Fear and Loathing and Windows 8

Steve Wildstrom / May 29th, 2012

An excellent, though very long, post by Michael Mace at MobileOpportunity on the enormous risk Microsoft is taking with Windows 8 and the mixed feelings, and fears, that he shares with many users of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • FalKirk

    Thank you for the link, Steve.

    “In normal times, most people are unwilling to reconsider the basic decisions they have made about operating system and applications. They’ve spent a huge amount of time learning how to use the system, and the last thing they want to do is start learning all over again. That’s why the market share of a standard like Windows is so stable over time. But when a platform makes a major transition, people are forced to stop and reconsider their purchase. They’re going to have to learn something new anyway, so for a brief moment they are open to possibly switching to something else. The more relearning people have to do, the more willing they are to switch. Rapid changes in OS and app market share usually happen during transitions like this.”

    “The most important message I want you to understand is this: Windows 8 is not Windows. Although Microsoft calls it Windows, and a lot of Windows code may still be present under the hood, Windows 8 is a completely new operating system in every way that matters to users. It looks different, it works differently, and it forces you to re-learn much of what you know today about computers.”

    COMMENT: If you’re only on Windows today, you’re going to have to learn a new OS if you buy a smart phone or a tablet or even if you decide to buy a Windows notebook or desktop. Apple already provides and an well-designed, well-maintained integrated solution. Now is the time when major migrations may occur. Since you have to switch anyway, why not switch to the best?

    “if Windows 8 fails, Microsoft could break the loyalty of its customer base and turn its genteel decline into a catastrophic collapse.”

    COMMENT: This is exactly what I think is going to happen. IF Windows 8 gets no traction on tablets, then the developers and consumers and businesses (in that order) will suddenly realize that Windows is a desktop only solution and they will abandon it en masse.

    • benbajarin

      I feel as though this is probable but I just don’t want to believe it. I am a bit concerned about what would happen is no one really does challenge Apple. Although, I guess it would be similar to the 90’s when Microsoft dominated but I think consumers are much more finicky than business customers.

      Michael’s point of the learning something new so I might as well consider switching to the Mac as well is a great point and one that I have been thinking about. In fact I don’t even think consumers need to be presented with a change of Windows UI to consider switching as many more than people think today are already either switching or considering switching even without the presence of Win 8.

      Oct-March is going to be one of the most interesting times we have seen in some time.

      • FalKirk

        I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Ben.

        “I am a bit concerned about what would happen is no one really does challenge Apple.”

        Well, what happened in MP3s? Apple dominated the MP3 market yet they rapidly innovated, drove their products down market and disrupted themselves right out of the business with the introduction of the iPhone. All without a speck of real competition.

        “I guess it would be similar to the 90’s when Microsoft dominated but I think consumers are much more finicky than business customers.”

        No way! I consider the decade of Microsoft monopoly to have been a lost decade for computing. Without serious competition, Apple may run off the rails and not give consumers the features that they want but they will never stop innovating the way Microsoft did.

        “Michael’s point of the learning something new so I might as well consider switching to the Mac as well is a great point and one that I have been thinking about. In fact I don’t even think consumers need to be presented with a change of Windows UI to consider switching as many more than people think today are already either switching or considering switching even without the presence of Win 8.”

        Agree with every word.

        “Oct-March is going to be one of the most interesting times we have seen in some time.”

        Yes, we certainly live in interesting times.

      • FalKirk

        I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Ben.

        “I am a bit concerned about what would happen is no one really does challenge Apple.”

        Well, what happened in MP3s? Apple dominated the MP3 market yet they rapidly innovated, drove their products down market and disrupted themselves right out of the business with the introduction of the iPhone. All without a speck of real competition.

        “I guess it would be similar to the 90’s when Microsoft dominated but I think consumers are much more finicky than business customers.”

        No way! I consider the decade of Microsoft monopoly to have been a lost decade for computing. Without serious competition, Apple may run off the rails and not give consumers the features that they want but they will never stop innovating the way Microsoft did.

        “Michael’s point of the learning something new so I might as well consider switching to the Mac as well is a great point and one that I have been thinking about. In fact I don’t even think consumers need to be presented with a change of Windows UI to consider switching as many more than people think today are already either switching or considering switching even without the presence of Win 8.”

        Agree with every word.

        “Oct-March is going to be one of the most interesting times we have seen in some time.”

        Yes, we certainly live in interesting times.

    • benbajarin

      I feel as though this is probable but I just don’t want to believe it. I am a bit concerned about what would happen is no one really does challenge Apple. Although, I guess it would be similar to the 90’s when Microsoft dominated but I think consumers are much more finicky than business customers.

      Michael’s point of the learning something new so I might as well consider switching to the Mac as well is a great point and one that I have been thinking about. In fact I don’t even think consumers need to be presented with a change of Windows UI to consider switching as many more than people think today are already either switching or considering switching even without the presence of Win 8.

      Oct-March is going to be one of the most interesting times we have seen in some time.

  • FalKirk

    “Windows 8 is not designed for PCs. I know that’s a very sweeping statement, but in a couple of areas Windows 8 is clearly designed to work better for media tablets than for traditional personal computers. The first is the general architecture of the interface. Despite Microsoft’s protestations to the contrary, Metro is clearly optimized for use on a touchscreen device rather than a keyboard and mouse PC. You can force it to work with a mouse, but many of the things you have to do feel awkward, and are more complex than their old Windows equivalents. One good example is the finger swipe, which works very well with a touch screen but is unpleasant on a notebook computer because you can’t easily click and drag on a trackpad for long distances. Parts of Windows 8 (for example, logging in to the computer) require finger swipes.

