Years before people waited in rain or shine to get the latest iPhone, they lined up for the new version of Windows.
It was 20 years ago next month that Bill Gates and Jay Leno presided over a gala launch at Microsoft headquarters while throngs of geeks queued up ahead of the midnight launch to grab boxes of a shiny new operating system called Windows 95.
When Windows 10 launches later this month, it will be nothing like the spectacle of so many years ago. There will be no lines. There won’t even be boxes. On July 29, Windows 10 will roll out as a free upgrade to consumers running Windows 7 or Windows 8. It will go first to those who have tested the software and then to those who registered for an upgrade. Eventually, all home PCs capable of running the software will get a free update.
Paid versions will be available on disks and thumb drives, but even those won’t arrive in stores by launch day. The only practical way to get Windows 10 on July 29 is to buy a new computer. And even then, not that many models will be available, as companies are holding out their new designs until the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons.
The change in how Windows 10 is launching is yet another sign of a bigger shift at Microsoft. For the first time since the 1980s, Windows finds itself on the defensive, losing significant share to the Mac. Even its one-time stranglehold — corporate computing — is up for grabs.
To keep up with the times, Microsoft is getting rid of old habits. It is moving away from selling packages of software that are released every couple of years to offering its key products as frequently updated services, mostly on a subscription basis. Microsoft is reminded that Google offers near-constant updates to its Chromebooks and Apple has settled on a yearly pattern of operating system upgrades for the Mac.
So don’t expect the Windows 10 launch to be anything remotely comparable to the fanfare that accompanied the debut of Windows 95.
To be sure, Windows launches haven’t been a big deal for a while. There were no big lines for Windows 8 or Windows 7 and Windows Vista was … well, need we say more?
But Windows 10 will veer even further than recent launches.
Instead of having top executives give big speeches to reporters in New York, Microsoft is investing its time in events for fans in 13 cities — at the iconic water cube in Beijing, at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Johannesburg, South Africa, and one on a Manhattan rooftop.
That’s not to say Windows 10 isn’t an important launch for Microsoft. It’s actually critical, especially after the lukewarm response to Windows 8 and its radically different tile-based interface. Microsoft desperately needs a hit. But the measure is how the product is received over the first few months rather than how many fans it can assemble in one place on launch day. To get there, it has not given up its tradition of launching the new Windows with a big-budget advertising boost.
Windows 10 aims to bridge the gap between Windows 7 and Windows 8, adding support for more mobile friendly apps while retaining more of the classic Windows interface. It also replaces the aging Internet Explorer with a new browser, known as Edge, and brings over the Cortana assistant that debuted in Windows Phone.
In addition, Windows 10 is designed to unify what had been a disparate set of software efforts for different devices. Windows 10 is designed to run across a wide swath of devices including PCs, tablets, phones, Xbox and even on new devices, such as the HoloLens virtual reality headset. Microsoft is hoping that such a wide range of devices will attract developers who might otherwise avoid the trouble of writing different versions of softwares for different devices.
And, of course, there is the previously mentioned effort to turn Windows from software to service. To help ensure that people don’t overlook the change in philosophy, Microsoft is requiring consumers who install the home version of Windows 10 to allow the company to update their systems automatically.
Just how far that effort extends remains to be seen. Some have gone so far as to call Windows 10 the “last version” of Windows, given Microsoft’s plans to offer continuous updates.
But while Windows 10 promises frequent updates, the reality is that changes to computing often require the kind of big shift that can’t just be downloaded as a patch onto existing systems. A splashy new version helps give it the additional marketing boost a routine update might not.
So it’s probably safe to say that, while we don’t know when the next version will come, Microsoft won’t stop at Windows 10.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.