The New York Times’ “On Tech” newsletter observes that Microsoft releasing a new version of Windows is now “basically a nonevent.”
“This shows technology has evolved from a succession of Big Bang moments to something so meshed into our lives that we often don’t notice it.”
The last version of Windows as we knew it was arguably released in 2012. I was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal at the time, and my professional life that year was dominated by the unveiling of Windows 8 — including the anticipation, the strategy around it, and its eventual reception. But that was basically the end of an era. New releases of Windows since then have become progressively less major. A significant reason is that personal computers are no longer the center of our digital lives. A new iPhone model gets a lot of attention — although it shouldn’t get so much — but a refresher to Windows doesn’t.
Still, the supremacy of smartphones is an insufficient explanation. Windows beginning around 2015 began to get regularly tweaked under the hood — just like Netflix, Facebook, and every app on your smartphone as well as the software that runs the phone itself. In other words, Windows just changes in dribs and drabs all of the time without most people noticing. Instead of waiting years to get a fresh computer, we’re effectively getting a new PC with every tweak. The new edition of Windows will remodel the look of the software and improve features like reordering apps. But because Microsoft incrementally revises Windows, new versions of the software matter less to most people.
This shift for Windows was part of a remarkable transformation at Microsoft. The company’s obsession with Windows threatened to relegate Microsoft to tech irrelevancy. Then Microsoft hired a new chief executive in 2014, and suddenly Windows wasn’t the beating heart of the company anymore. That shows just how much institutions can change.
But more than that, a Windows launch morphing from a big thing to something a professional tech writer didn’t see coming reflects what technology has become. It’s no longer strictly the shiny new object that comes out of a box every once in a while. Technology is all around us all the time, and it’s perfectly normal.