    “Windows 8 is also designed with tablet-like tasks in mind. Productivity and information creation tasks are compromised to make the OS more attractive for content consumption. Microsoft was very explicit about this in some of its online commentary…”

    “For Microsoft: A huge roll of the dice. I’ve spent the last several weeks asking myself why Microsoft chose to remove some Windows 7 features and exaggerate the prospects for Windows 8.

    “…it could also be insecurity. To me, it feels like Microsoft is in a quiet panic. When Apple says the era of the PC has ended, I think Microsoft may believe it even more than Apple does. Smartphones eat away at messaging, tablets compete for browsing and game-playing, and who knows what will come next. In the new device markets, Microsoft is an also-ran. I think Microsoft feels it must find a way to leverage its waning strength in PCs to make itself relevant in mobile.”

    COMMENT: I think that Microsoft is quite right to panic. Tablets (smart phones are tablets too) are the form factor of the future and touch is the user input of the future. Although Windows dominates notebooks and desktops, and notebooks and desktops dominate sales today, Microsoft is keenly aware that tomorrow belongs to the tablet. Microsoft has not only “missed a cycle”, they’ve missed the boat entirely and if they don’t do something dramatically different, right now, they know that they’ll be left standing on the dock as the future of computing sails (and sales) away.

    “Step one is to deploy the same look and feel on all classes of devices, so people have an incentive to use only Microsoft products. Microsoft tried first to take the Windows look and feel to mobile devices, but that failed because it was too ugly and hard to use. So instead, Microsoft is now replacing the Windows look and feel with something designed for mobile.”

    “The second step is to undercut the iPad (and Android tablets, if they ever start to sell) by selling PCs that also work great as tablets. Microsoft’s pitch is that instead of buying a separate PC and tablet, you should buy one thing that bridges both usages. So we should expect a big push for convertible Windows 8 touch notebooks this fall.”

    “Step three is to drive the transition to Metro as quickly as possible. I think Microsoft is scared that it might be permanently closed out of the new markets, so it wants to force people onto Metro before that happens. I believe that’s really why it eliminated the Start menu. If Start is still there, Windows users could live for years without learning much about Metro. But with Start gone, Windows users will have to use bits of Metro now, and Microsoft believes they’ll naturally embrace it once they’ve been forced to use it.”

    COMMENT: Agreed, agreed and agreed. Microsoft has a problem. They can’t just create a brand new user interface and move it onto phones and tablets. To do so would only force them to compete head-to-head against the incumbents (Apple and Google) and without their monopoly advantage.

    All their customers and all their programs and all their developers are on desktops. They needed to find a way to DRIVE their desktop customer base onto their newly minted phone and tablet platforms. This informed all of their decisions and this is why they have tried so hard to make their tablet and desktop interfaces the same even at the cost of functionality and usability.

    “What Microsoft should do. I believe Microsoft is overestimating the immediate risk of a collapse in PC sales due to tablets and other new devices, and underestimating the potential backlash against Windows 8. A tablet — any tablet — just isn’t a good substitute to a PC for many tasks. Huge numbers of people still need PCs for productivity work, and won’t abandon them quickly, if at all. And no matter how much Microsoft tells itself that people are adaptable, the average Windows user is intensely practical and focused on getting work done rather than exploring magical new experiences.

    “Ironically, the biggest danger of a sudden collapse in PC sales comes from Microsoft’s own effort to force users onto Metro.”

    COMMENT: Vehemently disagree. (This may be the one and only part of the article that I disagree with.) Microsoft is right to panic. They need to move now. Actually, they needed to move quite some time ago. The author is right in saying that Microsoft is risking the company’s future in the personal computer market by making this move. But what he is ignoring is that Microsoft’s refusal to make such a radical move would only have guaranteed the slow but sure demise of Windows in the personal computing space.

    • steve_wildstrom

      I have always thought that Apple made the much better choice with the iPad, building up from a phone OS rather than down from the desktop. Apple has made OS X more iOS-like in look and feel and some apps, but it retains is distinct flavor as software designed for the desktop. In Windows Phone 7, Microsoft had a platform it could have built on, but chose to use desktop Windows instead. I think they have come up with a decent tablet OS, though we won’t know until we see some real hardware. But they may have seriously, even fatally, compromised PC Windows in the process.

      • FalKirk

        “In Windows Phone 7, Microsoft had a platform it could have built on, but chose to use desktop Windows instead … they may have seriously, even fatally, compromised PC Windows in the process.”-steve_wildstrom

        Agreed. I think it was the wrong choice but, as I explained above, I don’t think they really had a choice.

      • FalKirk

        “In Windows Phone 7, Microsoft had a platform it could have built on, but chose to use desktop Windows instead … they may have seriously, even fatally, compromised PC Windows in the process.”-steve_wildstrom

        Agreed. I think it was the wrong choice but, as I explained above, I don’t think they really had a choice.

    • steve_wildstrom

      I have always thought that Apple made the much better choice with the iPad, building up from a phone OS rather than down from the desktop. Apple has made OS X more iOS-like in look and feel and some apps, but it retains is distinct flavor as software designed for the desktop. In Windows Phone 7, Microsoft had a platform it could have built on, but chose to use desktop Windows instead. I think they have come up with a decent tablet OS, though we won’t know until we see some real hardware. But they may have seriously, even fatally, compromised PC Windows in the process.

Protected by Gerben Law