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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The failure of Windows 8 - so far

The brilliant Michael Mace has written a new blog about the pending buyout of Dell, although there have been some subsequent developments. Read it even if you don't care what happens to Dell, because it has a great explanation of the state of the PC business and the looming disaster of Windows 8.

Microsoft's strategy behind Windows 8 was three-fold:

  • Redesign Windows to run well on smartphones and tablets.
  • Force you to use the redesigned Windows on your PC, so that you'll become familiar with it.
  • Market Windows smartphones and tablets to you.
What's in it for you? Nothing, unless you believe that Windows-powered smartphones and tablets will be superior to iOS and Android products. What's in it for Microsoft? A lot. They are desperate to extend the life of the Windows franchise, which has lost consumer mindshare to iOS and Android. Microsoft has never been able to get traction for a variant of Windows in handheld products; they've been trying since the release of Windows CE in 1996. That's a remarkable record of futility. Ergo, the heavy-handed strategy now.

But as Michael says, Microsoft botched execution of the strategy. Windows 8 is simply unlovable. I had made up my mind months ago never to use it; there was no upside in my taking the time to learn a new user interface. Apparently, many other consumers and most industry CIOs agree. Windows 8 is actually killing sales of new PCs. If I had to buy a replacement laptop at this moment, I'd do one of three things: order it with Windows 7, reformat the hard drive to erase Windows 8 and do a clean install of Windows 7, or install Linux Mint (an option only for nerds.)

If enough people resist Microsoft's self-centered strategy -- and apparently, enough people are -- Microsoft will have to reconsider. There are already signs that Microsoft will make concessions in Windows 8.1 to lower the hurdle of unfamiliarity. Although these reports could be mere obfuscation from Microsoft, I'm sure that Microsoft prefers tweaking their strategy to abandoning it. Besides, my friend John Mainwaring often observes that Microsoft has alternated between successful and unsuccessful releases of Windows:

  • Windows 98... good.
  • Windows ME... awful.
  • Windows XP... good.
  • Windows Vista... awful.
  • Windows 7... good.
  • Windows 8... awful.
The expectation, then, is that Microsoft will improve things in 8.1. But if they don't, the PC market will stagnate sooner than it should have to. Microsoft won't go out of business, but some other companies will.