Monday, April 22, 2013

Windows 8, finally a flop?

Article first published as Windows 8, Finally a Flop? on Technorati.

"We can call it now, Windows 8 is a flop" Said the unofficial "President of the Internet" Leo Laporte on his Sunday This Week in Tech podcast.
Citing the generally frigid reception by consumers to the latest Windows operating system, most pundits will point to the radical change to a touch centric interface.  The question that hasn't been asked is: is it really a case of outright rejection of the Windows 8 Modern (Metro) interface or just bad timing.

It's no secret that sales of Desktop PC's have been declining over the past few years and the rise of portable devices like the IPAD and the Smartphone have largely been responsible for it. 

After all, if you just need to get your email and do some web browsing even the cheapest tablet will do. It's also no coincidence that most tablets also happen to occupy the same price point as entry level PC's with the added convenience of portability.

So it's no mystery that Microsoft went all in on an interface that favored touch.  As much as the pundits may hate to admit it, the days of the desktop are numbered.  The popularity of tablets has shown that.  Still, is it reasonable to expect anyone to compose a novel on an  IPAD or an ASUS tablet?  Of course not but that's a temporary condition. 

What's surprising is that the tech pundits, those champions of all things new and techie don't see it.  Forgive me if I sound like a futurist but I don't think it's a stretch that gestures, predictive keyboards and voice will be the primary input devices by the end of the next decade. 

That's the future Microsoft was betting on.  Unfortunately, OEM's weren't exactly on  board with Windows 8's new interface and released hardware that couldn't leverage the touch based UI. 

Corporations, long the bulk of Windows sales, had deferred upgrade cycles and many had only recently deployed Windows 7.  To corporate IT departments there was no compelling reason to put their users through another round of upgrades so soon.  Doubly so when you consider the learning curve of the Windows 8 UI without a touch screen.  Pairing Windows 8 and traditional PC hardware was just never going to fly in cubicleland.

If you want to say Windows 8 is a flop you'd be justified to blame it on the new UI but not because it's necessarily a bad design.  OEM's had been warning Microsoft since the spring of 2012 that they wouldn't have hardware ready to take advantage of the new touch UI.  When October came around most chose to release hardware meant for Windows 7.  That resulted in making Windows  8 seem more cumbersome than revolutionary and virtually guaranteed its failure.

 The Band-Aid solution  from many OEM's was to  graft a third party extension that returned the Start Menu to the Windows 8 desktop.  If that's not an option for you the open source Classic Shell and Stardock's Start8 can offer the same functionality.  None of these options are supported by Microsoft by the way.

You can also blame Microsoft for muddying the message. 

If you want to see the purest representation of what Microsoft was after with Windows 8 look no further than the Surface RT.  Trouble is, RT isn't Windows 8.  RT has more in common with Windows phone than Windows 8 but to consumers it looks the same. 

That leaves them confused and ultimately frustrated when they find out they can't run Windows applications on something that looks like Windows.  Worse, Microsoft has done little to correct the bad perception.  Even amongst howls to either bring back the beloved "Start Menu" or allow booting directly to the desktop instead of into the tiles (as was possible in the consumer preview) Microsoft has turned a deaf ear.

Until now, that is.  There's a rumor that the next update to Windows 8 due in August and called Windows Blue (or Windows 8.1) may allow booting directly to the desktop and see the return of the Start Button (but not the Start Menu).  At this point, however, it's still just rumor. 

In the end if Windows 8 has failed it had little to do with the operating system itself.  This was not another Vista as many blogs decried in the months leading up to the launch of Windows 8.   in fact most pundits  now admit that it's actually a faster and more secure OS than its predecessor.  Rather it seems to have more to do with OEM's resistant to change and a mixed message from Microsoft.

Perhaps Windows 8 will only find vindication through the lens of history.

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