Microsoft Has Windows 8 Exactly Backwards

I understand (that Windows 8 is) the same experience across phone, tablet, and desktop…but it’s not the same software, it’s not the same operating system, and it’s not the same apps. ~ Leo Laporte, Windows Weekly Podcast 316

This is a great synopsis of everything that is wrong with Windows 8.

— Apple contends that you should use the right tool for the job at hand.
— Microsoft contends that Windows 8 is the right tool for every job.

— Apple makes the operating system fit the device.
— Microsoft pretends that the Windows 8 operating system – even though it’s really three operating systems – fits every device.

— As much as possible, Apple integrates the user interface across its desktop operating system (OS X) and its phone and tablet operating system (iOS) but it doesn’t pretend that the operating systems are one and the same.

— As much as possible, Microsoft disguises the fact that you are using three separate operating systems on the phone, tablet and desktop, concealing them all behind the facade of a single user interface.

— Apple’s iOS and OS X are two very different operating systems, proudly performing two very different functions.
— Windows 8 is three very different operating systems, slyly pretending that they can serve all functions.

— Apple’s iOS and OS X are playing to their strengths.
— Windows 8 is pretending that it doesn’t have any weaknesses.

— Microsoft’s goal is to have a consistant user interface.
— Apple’s goal is to have a consistent user experience.

And therein lies all the difference.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

9 thoughts on “Microsoft Has Windows 8 Exactly Backwards”

  1. Lately I’ve been thinking about Microsoft and their place in the changing computing world. The best analogy I have come up with is comparing MS to the American passenger railroads in the mid 20th century.

    In the 1940s and 50s, the American railroads were at the top. The steam engine had reached the pinnacle of its development, and the railroads were successfully transitioning to diesel-electric locomotives. The rail network was fully built out, with all the necessary support infrastructure in place. Rail travel was the way to travel long distances. However, new players arose – the interstate highway system and air travel. Air travel was faster, but initially, more expensive. Automobile travel on the interstates was inexpensive, and while slower than the train, offered flexibility that the train didn’t. The two led to the decline of passenger railroads that the railroad management didn’t counter.

    Compare the American railroads to the Canadian Pacific Railroad and their establishment of their airline operations. Initially established to take CP passengers from the railroad to remote bush locations, it grew over time to a national and international air carrier.

    So in my analogy, Microsoft is like the American railroads. I haven’t worked out who the technology counterparts to the airlines, the interstates, or CP Air are, or if that is the point where the analogy stops working.

    Any thoughts?

    1. I see the Microsoft of the nineties and aughts as the IBM of the seventies and eighties. IBM was THE face of computing. Then personal computers (as compared to today’s phones and tablets) came along. IBM thought they could jump in the game late and dominate. Microsoft thought that they could jump into phones and tablets late and dominate. IBM didn’t go away, but they left the front of personal computing and moved to the back end. I think the same is happening to Microsoft. Microsoft just doesn’t know it yet.

      (Caveat: Microsoft can only HOPE that they are as successful in their transition as IBM was in theirs.)

      1. Agreed. For some years now, I’ve been predicting that Microsoft in 2020 would resemble IBM of the 2000s – much diminished, but still with us, primarily in the enterprise. I think that in 2020, MS will still be on the office desktops (principally Office) and probably in the server rooms. Other than that, they will not be a name you see much in your daily computing experience, much like you haven’t seen IBM lately. At home, they’ll hang on with those who (still!) think that they need a system like they use at work.

        The railroad analogy was my attempt to try to broaden the conversation and inject new metaphors. Did it work?

        1. I work in the enterprise and Microsoft has been minimized year after year. Linux is by far the dominant server OS and about the only time you see Microsoft is on Laptop, Exchange, and Share-point. I’ve worked at two very large well known technical companies that offered Mac laptops as an option and the one I work for now is about to.

  2. I believe the Microsoft lesson is that companies which thrive based on copying and buying the technologies of others don’t have a strategy for the future and don’t know how to respond once it arrives. (The same lesson applies more broadly — e.g., children whose parents do their homework are unable to produce when they get into college.)

    To the degree Google and Samsung have copied Apple’s technology, Microsoft’s steady decline toward irrelevance points the way to their future. However, if that is NOT a fair characterization of Google and Samsung’s practices, then the Microsoft saga provides no insight into their future, and their innovative efforts will carry them forward.

    I won’t make the case for either view, because claims and counter-claims by bystanders have no bearing on the ultimate outcome. My point is simply that the marketplace will have the final say about who is innovative and who isn’t, regardless of what the courts decide. (By innovative, I don’t mean the ability to come up with new products, but the ability to come up with new products that serve user needs better than the alternatives; that is the test of the marketplace.)

    1. We really don’t need to drag out the old canard about Microsoft “copying and buying the technologies of others.” Everyone copies from everyone, and if Microsoft based MS-DOS on the QDOS code it bought from Seattle Computer Products, Apple based OS X on the NeXTstep code it bought when it acquired NeXT.

