Windows 8 had it rough. It existed for a post-desktop world that (still) hasn't quite materialized, met by a sea of people who weren't asking for something that new and strange. That's why even though it feels like a regression, Windows 10 is still such a marvel. It's a step backwards into what Windows 8 was supposed to be.
People hate Windows 8. Hate it. This is news to approximately no one, and the feelings were understandable. It was confusing, clumsy, occasionally downright antagonistic from its launch. But it did do some things right.
Attempting to unify tablets and desktops was smart when Windows 8 launched, and it's even smarter now. While detachables and convertibles and tablets with keyboards and all manner of other weird devices haven't taken over the world just yet, they will eventually. Technologies like Intel's Core M processors are letting full PC power squeeze down into smaller packages than ever before. Kids are growing up surrounded by touchscreen devices.
Windows 8's here's-some-tiles-and-some-more-tiles-did-we-mention-the-tiles approach was met with annoyance, but the intention behind it was spot on. And the traditional desktop in all its mouse-friendly glory never actually went away; the old, comfortable stuff just got hidden behind the new, scary stuff. Some people just couldn't—or wouldn't—learn to live with the changes.
Microsoft has always been running in the right direction, but so fast and so fervently that it tripped over itself in the process, only to be accosted by confused and disoriented people who just wanted their old familiar Start Menu instead of a functionally identical ones with squares instead of rectangles.
There were other qualities worth saving in Windows 8, too. It had faster boot times, deep and intuitive OneDrive integration, a fantastic search function, and the iterative sort of performance upgrades you'd expect from any new OS. Windows 8 was weird, but it wasn't broken.
None of the good stuff mattered, though, because no one could see the forest for the live tiles. Windows 8 launched with a suite of unintuitive, arcane swipey gestures, and didn't bother to explain any of them until Windows 8.1. Horrible nerds like you or me might find out about all the new shortcuts on a tech blog, but meanwhile everyday PC owners were getting trapped in the Start Screen.
And while the situation steadily improved with both Windows 8.1 and the Windows 8.1 Update, it was already too late, and the changes didn't go far enough. The "return" of a Start button but not the Start Menu was a half-assed backtrack. And the tiny mouse-friendly tweaks of the Windows 8.1 Upgrade aimed to make desktop users more at home, but on Windows 8's terms. It was an improvement, but new curtains can only do so much when you already hate the whole house.
Windows 8 became a deadlock between stubborn humans and a stubborn but acquiescing software company. The Start Menu and the Start Screen may have been the very same thing since day one, but it hasn't mattered because it wasn't shaped right.
Think of Windows 10, then, as a mirror image. It's the good universe twin of a goatee'd Windows 8. It takes all the smart things about Windows 8 and stuffs them inside a shell of good old-fashioned Win 7, instead of being a familiar desktop hidden behind an in-your-face screen full of scary new tiles. All the parts are the same; improved, even. Now they're just laid out in a familiar way. It's really just a matter of perspective, but if there is one thing Windows 8 proved, it's that perspective is everything.
The very best Windows 8 could hope to be was "good enough." It was forever fighting an endless uphill battle against itself. But Windows 10 is the fresh start Windows 8 was supposed to be. With the switch back away from tiles to menus and the very windows that gave Microsoft's operating system its name, Windows 10 is simultaneously the clean break Windows 8 could never pull off, and the return to form the non-existent Windows 9 needed to be, without wasting time on the backtrack. It's Windows 10! That's two away from Windows 8 because fuck that thing!
Windows 10 is exciting! The promising Universal Apps that Microsoft announced earlier this year will finally have the universal operating system they need to thrive. The anemic Windows Phone will be able to snag apps from its behemoth desktop brother with just a little UI tweaking. The Xbox One will bring software like Cortana to your living room. And all these new interfaces will feed back into the Windows Store, an app store that's no longer neutered by a mandatory full-screen requirement. The future is very bright.
And that's Windows 10's biggest feature: It's something we can all get excited about. Whether you hated the tiles and were willing to murder for a Start Menu/Screen that lives in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, or thought the Start Screen wasn't actually that bad, Windows 10 has an option for you; Windows 7 in the front, Windows 8 right behind.
Love it or hate it, Windows 8 tore things apart in an attempt to put them together. Windows 10 is here to mend.