How Microsoft could improve Windows by being more like Apple

Now that Microsoft has ended support for Windows 7, it has an opportunity to rethink how it manages its operating system. It would be a good time to take some lessons from its age-old enemy, Apple: Stop doing some things that make Windows upgrades onerous, and start doing some things that will keep Windows users faithful and happy. Some particularly important things to stop and start come to mind, like: 

Stop: Charging for upgrades

Microsoft fell far short of its widely publicized goal to get a billion people to upgrade to Windows 10 within three years. It’s not hard to see why. While Microsoft offered a long grace period to upgrade to Windows 10 for free, those who missed the deadline have to pay up (unless certain unofficial loopholes to upgrade to Windows 10 for free still work). Windows 10 Home costs $139, while Windows 10 Pro, which brings “enterprise-grade security, powerful management tools like single sign-on, and enhanced productivity with Remote Desktop and Cortana,” will set you back $200. 

I get why Microsoft still charges OEMs for Windows 10 licenses—it makes a lot of money. Even though CEO Satya Nadella admitted, “the operating system is no longer the most important layer for us,” Windows is still the biggest cog in the trillion-dollar Microsoft machine. There are more than a billion devices, just as many active users, and oodles of third-party licenses. But the end user shouldn’t ever pay.

Apple hasn’t charged a penny for an upgrade since Mavericks landed in 2013. The simple fact that Microsoft still charges for upgrades—sometimes even on new Windows 10 devices—is just plain wrong. 

Start: Sticking with the same UI

Another big reason why so many people refused to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 or Windows 10 wasn’t budget constraints, laziness, or even hardware compatibility. It was the Big Change. Windows 8 represented a massive departure from the old way of Windows in just about every way, with a new start menu, a tablet-oriented tile interface, and an app structure. Windows 10 fixed most of Windows 8’s biggest problems, but the scars remain to this day.

If you look back at the original Mac OS X release from 2000, it’s really not all that different than it is now. It’s the same with Android or iOS: Users expect annual upgrades, but the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented to keep things fresh.

Microsoft has changed the look of its OS numerous times over the years. Now that Windows 7 is dead, Windows 10 needs to be the way forward. So please keep it the way it is (for the most part) for the foreseeable future.

Stop: Having so many versions of Windows

On the Mac, there’s just macOS Catalina, whether you’re running a $799 Mac mini or a $50,000 Mac Pro. And the next version, and the version after that, and the one after that will be the same. When a new version of macOS arrives, no one needs to figure out which version they’re getting. We click Update, it installs, and life goes on.