Say hi to Windows 8.2 — er, 10

After some weeks of playing with Windows 10, I can say it’s definitely the desktop operating system Microsoft needed to release — in 2012

windows ball MazeNL77 (FindIcons.com), CC-BY-3.0

Windows 8 is quite possibly the worst desktop operating system that Microsoft ever released. Since Windows 8 is going up against such all-time flop-a-doodles as Vista and Windows ME, that’s saying something.

And it’s not just me saying that. The marketplace agrees. Look at NetMarketShare’s October 2014 operating system market share numbers. Windows 8 and 8.1 had a combined share of 16.8%. How bad is that? Bad enough to lag behind the long officially dead and buried Windows XP, even after it suffered an unexplainable drop of 6.7% in one month.

Two years into the Windows 8 debacle, what could Microsoft do? Rush out a replacement. And try to distance it from Windows 8 as much as possible by calling it Windows 10 rather than the sequentially logical Windows 9. But when you actually use it, what it feels like is Windows 8.2.

That is definitely not how Microsoft wants you to feel about it, though. Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of the Operating Systems group, explained the rather inexplicable name this way: “Because we’re not building an incremental product, the new name will be Windows 10.” Sorry, Microsoft; “incremental” exactly describes this product.

Check Windows 10 out for yourself. You’ll find that the biggest change is to the interface. And you’ll never guess what it is.

It’s the return of the Start Menu! Users have been asking for this ever since it disappeared in Windows 8. Microsoft seemed to coyly promise the return of the Start Menu in Windows 8.1, but for some reason that didn’t happen. I guess this reversion to something that long had been standard in Windows had to wait for the so-revolutionary-it-had-to-skip-a-version-number Windows 10.

So you’ve got your Start Menu back, and what else? Honestly, other than that, I haven’t see a lot new in the first two Windows 10 betas. The best “new” feature is virtual desktops. This is a renovated feature that enables you to use Virtual Desktop manager to work with four different virtual desktops. So, for example, you could keep work apps on one desktop, your social networks on another, and the games you really, really don’t want your boss seeing you playing on yet another.

I think virtual desktops are very useful, but then that’s because I’ve been using them for quite a long time. Apple introduced Spaces on Macs with Mac OS Leopard back in 2007, and Linux has had virtual desktops ever since KDE 1.0, rolled out in 1998. Come to think of it, I seem to recall virtual desktops on OS/2 Warp, circa 1996, and on the Amiga 1000 in, believe or not, 1985.

Way to innovate Microsoft! Woo-hoo!

Of course, Microsoft claims that Windows 10 is better in many other ways. For example, Microsoft says that Windows 10 has the best security ever. And that would be reassuring, I suppose, if Microsoft didn’t make that claim with every new release, only to have every new major security flaw still affect all versions of Windows. Weird, huh?

Here’s the bottom line. Windows 8.2, er, 10, really is better than Windows 8.1. Even in this beta state, where things can, and will, go wrong, I find it to be much more pleasant to use. It’s also surprisingly fast for a beta.

I wouldn’t use it for production — no one should; it’s a beta — but I can see true-blue Windows fans who’ve had their faith shaken by Windows 8.x returning to the church of the holy trinity of Gates, Ballmer and Nadella when Windows 10 is released in 2015.

Me? I’m sticking with my trio of favorite desktop operating systems: Linux Mint, Ubuntu and Chrome OS.

Windows 10 is a cleaned-up version of Windows 8. It looks like it will be a worthy successor to Windows 7, but that’s what Microsoft needed to release in 2012. It is neither a new nor groundbreaking operating system, but it is the replacement Microsoft needed to come up with.

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