Happy Birthday, Windows 10: The History and the Future

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The future at Microsoft is Windows 11. But our recent past was all Windows 10 — and if you can believe it, that history started six years ago today.

On July 15, 2015, Windows 10 hit manufacturing (known as RTM) for preinstall on new laptops and tablets. That was then followed by a public retail release on July 29. In those six years, Windows 10 has managed to make its way onto 1.3 billion devices, and the number one desktop OS in the world — but it wasn’t easy.

There were a lot of lessons learned throughout the illustrious history of Windows that informed the direction of Windows 10, and even to Windows 11 today. Happy sixth birthday, Windows 10. Here’s a little look back at your journey.

Windows 10 past

Windows 10 was born at a time when Microsoft faced a lot of fallout from the release of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. Windows 7 was still quite popular around 2015, and many people did not like the full-screen Start Menu in Windows 8.1. Changes like the Charms Bar, Live Tiles, and other touch-first design elements coming with the new “Metro UI” alienated people used to a desktop-style interface.

Windows 10 was the operating system that promised to change that. It brought back the single-row Start Menu seen in Windows 7 but also blended the Live Tiles and customization options from Windows 8. Even the aero effects from Windows 7 were back, helping make the OS look a bit more modern at the time over Apple’s OS X 10.10.

Microsoft also introduced a digital assistant, Cortana, to take on Siri (though Cortana was short-lived.) And, it hid the controversial tablet features into “tablet mode” area that only appeared if and when you detached your keyboard or turned your 2-in-1 over.  Other new features include Windows Hello login to a PC (using just your face) and the new Microsoft Edge browser.

More importantly, Microsoft improved the lousy app store from Windows 8.1 by introducing Universal Windows Platform apps — apps that can run with a single code on Windows 10 Mobile phones, Xbox, Surface, and even HoloLens headsets. Windows 10 Mobile is an entirely separate story, but it got big updates compared to Windows Phone 8, with the codebase for the mobile operating system being based on desktop Windows 10.

For Microsoft, Windows 10 was a brave new venture and the chance to reconnect with Windows users who are familiar with desktop experiences. That’s why the operating system was a free update. Anyone with a valid Windows 7 or 8 license could get Windows 10 for free.

The controversial update tactics and “Get Windows 10 ads” aside, it was a bold new move for Microsoft, which usually charged full price for installing its desktop operating systems on existing hardware.

With the goal of having Windows 10 on 1 billion devices within three years of release, Microsoft was on a bold venture, but things would still get messy.

Windows 10’s evolution to Windows 11

Windows 10 Start menu open on the desktop.

As more and more people updated to Windows 10, Microsoft started selling Windows 10 as a service. That meant that (as one Microsoft employee put it) Windows 10 could be the “last version of Windows.” It would get yearly “featured” updates, without the need to pay. Buy in and get Windows 10 once, and you’re good for all future updates as long as Windows is supported. It’s what Apple did with MacOS Mavericks back in 2013.

Those updates meant that Windows 10 continued to evolve based on the feedback of Windows users. Microsoft pushed out yearly “featured” updates for Windows 10 up until 2016. The Windows 10 November Update and Windows 10 Anniversary Update introduced new performance features and major revamps for inking, Windows Hello, gaming, Cortana, and more.

After 2016, Microsoft shifted the way Windows 10 updates worked. It now got twice a year updates (spring and fall), which we still have today. Releases included the Creators Update, Fall Creators Update. Starting in 2018, updates got named for the month released — see the October 2020 Update and May 2021 Update as examples.

The rush of updates meant that Windows 10 would evolve. Microsoft constantly improved Windows with new features. They even addressed privacy concerns, putting users in control with new settings toggles. Other new features include Windows Mixed Reality headsets, the Fluent Design visual revamp, Xbox Game Bar, Dolby Atmos, a people app, improved file sharing, and more.

Later releases even introduced cross-platform features like the Your Phone app to sync up Android phones with Windows PCs. And more recently, the new Chromium-powered Edge browser, and a revamped visual update for the Start Menu.

But the big updates eventually stopped coming. After issues with the Windows 10 October 2018 update caused user’s files to be deleted, Microsoft went back to the drawing board with Windows Updates in 2019 — to get us where we are today. Since then, Windows 10’s twice-a-year updates were focused on adding smaller features and patching bugs.

Microsoft slowed down the pace of development of Windows to the point where it fell behind massive visual redesigns introduced in MacOS Big Sur, and Chrome OS. There even was a shakeup internally at Microsoft, with Panos Pany taking charge of things in a new team known as Windows + Devices. The Windows Insider program also saw changes, with “rings” being discontinued in favor of “branches.” It all shaped up things to where we are today.

The future of Windows

Heading into the future, Windows 10 will continue to be supported by Microsoft through the year 2025. It’s been confirmed multiple times, and it’s even listed on the current support page.

But don’t forget, Windows 10 was initially supposed to evolve into a flavor of Windows 10X. The pandemic shifted those plans and that ended up becoming Windows 11 instead.

As far as we know, Windows 10 will now live alongside Windows 11. It is rumored that Windows 10 will still get twice-a-year updates, too. The next update is said to be Windows 10 21H2, as mentioned in three separate support documents for Windows Hello, Windows IT Pros, and Windows Autopilot.

But Windows 11 is the future. Windows 11 brings many changes that fans long requested in Windows 10. A sweeping visual redesign, new Start Menu, Android apps in the Microsoft Store, are just some of the changes. It’s a free update for select Windows 10 devices, and it’s all thanks to six years of Windows 10.

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