The most important part of Microsoft's Windows 10 launch event last week wasn't all the new features (though I'm sure Cortana and Spartan and all the rest are going to be great), or even the now seemingly de rigueur set of virtual reality goggles (though I'm sure they're awesome, too). In fact, the part of the announcements I found most surprising and most gratifying isn't a product or a feature at all.
Instead, it's that new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella found it in his heart to correct a wrong that dates all the way back to the transition from Windows Vista to Windows 7.
Way back in 2009, I wrote an open letter to Microsoft demanding that the company let Vista users upgrade to Windows 7 for free. My argument then was that the people who bought Vista were Microsoft's best customers. They bought into Microsoft's Vista hype, but were then expected to pay all over again to get the OS that Vista should have been all along.
It's not hard to see the parallels between Windows Vista/7 back then and Windows 8/10 today. Once again, we've got a pioneering new operating system that was less-than-fully embraced by users, followed by a new version that promises to fix all the problems of the original while keeping its best features.
Windows 7 pretty much delivered on the promise, but legions of Vista users felt burned by the entire experience—especially having to pay twice—with some vowing to abandon Microsoft forever.
That scenario could easily have played out again, and frankly, I thought it would. But Nadella surprised me, and much of the tech world, by offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users, at least for the first year. (Of course, Windows 10 still has to actually solve Windows 8's issues, but that's a completely different question.)
Sure, this decision may cost Microsoft some cash initially, but in the long run it was an essential step in restoring trust among the company's user base (or creating that trust, depending on how you look at it.)
Perhaps Nadella felt that he had no choice. After all, it's not clear how many of these kinds of operating system debacles Redmond could absorb, especially now that Apple's Mac OSX operating system is gaining market share even in the enterprise. Cupertino typically makes its OS upgrades free or very low-cost, and many other operating systems, from Linux to Google's Android and Chrome, are pretty much completely free.
Whatever the motivation, my hat's off to Microsoft for making this bold, out-of-character move. It was clearly the right call, but it had to be a tough decision, one that Steve Ballmer didn't make back in 2009. Let's hope it's the start of a newer, savvier company more in touch with its customers and the modern world of technology.