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EXPERT ADVICE FROM OUR PANEL OF PROFESSIONALS

JONHONEYBALL

“Windows10Xcan’tendupinthesame
cul-de-sacthatsankWindowsRT,
alongwithitsbillion-dollarwrite-off”
Jon finds promising signs from the (probable) leak of Windows 10X but has
a set of final demands before he’s willing to give Microsoft his full backing

W

indows 10X is emerging
from the shadows. This new
version of Windows has
been a long time in the making, and it
hasn’t been helped by Microsoft’s
twisting and turning about what it
was going to be.
Let’s first look at the original
design intention. The underlying
problem that Microsoft has with
Windows 10 is both its greatest
strength and its biggest problem: the
Win32 history. This allows you to run a
mind-boggling collection of Windows
apps on a Windows 10 machine.
Drivers from devices long gone, apps
that you bought 20 years ago. Usually
it all works. Part of this is the
programming APIs that have been
common across the decades, but there
is also considerable work under the
bonnet in Windows 10 to allow it to
bend over backwards to support some
of the more esoteric quirks and
features of older apps. Just dig into the
compatibility settings for an app to see
this in action.
For many, this is an important and
valuable feature – especially for
corporate IT departments that have
historically liked to think in decadelong lifespans.
But it’s created a terrible legacy. It
isn’t hard to see why you would want
to keep running that app that you
bought back in 2010. You purchased a
full licence and it does the tasks that
you need, so why change it?
The killer word is “support”. Is it
possible to keep providing free
support for an app that’s a decade old?
There are some apps and developers
that do just that, and I’ve long been an
admirer of VueScan by Hamrick. It’s
the benchmark software for driving
scanners and, to be blunt, nothing
comes close. You can buy a standard
licence for £30, which gives you a

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year of upgrades, or a pro licence for
£70 that not only brings much more
capabilities but also has lifetime
updates and upgrades. I bought my
licence nearly 20 years ago and I’m
still entitled to free downloads of the
latest version. Viewed from that
perspective, the initial cost has been
lost in the mists of time and is frankly
an irrelevance now.
That’s fine when you’re dealing
with a company that has a solid future
and the determination to provide
support, but sometimes you need to
keep an app running without the
assistance of its creators. Maybe it was
written in-house and the original
developer has gone. Or it was an
outsourced development or purchase
and the vendor has vanished. And
maybe you are sufficiently locked
into the workflow that making
changes is a pain point that you just
don’t want to confront. And why
would you when Microsoft does such a
sterling effort at keeping skipware
code running for you?
Now turn it on its head. Let’s take
the view that apps need updating,
that you cannot take a multi-decade
view and that everyone, whether
they’re a large corporation, an SMB or
a home user, has a need to keep code
up to date. If you take that view, the
necessity to run old apps and drivers

Jon is the MD of an IT
consultancy that
specialises in testing
and deploying kit
@jonhoneyball

“Is it any
wonder that
peoplenaturally
gravitate to
Chrome OS and
iOS/iPadOS?”

BELOW I’ve used
VueScan for nigh-on
20 years and still get
free updates

washes away. This is fine if you’re
dealing with a niche such as scanners,
which has a company of the quality of
Hamrick to support you – it even
provides support for a ton of hardware
where the original vendor has walked
from the software and driver support.
It’s harder in the broader context and
only getting more difficult over time.
Then consider the real risks of
running old code. If it isn’t patched,
there will be a raft of security issues
that haven’t been appropriately
handled. A lot of malware is Win32
code that works partly because the
“let’s support and run everything”
position of Windows 10 is also its very
own Wild West.
In 2021, there’s much to be said for
crying “enough!”, sweeping away
the abject mess that is Windows 10
and its Win32 support and demanding
something better. Is it any wonder
that people naturally gravitate to
Chrome OS and iOS/iPadOS?
This is where Windows 10X comes
in. Microsoft’s initial conceit was that
this would work on multi-screen
folding handheld devices, rather like
the Surface Duo. However, as we
know, this work took much longer
than expected, and Microsoft took the
decision to embrace Android for Duo,
a solution that I still find compelling.
Just read Microsoft’s original
positioning blog
from October 2019,
pcpro.link/319blog,
which paints a
tightly focused
solution.
The other
problem was the
Win32 support in
10X. Despite 10X
being, to all intents
and purposes, a
ground-up rewrite
of the entire kernel
and stack of
Windows, eschewing
the historical
platform support,
there was a strong