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Does Windows Really Need to Go Up to 11?

Meet the new OS, same as the old OS (or close enough)

Rupert Goodwins, writing at The Register:

A new version of Windows was once a big deal. Upgrading was expensive for everyone, with warehouses-worth of physical media being pushed into retail channels to displace the old. It couldn’t happen very often, so version numbers became signifiers of great importance.

That hasn’t been true for more than a decade. What has been true for years is that we no longer need “new” Windows. Windows 10 is so much better than its antecedents that it has stopped being a problem.

Not being a problem is the highest accolade an operating system should aim for. An OS exists to let other things do their jobs reliably, swiftly and painlessly. Even the bits the user has to frob with – sound, video, filing systems, network config – should be the minimal necessary. And compared to Windows 7 and 8, let alone Vista, Windows 10 has won hearts – well, grudging acceptance – for not breaking.

As a result, the rules for updates now are: “Don’t tell me you’re updating” and “Don’t break anything when you’re done.”

While I still have fond memories of Windows 7, I have to admit that Windows 10 did live up to the description of (mostly) not being a problem. Despite Microsoft's occasional missteps with updates — and I'm very grateful that I was using virtual machines at this point, making rolling back a lot easier — and needing to run O&O ShutUp on it once a month, it didn't bother me nearly as much as Windows 8 (briefly) did.

As users, we’re long past the point where basic OS functionality needed improving. Driver architectures are stable and mature. Memory management, file systems, connectivity, all sorted. So what in the name of Bill Gates’ divorce attorney’s second yacht justifies a new number for Windows?

Almost nothing. A grab-bag of randomness – taskbar tweaks, a faint murmur of new window management functions, and some UI mucking about – including one new feature, curved corners, that was forcibly hammered by Steve Jobs into the original Macintosh 40 years ago. This is surely some sort of record for sulky idea appropriation?

In the pre-Windows 10 era, this kind of bland bundle of meh would come from some unknown company headquartered in their moms’ basements in Stinking Creek, Wyoming. It would sell for $25 as a utility package for six months before ending up on a CD-ROM cover disk. Yet here it is, as a flagship upgrade from Seattle. This in an operating system that lately managed to absorb an entire Linux subsystem without needing to burp out even a tiny version uptick.

I've had a look at some of the Windows 11 screenshots, and they give me an extreme sense of déjà vu, not just because of the taskbar's uncanny resemblance to the macOS Dock, but the transparency effects that hark to Windows 7.

So if feature changes and seismic evolution aren’t enough to make a 10 into an 11, what’s going on? Marketing. Of course it’s marketing. Wholly marketing and nothing but marketing. While the platonic computer science OS is an invisible facilitator, to Microsoft’s marketing department it is a Channel to Encourage Users to Enjoy New Experiences.

You’ll have spotted that Windows 10 loves doing that, with plenty of unexpected surprises after each incremental upgrade, like Bing search options and the task bar growing a news feed. You’ll have hated those, as everyone in the sanity community does, because they get in the way. They became a problem, the polar opposite to how an OS should behave.

But like spam, begging letters and political Facebook ads, you aren’t the target audience. The few per cent of users who click are worth the small cost of deployment, and the anguish and frustration of the rest of us don’t matter - because we can’t escape. Windows remains the capitalist world’s favourite OS, so if you’re an enterprise dev you will salute, soldier.

At this point, I guess I should be happy that I'm no longer a Windows user. (Not that I'd have much ability to do so in the future, particularly once my current Intel-powered iMac reaches the end of its useful life.) It sounds like Microsoft is now an advertising company that also happens to make software and hardware. Facebook are probably annoyed, because they're trying to become the same thing but aren't remotely as good at the hardware side yet.

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