I've made no secrets about my distaste for Windows 8. Unruly, tile-happy, overly colorful, confusing. It's like walking into a carpet store where everyone sports a plaid shirt. Finding simple computer settings is a workout for your fingers and your mind.

I know Windows 10 will resolve some of these problems, because I've been using it for several weeks. The Start menu (it's now much more than a button) is a handy way to start apps, check settings, and figure out your place in the Microsoft universe.

Now, I'm even more impressed with the direction the Redmond giant is taking with the next OS, which should come out sometime this year. (If you are wondering whatever happened to Windows 9, Microsoft decided to skip that version number.) They tend to use a lot of confusing technical jargon that doesn't really help anyone understand what they're up to, but the basic plan is for the OS to work on a variety of devices--from tablets to laptops to phones--and essentially run the same "universal" app.

That's cool, but so far it's really something you can already do if you mostly use an iPad and an iPhone, or an Android phone and an Android tablet. (As a bonus, HP even makes an Android computer.) However, in a technical sense, it's not the same app. For both iOS and Android, when you run Skype on your phone and Skype on your tablet, the app doesn't adjust itself automatically to the different screen size. If you install the iPhone version of Skype on your iPad, it will run at the size of the screen on your phone. Some Apple developers make a universal app, but it's not as adaptable.

With Windows 10, the same app will adapt to the device you are using. If you run Skype on a tablet and press the icon with your finger, the app will know you are not using a mouse. The icon will even animate differently. On a phone from a company like Nokia (now part of Microsoft), the app will know you are on a smaller screen.

What's even more interesting for small business is that the operating system will follow you around. I don't mean literally. It's just that when you login to your tablet and install a few apps, change the menus around, delete a few tiles (or all of them), and change the desktop background, those changes will be reflected on all of your gadgets. (This works in Windows 8.1 today, but only for computers, not for your Windows smartphone.)

Today, this kind of syncing is only partially available when you use iOS or Android devices. If you install an app on an iPhone, it does show up on your iPad. However, if you make changes like re-organizing your apps or changing the desktop background, you have to repeat the process for the other iOS gadgets you own. It takes extra time and slows down your workflow. Android works roughly the same way, except devices from different manufacturer's tend to behave a bit differently. You can see which apps are connected to your Google account and then manually install them.

It's too early to tell if the Microsoft approach will work for business. My testing would involve using multiple gadgets for real work throughout the day, maybe even the new Surface Hub collaborative screen and an Xbox One, but that's just not possible yet. However, the strategy makes perfect sense. It's a nod to the fact that we all use multiple devices to our work and need to worry less about which apps are installed and the settings and think more about the work we do.

Here's hoping Microsoft nails this. I want fewer tech terms, fewer settings, and a smarter OS that steps out of the way and adapts to my needs. Is that too much to ask?

Published on: Mar 6, 2015
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