Windows 8: A Worthy Successor to Bob

If Windows 8 on DaaS is a nonstarter, what about the desktop?

Windows 8 has been at the receiving end of a near-constant stream of criticism since its launch in October of 2012. In the face of relatively low levels of adoption, it has been compared with Windows Vista, the now largely forgotten speed bump that was released between Windows XP and Windows 7. Much of the disapproval was centered on the new Metro design language (Modern UI) and the decision to replace the conventional Start menu with the Windows Phone–style Start screen.

With less than a year until Windows Threshold (aka Windows 9, Windows 8.2, or Windows Vista 2.0) is launched—Mary Jo Foley hints that this will be in April of 2015—and regardless of how good it might or might not be, Windows 8.x is inevitably destined for a Vista-like future. This does not mean that Windows 8 should be seen as a failure. Rather, the combination of timing and circumstance coincident with its release (IT’s head-in-the sand failure to address Windows XP’s end of life and Microsoft’s changing cadence on desktop OS releases) will result in a much lower rate of adoption than it might otherwise have enjoyed.

To date, Windows 8 has captured about 12.5% of the overall installed base of Windows desktops. Even if this percentage is less than the estimated 25% of desktops that are still Windows XP holdouts and less than Vista’s peak market share of 18.8%, it still represents about 185 million devices, based on figures that indicate an overall install base of 1.5 billion PCs worldwide.

Windows 8’s figure of 12.5% appears lower still when considered alongside Apple’s latest OS X release, Mavericks. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that 40 million copies of the latest version of OS X had been installed; according to Cook, this is a 51% adoption rate. However, this is by no means a direct comparison. Windows dominates the enterprise, and enterprise IT is always more cautious about making changes to the desktop than individual consumers are. At the same time, Mavericks is just one more incremental update from Apple that, while offering worthwhile advances over previous releases, brings with it no single great shift in user experience that would slow adoption.

So far, Microsoft’s updates to Windows 8 have focused on fixing design flaws. These updates:

  • Acknowledge that while launching to the Start screen might work fine on a touch-enabled device, most users will still be working on non-touch-enabled monitors, for which starting to the desktop makes for a better user experience.
  • Provide alternatives to gesture-based actions that do not readily translate to a mouse or trackpad-driven device.
  • Make it easier to run applications straight off the desktop and to find the Shut down button. Some users simply are not yet ready to accept that Windows 8 just doesn’t need to be restarted with anything like the frequency that Windows 7 did, or that when a full power-off is called for, the physical on/off button will suffice in a pinch.

For the most part, these are fixes to flaws that are due to an excess of forward thinking and a failure to understand that the new user interfaces born from iOS and Android phones and tablets succeeded in large part because they had no legacy to look back on. The people who are willing accept a new interface from Apple at home reveal a conservative streak when presented with similar innovation from the makers of Windows. It might even be fair to say that Windows 8’s shortcomings are due in part to Microsoft’s thinking too highly of its users and their ability to accept innovation, although that might be pushing things a little too far.

Sources indicate that sometime before Threshold, and possibly as soon as next week’s WPC conference, Microsoft will release another update to Windows 8. Likely to go by the awkward moniker of “Windows 8.1 Update 2,” it will focus on new OS features rather than addressing more UI issues.

Compared with that of Windows 7, this almost-frantic release schedule could be seen as indicative of the organization’s scrambling to get back on track after a failed launch. However, this change of cadence is better viewed as a positive step forward, one that will have a far-reaching impact. Microsoft is starting to offer hints that while the appearance of a Start menu in Threshold is set in stone, the availability of other new features is by no means assured. Some features, such as the ability to run Modern UI applications as windowed applications on the desktop, may not be ready in time for Threshold and will be delivered in a later release. Microsoft is changing from a milestone release pattern to a pattern with a much faster cadence, drip-feeding new features in smaller updates than it has in the past and blurring the lines between product versions.

Windows Version Release Date Time between Releases
Windows 7 October 2009
Windows 7 Service Pack 1 February 2011 16 months
Windows 8 August  2012 18 months
Windows 8.1 October 2013 14 months
Windows 8.1 Update 1 April 2014 6 months
Windows 8.1 Update 2 July 2014 3 months
Windows Threshold April 2015 9 months

If it is maintained, this change in release frequency and size will create opportunities and incentives to upgrade based more on new feature availability than on the need to remain on a supported platform. Assuming the Threshold release delivers the needed usability improvements, it will serve to encourage rapid migration from Windows 8.0 and 8.1 to Threshold while making it easier for more enterprises to begin the migration from Windows 7. If Microsoft acts as expected and launches Threshold as Windows 9, this will very likely result in the adoption of Windows 8’s failing to surpass Vista’s sorry 18.8%, firmly positioning Windows 8 as Microsoft’s biggest failure since Bob.

Posted in End User ComputingTagged , ,