I've been testing the new Windows 10 operating system for the past day or so. Released as a special technical preview for anyone to try, the new OS takes a bold step forward by combining the so-called Metro tile interface of Windows 8 with the Start menu of Windows 7. For small business, it's a major change because it means not having to train employees on how to complete mundane tasks--like syncing a Bluetooth device or changing the desktop resolution of a new laptop. It's all right there now in the Start menu.
In early 2013, which seems like eons ago now, I predicted that Windows 8--fresh off the starting block and finally showing up on laptops and tablets for the first time--would be the epic fail of the decade. I took some heat for that headline but I've stood by it. What we now know two years later and almost halfway into the decade is that it is proving to be a colossal failure--so much so that Microsoft is distancing the company from that release by skipping the name Windows 9 altogether. (Some have argued there are more technical reasons. I'm not so sure that would stop a $379 billion company from using the name.)
Whatever the reason for the nomenclature, what I do know is that I continue to get pestered by rational, intelligent people in coffee shops and planes about how to access the Control Panel to add a Bluetooth mouse or how to find the system settings that list the RAM and processor for a laptop. There's still confusion about the difference between a tile app and a desktop app, still confusion about why there are two distinct versions of the Microsoft Surface tablet (one does not support desktop apps), and still confusion over how to, I don't know, reboot the computer or shut it down.
After using Windows 10 for a day, I can tell you the new Start menu will resolve many of the usability issues for small businesses. It's much easier to find the settings, reboot, and launch apps. A tile interface still pops up to the side, and you can use it if you want, but that interface doesn't completely obscure the entire desktop. It's easy to place apps into the program list or the taskbar, easy to find documents and other files, and easy to adjust the desktop resolution. The emphasis here is on "easy" for new users.
Microsoft intends this release to be the "uber" operating system for all platforms, including smartphones. If you install the OS on a tablet, it will know you are not using a keyboard and show the old Start screen (e.g., Metro UI) in a full-size view for easier finger control. If you then connect a keyboard to the tablet, it will show the smaller Start menu. The setting is configurable so you can use either when you click Start by clicking a checkbox. On a smartphone, the OS will show only the finger-control interface.
So far, Microsoft has nailed the usability for the new OS. When you type in the search bar on the Start menu, the results appear in the menu, not on a different screen. There's a big power icon right next to your name at the top of the menu. You can even click on an icon to see multiple "desktops" that show any open apps running. (That means, no more guessing about which side of the screen to move the mouse for those who skip the Windows 8 tutorial. In other words, most people.)
I'm hoping this all adds some degree of sanity to our work day. With one OS to rule them all, we might have to do less training and tech support. That might even make a startup more nimble as it tackles more pressing problems. Like how to make money.