Here’s why a jaw-dropping 200 million devices run Microsoft Windows 10

That's right, 200 million devices. But the reason is not because of the interface or even good compatibility.

Windows 10 tablet mode Start screen

200 million devices are now running Windows 10 all over the world, or almost two-thirds of the entire U.S. population. It’s a bit surprising, given that much of this growth (about 40%) has occurred just since Thanksgiving. According to recent published data, Windows 10 is is on a trajectory of growth that beats Windows 7 (by 140%) and Windows 8 (by 400%).

The question you might ask is: Why all of the raging success? And why now?

Microsoft is really, really good at providing data about their success, but not as up front about why something has become so popular or why customers like it so much. In a blog post, there are a few quick notes about high customer satisfaction being one driver. They’ve also reported that people spent 11 billion hours using Windows 10 in December and 44.5 billion minutes using Microsoft Edge. (The company did not explain how many of this minutes involved recovering from a site compatibility crash.)

As you could have guessed, I have some of my own explanations for why people install and use Windows 10 and why it has become such a popular OS, especially compared to Windows 8. It’s more than just a revitalization of the user interface, which does away with the full-screen array of tiles that just gave me a headache and uses a more sane panel of tiles and a Start button. It helps, but Windows 10 is still not as user-friendly as a Mac and can't compete with the utter simplicity of Chrome OS.

It’s also more than a stability issue. I’ve been using Windows 10 since the very first early preview and, while I certainly like the much friendly blue-screen-of-death that seems more like a Homer Simpson “doh” moment than anything overly disconcerting, I’ve rarely seen it. Maybe two times total? However, people can be amazingly forgiving about incompatibility issues during an OS launch and will put up with a lot. Even if your aging Epson scanner doesn’t work right away, we assume Microsoft will eventually work out the bugs and it will work fine. However, we’re not that impressed by software patches. It’s just an assumption we make about a $407B company. Problems will be solved.

My theory is more about speed. We notice when a computer is slow or fast, and we have almost zero patience for a device running slow. When a device is slow, we bail. And, “slow” is a multifaceted perception. It is partly related to RAM and processor speed, but an OS can also seem like it is running slow. When we can’t find a setting, we think the OS is slow. When we run multiple apps at the same time and they bump into each other, regardless of how much RAM you have installed, and the PC or tablet just sort of hangs for a few seconds, we hate it. We want to downgrade. An OS can feel slow.

That’s my main perception about Windows 10. It is fast in every way. Settings are much easier to find (usually, you can just type them in the Cortana search box). That’s what helps with the perception of fast. That’s what makes people think the OS is worth using. Windows 10 is also spritely in terms of games, high-end business apps, photo and video editing, and everything in between. I’m convinced an OS becomes popular when there’s a perception of it just working. It has to get out of the way and let you get your work done, and that’s why it is “working" on 200 million devices.

Now, 200 million is a long way from the stated goal of running on 1 billion devices. A lot of those devices will likely be a smartphone or tablet, and that’s a huge hurdle to overcome. I like the new Microsoft 10 phones, and there’s a rumor about a new Surface phone. To reach 1 billion, Microsoft would need to dethrone both Apple and Android. Ouch.

My guess? They might just hit the milestone by 2020, especially if I’m right about the perception of speed on computers spilling over to tablets and phones. Time will tell.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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