Over the past decade Windows has gone through several significant changes—some achieved great success, and some resulted in near disastrous consequences.
Since its introduction in the 1980s, Microsoft Windows has gone through numerous changes and iterations. Initially, merely a graphical user interface for MS-DOS, Windows eventually evolved into a full-fledged, stand-alone operating system with Windows 95. After many more changes over the decades, the operating system transformed into its current form, Microsoft Windows 10, and embraced a mobile-first, cloud-first interconnected world of devices.
Over the past decade, stretching from late 2009 to early 2020, the Windows operating system has gone through several significant changes—some achieved great success, and some resulted in near disastrous consequences. By 2020, Windows has transformed from one of Microsoft's proverbial cash cows into what is essentially a loss leader for other, more lucrative, products and services.
The transformative journey of the Windows operating system can be told by exploring some of the best and the worst changes made during the last decade.
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Best and worst Windows changes in the past decade
Determining whether a change during the past decade is best or worst is, by its very nature, a subjective exercise. However, the subjective choices made here will often have the support of a majority of technology experts and users alike. If you feel strongly about your best and worst changes, and we failed to list them here, please add them to the discussion below.
In late 2009, Microsoft released a new version of its operating system called Windows 7. In general, this was good news for users struggling with the quirks of Windows Vista and the security concerns of Windows XP. For a user interface, Windows 7 featured the desktop metaphor and a Start Button with a flyout Menu screen.
Satisfied users of Windows XP were slow to change over to Windows 7, but eventually XP usage fell off, and Windows 7 became one of the most popular versions of the Microsoft operating system. Windows Vista users and unsatisfied Windows XP users, on the other hand, purchased Windows 7 licenses quickly and in droves, buying more than 100 million copies in less than six months—one of the most successful versions of Windows ever.
In July 2015, Microsoft released Windows 10, skipping Windows 9 in an attempt to establish a clean slate for the operating system. With the explicit endorsement of new CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft also adopted an interesting new model for its Windows operating system.
For one year after its release, anyone could upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10 for free. Once upgraded to Windows 10, the operating system would receive periodic patches and updates to keep it current. Windows 10 is essentially the last Windows version. According to Microsoft, there will never be a Windows 11 or 12, etc. There will never be a new Windows version that everyone will have to buy to keep up to date.
Windows 10 brings a modern look to the operating system with simple but solid built-in applications for basic user activities like email, calendars, and web browsing with Edge. The promise of constant and continuous feature and security updates means that the operating system will be part of a user's experience for a long time to come. It also means users will be part of Microsoft's ecosystem for a long time to come.
SEE: More from our Decade in Review series (TechRepublic on Flipboard)
Long before the start of the decade in 2009, the internet became a ubiquitous part of our daily personal Long before the start of the decade in 2009, the internet became a ubiquitous part of our daily personal and work lives. Up until July 2015, the default browser for Windows computers was Internet Explorer, which had a long history dating back to Windows 95. With the release of Windows 10, Edge became the new default browser.
Edge represented a fresh start for a Microsoft-developed browser and included more support of general web developer and application standards than its predecessor. Internet Explorer has quickly faded away to virtual obscurity, with users sticking with Edge or picking one of the other third-party web browsers instead of IE.
Unfortunately, the internet is a dangerous place. Malware, viruses, worms, ransomware, and individuals with criminal intent are attacking our computers all day and every day. To combat these cyberattacks, the operating system must have robust protections that are updated on a regular basis.
With the release of Windows 7, Microsoft moved toward a more comprehensive package of firewalls and antimalware protections. With the release of Windows 10, Microsoft took it a step further and integrated more security protocols into the heart of the operating system. Windows 10 is arguably the most secure version of Windows ever released and is supported by regular automated updates to security protocols.
Worst Windows changes of the decade
While Windows 7 itself was one of the better changes to the operating system, it did have a few problems that should be mentioned in the worst changes section. Namely, there were way too many versions. Available versions included Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. The multitude of available versions was confusing to just about everyone.
In 2012, Microsoft released Windows 8 as a way to stake its claim on the tablet device craze occurring at the time. Windows 8 featured a Start Menu button that opened an overlay of "live" tiles instead of a menu of clickable items and icons on a desktop. While the idea of making a tablet-friendly UI made perfect sense in theory, the inclusion of that interface on every non-tablet device was met with derision and disdain. Users liked the desktop metaphor and were not willing to give it up without a fight. The general consensus is that Windows 8 failed to live up to expectations.
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As the default web browser associated with Microsoft since Windows 95, Internet Explorer earned a reputation for non-standard behavior coupled with many security problems. Until 2015 and the release of Windows 10 and the Edge browser, Internet Explorer was considered off-limits by users with even a modicum of tech savvy. IE was, and in some circles still is, the web browser everyone avoids at all costs and easily qualifies as one of the worst features of the Windows operating system this past decade.
Another feature many users have embraced during the past decade for their mobile devices is the digital assistant. The idea being that it is easier to "talk" to your mobile device than thumb-type instructions.
However, Microsoft's attempt to bring this functionality to the Windows 10 operating system with the Cortana digital assistant has not taken hold with most users. In many ways, talking to your PC instead of using the keyboard and mouse combination has proven to be much more inefficient and, for all intents and purposes, pointless.
Future development in the area of artificial intelligence and a recent focus on Cortana as a business digital assistant may flip the feature from the worst to the best section, but that seems years off at the moment.
Windows Mobile and Phones
As mobile devices became a primary focus for operating system developers, Microsoft attempted to enter the market with Windows Phones running Windows Mobile. While the phone hardware was adequate and the operating system functional, neither the device nor the operating system resonated with consumers. In 2019, Microsoft capitulated and announced that that Windows Phones would no longer be supported after the end of the year.
Despite Microsoft's best efforts, there were still many security vulnerabilities found in the various Windows operating system versions released during the decade. And while Windows 10 has made great strides in offering security protections, vulnerabilities are still a daily threat.
At the other extreme, many personal computers are still running Windows XP, Windows 7, and Windows 8, even though Microsoft has ceased supporting those versions with security updates. The predictable and unfortunate result has been a rash of ransomware attacks, billions of dollars lost in ransom and productivity, and plenty of embarrassing headlines for the companies under attack.
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