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Microsoft Unified Windows in 2015. Now, It Needs People to Use It.

The company has brought things together but more work is needed in 2016 to win over the hearts, minds and wallets of developers and consumers.

Mike Kepka

On July 29, Microsoft released Windows 10, a new operating system designed to merge the familiarity of Windows 7 with some of the advancements packed in the forward-looking but unpopular Windows 8.

The release of Windows 10 was remarkably different from past releases. In the PC boom days, people waited in long lines until midnight to buy Windows 95. With Windows 10, there weren’t even that many new PCs available on launch day, nor were store shelves packed with boxes carrying the operating system. Instead, the main way to get Windows 10 was as a free, downloadable upgrade to an existing computer.

The move may have cost Microsoft in both dollars and buzz, but it also proved Microsoft had indeed turned its flagship operating system from a piece of software into a true service.

Windows 10 marked the culmination of a years-long effort to bring together the company’s operating systems for phones, tablets and PCs — something rivals Google and Apple have yet to do.

Not only can a single Windows 10 app run on desktop and mobile, but also on the Xbox and Microsoft’s upcoming HoloLens augmented reality headset. With the right adapter, phones running Windows 10 can even turn into a basic computer by plugging into a keyboard, mouse and monitor.

The key question for 2016 is whether anyone cares anymore.

Adoption So Far

Microsoft hasn’t shared a ton of data around how many people have started using Windows 10. It said in early October that there were more than 110 million PCs running the operating system, but has not provided more recent numbers.

Third-party statistics provide a clearer picture. According to Net Market Share, PCs running Windows 10 account for about 9 percent of desktop Internet usage. (Windows overall represents 91 percent of desktop use).

On the mobile side, things are much grimmer. While Windows represents just 3 percent of phones (though there are tablets running PC versions of Windows), only 0.09 percent of phones are running Windows 10, a sign of just how much work Microsoft has to do to make it more than an afterthought in smartphones.

True to its promise of being a service, though, Microsoft has already released its first update to the software, with more releases planned for 2016, though the company won’t comment on what those updates will include.

What Microsoft Needs to Do Next

Developers care greatly about numbers, with significant market share being first and foremost in their decision over which operating systems to support and which to ignore. That, in large part, is why Microsoft has set a goal of having Windows 10 on a billion devices within three years. Even skeptical developers could hardly ignore that many users.

Microsoft has taken the biggest possible move to facilitate this — giving away Windows 10. It’s a free upgrade to consumers running Windows 7 or Windows 8, though businesses still have to pay.

But there are a bunch of other things Windows 10 still needs in addition to just increasing the sheer number of users.

Microsoft needs a more full answer to payments. It already has a mechanism for selling apps, but these days mobile devices also need to be able to help make in-store and online payments.

A rudimentary Wallet app was part of Windows Phone 8 but never really took off. Meanwhile, a promised mobile payments system for Windows 10 has yet to materialize while Apple, Google and Samsung all have payments on their platforms.

Microsoft has also only partially delivered on promised tools to make it easier for developers to bring existing programs to Windows 10. A tool to help iPhone developers remains in testing while a tool that would have easily ported over Android apps has gone MIA.

And while Microsoft has made Windows 10 available for older PCs, it has yet to follow through on that promise for older Windows phones. It was originally planning to do so by December, but now says that update won’t come until next year.

The good news for Microsoft is that Windows 10 is designed to be updated regularly. Microsoft has already demonstrated its ability to offer updates and has a well-established crowd of Windows Insiders that have opted to be part of testing these releases before they are downloaded en masse.

But time is not on Microsoft’s side here. It needs to address these issues and others if Windows 10 is going to make a dent in the competition.

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