Windows 10 launch

So farewell, then, Windows 9: we hardly knew ye.

Last night Microsoft surprised and - I think it's fair to say - baffled the watching tech world by skipping a version number entirely and unveiling Windows 10 as the follow-up to Windows 8.

I spend most of my time writing for Macworld, and my beat is therefore almost wholly Apple-based. But this time around I caught some of the Windows 9/10 fever from my PC Advisor colleagues and decided to see what the fuss was all about.

Here are some thoughts on Microsoft's big unveiling, through the eyes of a jaded Apple watcher who last got excited about a Microsoft product when Windows 7 came out.*

See also: How Windows 10 is even more like Mac OS X, and not just because it's another OS Ten

1. "And I thought Apple's version numbering was a mess"

Let's start with the headline oddity. They straight-up skipped a version number? Is that… is that even allowed?

Well, of course it's allowed. And companies mess around with the version numbering all the time, as we've grown used to over on Macworld. (The iPhone 5 is Apple's sixth iPhone. The iPhone 6 is its ninth. As Craig Federighi might say, go figure.) It's just not something companies normally draw attention to. Apple normally sticks a letter-based update - often an S-class model - in between the straight numerical refreshes to disguise the mathematical jiggery-pokery.

Mind you, what Microsoft is doing is quite Apple-like in its conception, even if its clumsy execution is vintage Redmond. Version numbers matter. They tell customers, even if only subliminally, how important an update is. Apple, by comparison, seems almost coy - when it launches an S-class iPhone, it's effectively telling prospective buyers that model isn't a major update.

Windows 10 is such an incredibly important refresh that it deserves to be given a version number that's two higher than its widely disliked predecessor.

Yeah, it's ridiculous. But it shows that Microsoft is starting to understand the importance of small details in moulding a product's public perception. It's just - in my opinion - terrible at putting that understanding into practice.

2. "When are the rest of the journalists arriving?"

One area where we Apple lot are really spoiled is hype - in the sense that almost anything our favourite multinational does is hot news. When Apple lays on a press do, the press go crazy, and always turn up mob-handed. Some weirdoes have even been known to scan the invites for clues about what's going to be unveiled! Ahem.

Microsoft has never been in Apple's class when it comes to sheer blockbusting stagecraft and media manipulation, but for decades it's been a big draw in its own way. Which made it surprising - and oddly poignant - to see the little queue of journalists outside the venue.

Windows 10 launch

In fact (even if I for one suspect at least an element of pre-emptively avoiding comparisons with Apple's enthusiastically covered Yosemite reveal last June), the tiny guest list was deliberate. While we were lucky enough to have reporters at the event, I've heard muffled screaming from plenty of Windows-focused writers who didn't make the cut. This was an extremely exclusive affair.

3. "Fine, you can keep the stupid Start button"

Due to popular demand, as they say, the Start button is back. And let me tell you, an Apple journalist is not used to typing the words "due to popular demand" in an article about new software. I would imagine that Microsoft-focused writers aren't much used to it either.

But Microsoft seems weirdly humble these days. As well as caving on the Start button issue - I'm editorialising a little here, if you'll forgive me; many will be pleased by the company responding so accommodatingly to its customers' wishes - Windows Group VP Joe Belfiore went out of his way to point out elements that Windows 8 got wrong, and to pledge that they would be addressed.

Microsoft also spent much of the event repeating how keen it was to get feedback from the testers and roll their suggestions into the finished product. Which seemed completely genuine, unlike the 'Windows 7 was my idea' adverts back in the day.

By contrast, the Apple of popular stereotype would design a product in a certain way - making a mouse look like a stupid hockey puck, to take a completely random example - and then tell the naysayers to stuff it. If the antenna on your iPhone didn't work the CEO would probably email you and say you were holding it wrong.

But - while I wouldn't expect Apple to go back to full-on skeuomorphism in iOS 9 - I'm not sure how true the stereotype is any more. Apple gave in to popular calls for a phablet, for instance, and Tim Cook has shown himself rather more willing to apologise for a company error than his predecessor. I've written elsewhere about how hard Apple seemed to be trying at the iPhone 6/Apple Watch launch event, and my colleague Ashleigh has written on this site about the company's apparent loss of confidence.

Perhaps telling the market what it wants was a strategy that died with Steve Jobs, its most celebrated exponent. Or perhaps it's just that both Apple and Microsoft have hot young upstarts nipping at their heels. And it's harder to stick to the strictest design principles when there's a shameless populist around the corner promising people smartphones in whatever screen size they want.

4. "We're going to run this beta for… one hundred and fifty seven years"

The last thing that struck me was how slowly everything seemed to be moving. This was the tech world's first glimpse of Windows 10, but we'll be getting a lot more before the thing actually goes on sale. PC Advisor reckon we're probably about a year away from a consumer launch.

Apple - and particularly Apple since Tim Cook came in and sorted out its hardware supply chain - is known for the scarcely believable speed with which it can get products from secretive unveiling to public availability. (There is at least one exception, however: in the article I linked to above, I complain about how early Apple showed off the Apple Watch, which hasn't even got a confirmed shipping date yet.)

Operating systems are a different matter, of course, because of the need for a thorough beta-testing process to make sure developers can get their apps to work with the new platform, but neither iOS 8 nor OS X Mavericks came anywhere close to a year. Yosemite looks likely to launch near the end of this month, which would be under five months all told.

There's something very dated-seeming about Microsoft's ocean-liner-like speed of manoeuvre: it feels like a relic of a lost age. And one is left to wonder how the development process will be affected by rival software launches between now and then, like the way the continually delayed video game Duke Nukem Forever gradually absorbed features from 12 years' worth of first-person shooters.

So that's my take on the Windows 10 launch. Then again, I'm only an Apple journalist. Conversely, I'd love to hear from Microsoft fans what they think of Apple's recent launch events. If that's you, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments box below.

*This is possibly a lie. I am a big fan of Microsoft peripherals - only Logitech does consistently better mice, in my opinion. Any time a Microsoft mouse comes out, I am most definitely excited!