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I was surprised when I stumbled upon the news that Microsoft is releasing a new version of Windows in a few weeks. I had no idea, and knowing such things is my job.
Not long ago, a new model of Windows software was a set technology moment. Well, a Windows debut is basically nothing. This shows that technology has moved from a succession of big bang moments to something that is so embedded in our lives that we often go unnoticed.
The bottom line is that a lot of technology hasn’t become a big deal. And that’s a very big thing.
The last version of Windows as we knew it was probably released in 2012. I was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal then, and my professional life that year has been dominated by the Windows 8 reveal – including the anticipation, strategy, and eventual reception of it.
But that was basically the end of an era. Since then, new versions of Windows have become less and less important. A major reason for this 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 that much – but a Windows refresh isn’t.
Still, the supremacy of smartphones is an inadequate explanation. From around 2015, Windows under the hood was regularly optimized – just like Netflix, Facebook and every app on your smartphone, as well as the software that the phone itself runs.
In other words, Windows is constantly changing into dribs and drabs without most people even realizing it. Instead of waiting years for a new computer, we get a new PC with every optimization. The new edition of Windows will redesign the look of the software and improve features like rearranging apps. But as Microsoft is gradually revising Windows, new versions of the software are less important to most people.
This move for Windows was part of a remarkable transformation at Microsoft. The company’s obsession with Windows threatened to banish Microsoft into technical insignificance. Then Microsoft hired a new CEO in 2014, and suddenly Windows was no longer the beating heart of the company. That shows how much institutions can change.
But more than that, a Windows rollout that transforms from a big thing to something a professional tech writer didn’t see coming is a reflection of what technology has become. It’s no longer just that shiny new item that comes out of a box every now and then. Technology is around us all the time and that is perfectly normal.
My colleagues and I write a lot about the downside of the impact technology has on our brains, our cities and the world, but I don’t want to forget the wow either.
I remember the magical feeling when I first tapped the Uber app and a car popped up at my door. On my last big vacation before the pandemic, I spontaneously decided to change my travel plans and booked a room in a bed and breakfast on the edge of a hiking trail in northern England. Also, like many of you, I’ve been working from home since March 2020 and this would have been a lot more difficult at the time Windows 8 was released.
We keep getting a new version of Windows and Netflix. We take a lot of it for granted and understandably so. But it’s worth pausing sometimes to appreciate the miracle.
Before we go …
Ephemeral censorship suggesting a struggle for internet freedom: A group of activists in exile working for more democratic freedoms in Hong Kong have had their website temporarily blocked by an Israeli company that hosts them following a request from the Hong Kong police. My colleague Paul Mozur writes that the incident shows that the police are using their vast new legal authority over online language to try to silence dissent both in Hong Kong and far away.
What is the “ugliest” language in India? Google spat out a definitive answer to that search query, and people weren’t happy about it. The company apologized, but the episode highlights the pitfalls of Google’s fact boxes, which sometimes yield errors or wild opinions, report my colleagues Mike Ives and Paul Mozur.
The Young are obsessed with keyboards? A keyboard app is # 1 in the App Store because teens use it to copy spam and paste it to their friends. Gizmodo has a coherent explanation. Plus, I’ve just learned that some of The Young love to customize and create their own mechanical keyboards. The children are alright.
Here are four pygmy marmosets nibbling peas. (The one on the far left is the messiest eater, and therefore the best.)
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