Windows 10

Everyone's going to love Windows 10 and Microsoft is going to rule the world forever. Or something like that.

The history of Windows in terms of user popularity is the very definition of peaks and troughs. Ever since Windows 95 the platform that is part of so many people's lives has been loved or barely tolerated, but rarely anything in between. And Microsoft seems to have settled into a binary habit of reaching for the stars with an initial, unpopular release, and then fixing the problems with the follow up.

Windows 95's great leap forward was an over promise of epic proportions, fixed in Windows 98. The Windows 2000 / Me epic fail was resolved in the shape of the now beloved Windows XP. When Vista proved to be a shocking mass of feature bloat, security woes and instability, Microsoft released 'Windows 7' (in essence Windows Vista but no longer broken).

Throughout this period Microsoft was able to charge for the upgrade, with diminishing levels of success. Each time it was offering either a potentially exciting new feature set, or the resolution of problems with the current install. (See also: Microsoft needs Windows 10 to succeed, and it's ready to listen to your feedback.)

Software upgrades: not about software upgrades

The main game is not software upgrades, of course. Up until the Vista debacle every new Windows launch kick-started the hardware buying cycle, and that is where Microsoft really cashes in on Windows. And the fact that a new Windows no longer means a field day for PC makers has less to do with the quality of the OS, and more to do with the longevity of hardware, and the creeping (and then gushing) success of smartphones and tablets. We just don't replace our PCs and laptops anything like as often, regardless of what version of Windows we have.

So now that Windows 8 is largely disliked, and Windows 10 is intended to resolve those problems, Microsoft has made the sensible decision to offer the upgrade for free. If you are a Windows 7 or Windows 8 user you can upgrade your PC, laptop, tablet or even smartphone to Windows 10. Hurrah!

It is typical of Microsoft that - without elegance - it has landed on the correct commercial strategy here. This is the organisation that first worked out how to get rich from software, after all.

The fact is that even if some people could have been persuaded to buy an upgrade to Windows 10, it would have been a relatively insignificant financial bump for Microsoft. It makes its real money from OEM sales of hardware, as well as Office and enterprise software. For Windows 10 to be a success, it needs the software to drive hardware sales. And who is the best at using software to drive hardware sales?

Why it is Apple, which also gives away its OS upgrades.

Driving sales the Apple way

Apple learnt not so long ago that if you allow people to upgrade for free they will tend to do it. This means that most of your user community is on the same platform. This in turn makes it easier for third-party software and peripherals makers to upgrade their products, which increases the rate at which older hardware becomes 'obsolete'. (Not obsolete at all, of course, just marginally more painful to use: if you can't get printer drivers, and your favourite game no longer works, you may decide it is time to upgrade.)

For Microsoft the potential gains here are bigger, too. It has a wider range of products to shift: everything from cheap laptops to workstations, from tablets, hybrids and ultraportables to smartphones and games consoles. And, yes, its own music, movies and games stores, and in Xbox Live its own social network. The more people Microsoft can get using Windows 10 the more opportunity it has to turn them on to the benefits of buying additional Windows-using devices, as well as upgrading their current gadgets.

There are plenty of people who will tell you that Microsoft and/or Windows is doomed. It's possible they are correct, but I disagree. I think that Microsoft has a great history of making piles of cash from objectively inferior products, and Windows 10 is far from the worst of those (I tend to think it will be a neat piece of code, but that is my personal view).

Windows 10: you love it

The early evidence backs me up. Before the recent Windows 10 event we asked readers of PC Advisor and Tech Advisor whether they intended to install the beta of Windows 10. Yes, these are tech savvy early adopters, but 29 percent of the almost 3,000 respondents said that they did intend to do so. A further 26 percent said they would be waiting until the final Windows 10 code and then installing that, and 17 percent said they would wait to learn more about it. Remember that this is before we knew it would be a free upgrade. At least 55 percent, and potentially more than 70 percent were already good to go with Windows 10.

Fast forward beyond the launch and we asked readers which of the new features they were interested in. Only 11 percent of the (so-far) 1,200 respondent said they weren't interested in the new features of Windows 10, and a staggering 71 percent said that they liked the fact the upgrade is going to be free. It's hard to argue with that price. (You can still vote and have your say in both polls.)

We're set to see huge uptake of Windows 10 across myriad types of device. And that in time will lead to a massive hardware upgrade cycle. Microsoft will never again enjoy the dominance that it has seen at times in the past decade, but with Windows 10 it is very far from dead.

Probably. (See also: Windows 10 Technical Preview bodes well for the future of Windows.)