Windows 10, three years later: Why this is as good as it gets

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Based on Microsoft’s own track record, there’s a certain statistic “sweet spot” for Windows releases, and the May 2019 update appears to be it.

Windows 10 May 2019 Update: Everything you need to know
Changes are coming to Windows 10 with the release of version 1903 that affect everyday users and IT decision makers. Here’s what you need to know.

For experienced IT veterans—and PC enthusiasts—there is a common wisdom about the latency between when a version of Windows is released, and when those releases become reliable. Windows XP is the primary example of this, as the original release of XP lacked a variety of important security protections—a rebuilt firewall enabled by default, support for NX bit, and finally disabling the Windows Messenger service abused by spammers, were added in Service Pack 2, three years and a day after XP was first released.

This release works in either direction: Windows NT 4 had a partially broken implementation of Plug and Play, a largely broken DirectX implementation, and no official USB support, problems that would not be fixed until the release of Windows 2000, three years and four months later. Likewise, Windows Vista was a mess on release, due in large part to third-party driver compatibility issues resulting in instability, and Microsoft’s entirely unrealistic concept of “Vista Capable,” setting the minimum hardware requirements far lower than the resources Vista needed to have a pleasant experience. Windows 7 released to accolades from the press two years and eight months later.

SEE: Windows 10 May 2019 Update: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

And so, that leaves us with our present circumstances with Windows 10. Roughly seven weeks ago—on May 21—Version 1903 (or 19H1), otherwise known as the May 2019 Update, was released. This marks three years, nine months, and 22 days since the initial release of Windows 10. Reception has been politely positive, though problems with the launch have prompted Microsoft to require users to remove USB storage devices or SD cards before upgrading; likewise, the update was blocked on the Surface Book 2 because a driver problem renders it incapable of seeing the NVIDIA GPU in the base of the high-end model. 

Microsoft’s persistent difficulties writing drivers for their own hardware is embarrassing, but overall the rollout of Windows 10 1903 is comparatively problem-free compared to the version that came before it, which saw reports of data loss on upgrade, data loss when handling ZIP files, wrong CPU usage reporting, breaking audio drivers, and an HP keyboard driver that caused BSODs. These issues prompted Microsoft to stop distribution of Version 1809 for weeks for additional fixes, re-releasing it in mid-November 2018. 

Call it data or anecdote, but this is as good as it gets

Microsoft’s decision to lay off 18,000 employees in 2014—largely including software testers—has undoubtedly left Windows worse off. The proliferation of high-profile issues with subsequent releases of Windows 10 bears that out. Microsoft has shown no sign of backing away from its biannual release cadence, though the abundantly cautious rollout of Windows 10 1903 demonstrates that they have learned something from the debacle six months prior.

That said, Windows 10 1903—by its own merits—actually fixes significant usability problems, particularly for the concurrent use of DPI-aware and legacy applications, and the simultaneous use of displays with different DPI values. It’s as solid and drama-free of a release that a commercial product with hundreds of millions of users is ever likely to experience, even if that release is still subject to some unresolved bugs on launch.

That is explicitly not to say that Microsoft’s telemetry policies are less controversial or better explained than when Windows 10 was released. Microsoft’s continually poor ability to communicate what is being collected still raises ire. It’s not meaningfully different from the data collected by Google, and Android is as much as monopoly in mobile as Windows is on the desktop, but Microsoft continues to face more negativity about it. Despite Microsoft’s (now sanctimonious) privacy-focused “Scroogled” campaign, the company is not going to change course on telemetry at this juncture.

Given the positioning of Windows 10 as being essentially the last version of Windows (similar to the way Mac OS X has been around since 2001), it is potentially unwise to declare this exact point in time “as good as it gets.” Microsoft’s track record is likely to back up this claim, though—at best, Microsoft can deliver iterative changes on top of Windows 10, but the biannual release cadence does not lend itself to massive changes, and further iterative changes are not going to convince the skeptics. If you don’t like Windows 10 now, you’re not going to like it in the future.

Ultimately, attention is fleeting. Something will replace Windows 10, and the cycle will begin again. Years from now, we’ll all be back here debating the merits of Windows One or Windows 365, because Microsoft’s track record for names is what it is.

Also see

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Image: Matt Elliott/CNET

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