Could 10 be the end for Windows?

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Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Windows 8 – at first glance, at least – is how little it actually impacted Microsoft’s standing on the markets.

Critics are split on its success as an operating system, with some claiming it was ahead of its time and others decrying it as a misstep. But however its legacy is viewed in hindsight, commercially Windows 8 was a disappointment. Uptake of the system was slower than that of Windows Vista or Windows 7. Microsoft failed to make inroads into the tablet market that they had hoped for.

After over two years on the market, just 15% of desktop computers are running Windows 8. When compared to the 56% still using Windows 7 (and 18% for Windows XP), that is a desperately poor performance.

Despite failing to capitalise on its dominance of home computing or gain a significant share in new growing markets, Microsoft is worth well over $100 billion more in 2015 than it was at the release of Windows 8. Clearly then, the success of each iteration of its flagship program is no longer crucial to Microsoft’s success, at least in the eyes of those who buy stocks online.

That speaks to the company’s diverse nature. Windows is still the flagship, however, and much of Microsoft’s continued growth will depend on the next Windows righting the wrongs of 8.

Windows 10 was first announced in 2014 – triggering wild Twitter-speculation about what happened to Windows 9 – and its release is anticipated later in 2015. In late January, Microsoft outlined more of the key features for the operating system. It is the first version they have released under new CEO Satya Nadella, and hopes are high that it will fulfil some of the potential left untapped by 8.

Mostly, that means catching up on some of the ground lost to Apple and Google in smartphones and tablets, whilst also convincing enterprise and home users to finally upgrade from their old legacy versions.

Can Microsoft use Windows 10 to challenge Google and Apple’s dominance in the mobile market place? Much depends on whether it’s a case of too little, too late. In terms of total global shipments of tablets, phones and PCs Google’s Android OS is already far and away the market leader. By 2018, Gartner – a US IT research and advisory firm– estimate that the gap between Android and its rivals will have opened even further. According to the report, two-thirds of shipments will by then be based on Google’s system.

Microsoft has one major hand to play with Windows 10: the ability to unify one OS across desktop, tablet and smartphone devices. Whilst Google’s Chromebooks have already made inroads into the laptop market, Windows’ greater functionality and the possibility of a unified Windows store could be a big draw. So far, though, consumers have had seemingly few problems using Apple OS or Android on one device and Windows on another.

What is clear is that focussing on a new generation of Windows as its core business is no longer the Microsoft way. By announcing that Windows 10 will be offered as a free upgrade to anyone running 7 or 8, the company has made a step towards the update strategy employed by Apple and Google OS.

As diversification into other technologies, software as service and enterprise solutions continues to speed up, could Windows 10 be its last true new release?

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