But though it’s unclear if this is the release that will include a vestigial Start Menu or whether we’ll need to wait for Threshold (Windows 8.2 or 9) in early 2015 for that, I believe it will be earlier rather than later.”
On January 11, 2014, I exclusively revealed that Microsoft would use BUILD 2014—set for that April—as a stage to discuss its vision for the future of Windows, including the year-off release codenamed “Threshold.” At the time, my sources inside the Windows team told me that Microsoft was calling this release Windows 9 as well, in order to highlight that it had become a bigger release than Windows 8.1 or 8.1 Update 1.
“Microsoft is currently planning to drop the Windows 8 name and brand this next release as Windows 9,” I wrote at the time. “That could change, but that’s the current thinking.” BUILD would include some vision discussion—a no no under Steven Sinofsky—and that Threshold would include what I called Metro 2.0 (the universal app platform) and arrive via three pre-release milestones.
The target for the release was April 2015, with development starting in April 2014.
At BUILD, Microsoft confirmed my report about the floating windows and Start menu in Threshold. “The way that Microsoft’s Terry Myerson worded the announcement was, as it turns out, deliberately vague,” I wrote at the time. “He said that a coming update to Windows 8.1 would include the new Start menu (as an option) and the ability to run Modern apps in floating windows on the desktop. But he didn’t say when this would happen. Or what update would include these additions.”
When news of Windows 8.1 Update 2 started to surface, many wondered if Microsoft intended to add the Start menu to that release. I can confirm now that it did originally plan to do so, the idea being that the Windows team really wanted to deliver new features very quickly. However, the team correctly decided that they should save this update for the quickly-growing Threshold release in order to make it more of an exciting upgrade. So in June 2014, Mary Jo Foley reported that Update 2 was still on track for August but that the Start menu wouldn’t be part of that release.
In July 2014, I exclusively reported that the new Start menu in Threshold wouldn’t be an option but would rather replace the full-screen Start experience from Windows 8.1. “There won’t be a Start screen and a Start menu,” I wrote. “But you will be able to maximize the Start menu so that it takes up the whole screen and looks and works much like the Start screen does today in Windows 8.x … Users will be able to toggle between the two displays, I’m told, and configure it to work as they prefer.”
A month later, WinBeta reported that Microsoft was removing Charms, one of the most reviled Windows 8 features, from Threshold. And Brad Sams reported that Microsoft would add virtual desktops directly to the next version of Windows. “Its a Charmless “Threshold” with virtual desktops,” I wrote.
Later in the month, Mary Jo reported that Microsoft would in September or October a “technology preview” of Threshold. It would be open to the public and be updated monthly. At the time, Threshold was still on track for an April 2015 release.
In early September, screenshots of Windows 9 Technical Preview build 9834 leaked via some German technology blogs. “The shots depict the new Start menu, floating Modern app windows, a notification center, multiple desktop workspaces, a flat new design for the desktop, and many other changes that we’ve long expected,” I wrote at the time.
The shackles were off. A day later, a video emerged, also showing off the leaked preview build and a number of Windows 9 features including the Start button, user options, power menu, various Start features, app launching, new apps like Devices Flow, Microsoft Feedback, Print Dialog and Remind Me—hilarious in retrospect—virtual desktops, a notification center, and more. And how could you not look at this app and think … smart phone app?
With regards to the notification center, I was curious about the name. Windows Phone 8.1, I wrote at the time, had a notification center feature called Action Center. But big Windows had had an Action Center feature since Windows 7, and it had nothing to do with notifications. “Based on the video, the new notification center in Windows 9 is not called Action Center,” I wrote. “It’s just called … Notifications.” That would of course change.
Finally, in mid-September Microsoft invited the press to San Francisco for its Threshold announcement event. According to a source at Microsoft, this event would be chapter 2 of the Threshold story—chapter 1 being BUILD 2014—and Microsoft would not be focusing on consumer features.
In mid-September, a source at Microsoft gave me a dump of a treasure trove of Threshold information, which I partially published as my “First Look at the Windows Technical Preview.” This included pages of documentation, numerous high quality screenshots, and deep dives into new features like the Start menu, apps, files, personalization, and the new built-in feedback mechanism. Some of this content would end up on public-facing web sites once the preview started, I was told. The current build was 9841.
(Here’s a sad little bit from that documentation: “OneDrive integration is identical to that in Windows 8.1,” it reads.)
By the end of the September, I had heard from multiple sources that Microsoft was thinking of dropping the number scheme and just naming Threshold as … Windows. “A Microsoft web site—since pulled—says the name, or at least the codename, will be Windows TH. Which is obviously an homage to me,” I wrote. “Just kidding.” At the time, Terry Myerson write on Twitter that Microsoft was “still deciding” the final branding. But if you look at the photo he supplied, “there’s obviously room on the right side of ‘Windows’ for a 9 … or perhaps for a ‘TH’,” I wrote. “It’s not just Windows.”
The Windows event finally happened on September 30, 2014.
At this event, Microsoft announced that Threshold would be named Windows 10. Why Windows 10? “This isn’t an incremental release,” I wrote at the time. “It’s a major new Windows that will run on everything from headless Internet of Things devices to phones to tablets to PCs to the Xbox to the cloud. They really wanted to segregate it from current Windows versions.”
And then they confirmed virtually everything that we had previously reported. Plus, some new stuff. New features like Continuum. A single platform, One Windows, that would include user experiences tailored for the different devices on which it would run. Windows 10 would be an upgrade for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. And Microsoft announced the Windows Insider program.