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Microsoft's Windows 10 OS is 3 years old — here's how things have changed

Windows 10 is now three years old. In the past, three years was your typical life cycle for a version of Windows, meaning we'd just about be due for the next major version of the OS, which would bring with it a new design, new features, and more. Since "Windows as a Service" kicked off, however, there hasn't been a need for a new major version of Windows every three years, as Microsoft is committed to updating Windows 10 much more often, and adding new features whenever they are ready.

This means that any big changes don't happen all at once and instead gradually change the OS over the course of many different feature updates. In the old days, an upgrade from Windows Vista to Windows 7 would be significant, but today, since updates come twice a year, they don't feel as big anymore. This is likely for the best, as many people don't like having to relearn their computers anyway. It also means Microsoft no longer needs to wait a third of a decade to push out new features.

Since Windows 10 first debuted on July 29, 2015, there has been a total of five new versions of the OS released:

On the surface, it may not look like Windows 10 has changed all that much. But it has. Everything from the Start menu, to Edge, to even the design language has all been updated or refreshed. Microsoft has added good things, and bad things, but overall, the OS has vastly improved since it was first introduced in 2015. Some of the biggest new features include Windows Ink Workspace, Timeline, My People, Continue on PC, and a whole lot more.

Subtle but significant

Going back to the initial Windows 10 Version 1507 release, it becomes apparent that lots of things have improved. Today's Windows makes the initial version of Windows 10 feel unfinished, but you may not have even noticed, because Windows as a Service makes updates feel common and uneventful. While there are pros and cons, most would probably agree that making Windows updates uneventful is for the best, as many people really don't like Windows Updates changing things.

Windows 10 has also seen Microsoft thoroughly rework Windows Update to better handle the more common occurrence of major Windows 10 updates. The old Windows Update was certainly not well equipped enough to handle big updates as often as Windows as a Service supplies them, but today it's much better. In the upcoming version of Windows 10, Microsoft is even going to use machine learning to determine when the best time is to install a new update.

In the three years since Windows 10 launched, there hasn't been a huge new change to the OS. But, that might change within the next year or so, as Microsoft is working on a new feature called Sets that will change how people interact and use their PCs by bundling apps under tabbed experiences that can be grouped and manipulated together. It certainly will be the biggest user experience change to Windows in a while, so Microsoft needs to get it right.

For now, Windows 10 has progressed nicely over the last three years. Now that we no longer have to wait three years between updates, we've gradually progressed with lots of improvements and changes that make today's version of Windows 10 so much better than its initial release. And most of us probably didn't even notice. Well done, Microsoft.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

