It's an odd track record. Every alternating version of Windows dating back to Windows 98 has received good and bad reviews. The "good" ones have included Windows 98, Windows XP and Windows 7. The "bad" ones have included Windows ME, Windows Vista and, most recently, Windows 8. Microsoft is due for another winner, and Windows 10 may just deliver it.
In providing a touch interface to Windows 8, Microsoft provided an answer to a question that nobody was asking--that is, nobody except it and its hardware partners seeking to compete with iPads and Android tablets. Grafting a screen of colorful tiles on top of the familiar desktop and providing few links between the two resulted in, at best, frustration and confusion and, at worst, new training expenses and reluctance to use and additional training expenses.
But with Windows 10, Microsoft is taking several steps to correct those mistakes and eliminate what it admits was an unwelcome "duality" on desktop and laptops. Microsoft is tackling this on two main ways.
First, accessing the Start button will bring up a mostly familiar Start menu as opposed to the disruptive Start tile display that blankets the screen. Microsoft has appended some Windows 8-style to the Start screen but you can ignore them.
Second, touch-friendly apps like casual games and social media will now be in a resizable windows, so they can be moved anywhere on the screen while you focus on work. In fact, apps will be able to switch on the fly to a more touch-optimized mode when a keyboard is detached on PCs like Microsoft's Surface.
For PCs, it seems that the desktop will go back to being the default experience. That makes sense as it's where people spend most of their time when using them. On smartphones like the Lumia line that Microsoft acquired from Nokia, Windows 10 will replace Windows Phone. Like today's Windows Phones, they won't have a desktop mode. What's not yet known is what Microsoft will do on tablets or whether it will take a different approach based on the screen sizes.
Surely, there will be a lot more to Windows 10 than just fixing what people didn't like about Windows 8. For example, you can now quickly switch among multiple desktops on one screen like on a Mac. Microsoft's renewed focus on productivity and business users may have also played a role in convincing the company to stop ignoring or downplaying the desktop interface.
An early "technical preview" of Windows 10 is available for select early adopters such as developers, but it won't be available generally until 2015. Soon enough, though, it looks like it Windows will have the right touch.