I remember when Winamp 5 launched, it was a year after Winamp 3. People were downgrading back to 2 because it was just so awful! The third release of the popular media player software was buggy, clearly incomplete, missing features available in its previous incarnation, killed off the ability to use many previously downloaded plugins and crashed constantly. Winamp 5 launched with the promising tagline of “so good we skipped a number.” Twelve years on, Winamp 5 is still the main version available.
Microsoft seems to be doing the same thing, its release of Windows 10 might imply they think it’s so good they skipped a number. They certainly need to redeem themselves in the botched attempt of Windows 8. That may seem unfair, 8 is actually a very decent operating system, but for a consumer operating system, to have such an unintuitive and confusing User Interface (UI), was a massive failure on Microsoft’s part. Putting elements off screen leaves the user guessing and confused. Windows 10 combines the interface we know and love from desktop mode Windows (think Windows 95 to Windows 7 – think start menu and windowed applications) with the fullscreen metro applications of Windows 8. In 8, Microsoft moved too fast, they created an interface that was designed primarily for touch screens but didn’t transition well to desktop devices with mouse and keyboard.
Windows 8 took the concept of mobile first design and pushed it too far out, away from the primary users of Windows computers: desktop users, laptop users, office users.
So sure, Windows 10 is coming real soon and it’s a huge improvement, but is it so good they skipped a number? Probably not. The truth is, consumer Windows’ numbering system has never made much sense. Let’s count shall we?
- Windows 1 – New on the scene, Windows, a graphical operating system running on MsDOS!
- Windows 2 – Windows gets an upgrade but its still the toy for computer scientists and people with far too much money.
- Windows 3 – Suddenly, Windows started showing up in our offices, and in many cases, our homes. Windows 3.1 and then 3.11 were the main operating system of everyone’s PCs. Keep in mind though, Apple were still well established and the ease of use in Windows was a bit dodgy, with programmes and files very difficult to find.
- Windows 95 – Introducing the Taskbar, start menu and now Explorer, an easy to use file manager. This interface would remain with us for around two decades.
- Windows 98 – It’s Windows 95 only more useful and with horrifying themes and cursors!
- Windows XP – Security and prettiness!
- Windows Vista – Ew. Okay it was good but let’s face it, a little bit unreliable. It needed work. Hang on, this is 7?
- Windows 7 – Okay, now we’re getting somewhere!
- Windows 8 – Wait a minute, so this was Windows 9?
- Windows 10 – Oh looky, those numbers just lined up!
Of course, the above only really counts the major consumer releases of Windows. Windows 2000 and Windows ME also got released, but ME (Millenium Edition) was a rushed experimental operating system, never meant to be around for long. Windows 2000, like Windows NT, was business software, for networking purposes, so I haven’t included this in my count. There’s also the slight increments of 3.1, 3.11 and of course, Windows 95 Internet Explorer (it’s windows 95 but with the Information Super Highway!) and Windows 98SE (because 98 was a little crashy).
So is Windows 10 just a correction of the facts? That Windows 10 really is, actually Windows 10? Or have we skipped a number because it’s just that awesome? Or maybe, as some have suggested, it’s because the number 9 is considered unlucky in some cultures (much like 13 in ours). The truth is probably actually more technical. It’s a bug workaround.
In the nineties, we were all panicking about poorly implemented systems that looked at years in the form 97, 98, 99, rather than 1997, 1998, 1999. The panic was that these badly implemented systems would get confused because they’d go from 99, to 00 and not understand that this was the year 2000, not 1900. The issue with Windows is that many programmers have developed old systems that detect for versions Windows 95 or 98 by simply seeing if the version name has a 9 in it. Well, bugger! What are those systems going to think when they check Windows 9? They’re all going to start demanding users upgrade, they’re all going to use different code sets that don’t work with newer systems. They’re all going to stop working properly. So we can’t call it Windows 9 because of the great 9x bug!
So the likelihood is that Microsoft had no choice in the matter, they simply could not name it Windows 9 for fear of breaking thousands of pieces of old software that had worked just fine on newer systems before hand. The question is, Windows 10? Why couldn’t they have just gone back to wordy names? Like They did with XP, ME and Vista? Or maybe they really do think it’s good enough to skip a number. That’s sure not the reason they did it though.