34 Comments
  • I still would like the Start screen to scroll left to right on my PC like it did in win8. It was easier to keep it organized and neater.
  • i like the left to right in tablet mode. It would be nice if MS gave an option to scroll left to right for those that prefer it.
  • True, well done, but still a lot to be wished for like finishing the UX transition, being a better hub for connected internet services, File Explorer, OneDrive; moving forward is too slow to my taste. Also, I don't feel Sets to be that significant. I would rather see persistent Virtual Desktops. I.e, saving a Virtual Desktop with the lay-out of app windows.
    With the announcement of Surface Go others have reasoned that Windows 10 has a poor tablet UX compared to Windows 8.1. I agree.
    Live Tiles are competing with Notification Center. Cortana and Notification Center are both some sort of assistant. Hence, plenty of inconsistencies.
    Plenty of UX inconsistencies in first party apps as well.
    The whole Start menu approach is a legacy compared to Microsoft Launcher for Android.
    This is just what I come up with in a rattle, using Windows since its 3.0 version.
  • Couldn't agree more!!
  • Some people never get satisfied. Even with a free OS with free updates. If you're not happy with Windows as it is, there´s other options. Payment versions probably (the best beer in the world).. 😉
  • Windows 10 was only originally given as a free upgrade to pad the numbers, everyone else pays for the OS inclusive with their hardware purchase price. And with the majority of updates actually being at best marginally useful and at worst requiring hours of effort to retrieve a working system there really is nothing "free" about Windows 10.
  • All those who changed to Windows 10 the first year got it for free. All updates since has been free. I think there is a lot of free about Windows 10.
    If u don't like the car, buy another…..
  • No, you pay for it now. That's nothing free.
  • If you haven't got it in the free "window", it's your problem. Then buy a Mac, if you can afford it..... 😂
  • I installed Windows 10 on day one, after using the Insider preview. The initial version (1507) was very bad, it had lots of bugs and problems but there's been a massive improvement since that day. It was so bad at first that I rolled back to Windows 7 after a few days before giving it another go.
  • I also installed it on day one and got zero bugs. Most stable windows release I've seen until now.
  • Go Windows 10 🤘🏼 Next stop: CoreOS.
  • I'd argue based on the last "feature" update they don't even need to do twice a year. Once per year like Mac/iOS and Android get with minor patches in between is plenty for the Windows now.
  • Happy birthday, Windows 10. You still have two settings apps.
  • Maybe Microsoft internally has to put an end of life of Control Panel .exe program, take for example Summer 2019, so the team that built the Control Panel.exe should migrate everything to the new Windows 10 settings, if they don't complete migration on time then end users won't have the functionality they need which was only on Control Panel.exe and Microsoft can add it on the next schedule.
    Just my 2 cents.
  • Either way, until there's one settings app, I'm not going to stop b****ing about it. 3 years, 5 updates, and counting.
  • You definitely aren't in the wrong to dislike this. A lot of people hate change, so I think Microsoft is taking their time on purpose. They are hoping as you continue working in windows 10 you start doing certain things in the new settings that you are comfortable enough that by the time they pull the plug on control panel, no one is in an uproar. It's a smart move than just completely getting rid of it from the get go. An annoying move, but I understand.
  • I am the SysAdmin for my company. In addition to the 60-ish desktops running Windows 10 that we have here, we also have 70 Windows Phones running Windows 10 Mobile. Overall, I like the OS. It does a good job of combining the best of Windows 7 with what little good came out of 8/8.1. I don't like the forced updates, rapid sunsetting, and the fact that for the longest time Windows 10 did not play nice with WSUS servers in the Enterprise, which was a MONUMENTAL PITA for IT people. The thing I most wish that Microsoft would change is the way in which they inform users of pending updates/upgrades, and how they communicate the changes and new features to end users. I don't have the luxury of time to reeducate over 100 users every time they push out an update that changes how things look, how they function, IF they function, and how menus and navigation works. Just as MS can't ever seem to get communication right with their to-the-public product advertising, they can't get it right with their existing customers either.
  • Nothing changed except more junk for me to disable.
  • To be honest I was expecting an article to detail the changes to Windows 10, both subtle and up-front, but what I read was a surprisingly short article that basically repeated the title.
  • My thougts exactly :)
  • So many inconsistencies.
  • I liked the Windows 10 from 3 years ago better. Back then I believed that UWP was going to succeed and that there would be some useful features coming (talking for my use case) but the only thing I actually find to be a good feature is the GPU section in the Task Manager.
  • That has nothing to do with Windows 10. That's your expectations (Preconceived resentments) at work
  • To be honest, almost nobody cares about UWP, take Chrome for example, you still need to download chrome using Edge and run an exe installer. On Linux desktop installing Chromium is done through containers called Snaps. I'm not saying Linux is better than Windows, but exe installers need to go away in few years and UWP is not the answer.
  • I think it was named msiX - Was mentioned at build. Sounded like the "new" .appx
  • Actual conversation I had with another IT admin last year in the same company:
    Him: we are on course to being the 1st section of the company to be 100% on Windows 10
    Me: That's nice.... we finished converting all 3 of our properties 7 months ago, so you are on course to being the 4th section of the company to be completely on Windows 10! Honestly, other than idiot users that hate it because it's not Windows 7, it's made our lives easier overall.
  • As much as I like Windows and Microsoft products, Windows 10 should be modernized in few years to full containerized applications which are easily installed using command line tool (bash) and be compatible with Linux desktop snaps.
    For example, VLC, Spotify, Chrome to name a few programs exist both for Windows and Linux, and developers need to maintain both source code branches of security bug fixes and improvements. So I think if Microsoft takes containers seriously, they should support snapcraft.io applications also and that way developers will have easier life.
  • I feel like many things progress way too slow. For example implementation of fluent design and replacement of old elements like the control panel with the new Settings app.
  • At build 2016 (I think it was) MS told the story of how they would move away from one big design revision and the reason was so devs could easier overcome it and MS could adjust it along the way. Point is: It's a slow rollout for a reason - And looking around the 3rd (and 1st!) party adoption of Fluent Design System (or lack thereof!), it looks like it was a wise choice :)
  • I was hoping to see dozens of screenshots of features shwoing the evolution of the OS.
  • I like win 10 like it is now but i still prefer the old original win 10 start menu other is good
  • I think windows 10 is getting better with each update cycle. I use all platforms and OS'es, and windows 10 is by far the best. MacOS being the worst.
  • Loving that video of the Windows logo. Thanks for using that again. So different, unique and sooo beautiful. The music, almost perfectly synched to the video. When they launch Windows Core OS for a consumer shell, THIS would be a great video to start that off :3
    Some of us knows that Microsoft won't make a public difference between Windows classic and Windows Core OS - Oh well :)