      If anything, Microsoft may be paying a prices for too much originality these days. Many of Androids ideas were clearly inspired by the iPhone, but Windows Phone 8 is sui generis. And whatever you think of Windows 8–and I have made no secret of my dislike–it sure doesn’t look like something copied from anything on earth.

      1. I do not have an insider’s knowledge of Microsoft, nor have I followed it for a number of years. But the version of history that I recall (from the ’80s and ’90s) does not include Microsoft as a leading innovator.

        Rather than deal with ‘small’ events, here are the high points: As you acknowledged, MS-DOS was based on technology purchased for a song. Then in the mid-’80s, Gates produced a crappy knock-off of the Mac OS on contract for IBM, then almost immediately (or simultaneously?) produced its own Mac OS knock-off (Windows), making enemies of Apple and IBM in one fell swoop. It copied VisiCalc (Excel) and a word processing program whose name I don’t recall, and those formed the foundation of Office. Windows and Office provided the basis for Microsoft’s success and have ensured its survival. By the mid-’90s, the internet had captured the popular imagination, but Gates & Co. sat on the sidelines while true innovators took the court — leading up to a crisis for Microsoft, causing Gates called his crew together to inform them that they were in dire straights and absolutely had to get involved in the new technology. That led to a new generation of derivative products and a numerous takeover/mergers. Most notably, Gates leveraged Windows to put Internet Explorer on everyone’s desktop (and kill off competing browsers). However, in doing so the company ran afoul of European antitrust authorities. That’s when Gates suddenly became a philanthropist — almost as if directed to do so by lawyers and PR managers. The loss of that suit — and the genuine threat that the company would be broken up into two or three parts — was the turning point, and after that it became a better corporate citizen and ceased some of its earlier practices. (This was, ironically, about the same time Steve Jobs grew up.)

        You say that Apple copied/acquired NeXT? That’s one version of events. Mine is that Steve Jobs took over Apple when it was on its death bed, brought NeXT technology with him, and combined two products he was instrumental in developing (Mac+NeXT) to create the Apple that survives today.

        Your example of an original product from Microsoft is Windows Phone 8. I addressed that (in general terms) in the final sentence of my original note: Products that don’t serve the needs of users may be new, but they’re not really innovations. I will not argue with the proposition that Microsoft has been the source of many new offerings over the years, such as the touch-screen computer that looks something like an iPad — only as big as a card table. Another example are the Microsoft stores (without customers), located conveniently next to Apple Stores in many shopping malls.

        Anyway, that’s what I was driving at. I acknowledge that others may have a more nuanced interpretation of events, so we’ll never get together on the history. Yet, those who believe that Microsoft has been an innovative company over the years now has the burden of explaining it’s long-term slide into irrelevancy.

        1. You need to spend a little more time on your history:

          For example, the version of OS/2 jointly developed by Microsoft and IBM (not by Microsoft on contract) was command line only. The project fell apart when Microsoft decided to pursue Windows, which was being developed simultaneously, instead, and IBM took over OS/2. The GUI version of OS/2 was a pure IBM product.

          Mitch Kapor, who had worked for Software Publishing (later VisiCorp) left to develop Lotus 1-2-3 for the IBM PC when the rights to VisiCalc got tangled up in litigation. But Lotus failed in its efforts to develop a Mac version and Microsoft, which had developed a spreadsheet called MultiPlan for DOS, published Excel for the Mac to fill the void. Word was also a pure internal Microsoft development, led by a great programmer names Charles Simonyi.

          I didn’t say Apple copied NeXT. What happened was that the company was in dire straits, in part because a long, expensive effort to develop a success to Mac OS (Project Copland) was failing. Jobs’s NeXT computer had also failed and its highly regarded NeXTstep OS was available. Apple acquired NeXT, Jobs and Avie Tevanian, the architect of NeXTstep, came in the deal, and it took about three years to turen NeXTstep into OS X.

          Your history of Microsoft’s antitrust troubles is so wrong I don’t even know where to start.

          1. My apologies for the mangled history. I don’t consider myself an expert in the history of technology and only offered those recollections in response your theory of innovation, which is that “everyone copies everyone” — i.e., no individual or company can be credited with having a unique vision or for blazing a trail into the future.

            My point was that Microsoft just happened to copy fairly mature technologies already being sold in the marketplace. Therefore, its success had very little to do with its own ability to innovate, and it has been sliding into irrelevance for for well over a decade because it never learned to innovate.

            I did a little research on the antitrust case and now see that I was in error, largely in forgetting that BOTH the US and Europe were after Microsoft for its anticompetitive practices, and that Microsoft was the subject of MULTIPLE investigations, suits, injunctions, etc. My memory blended those all into one. Yet, history validates the claim that Microsoft became dominant in browsers not by innovation but by anticompetitive practices:

            10/27/97: The Justice Department files a complaint demanding a $1-million-a-day fine against Microsoft for violating the consent decree it signed promising not to use Windows to squelch competition. Microsoft demanded that PC manufacturers bundle Internet Explorer hardware products before installing Windows.
            5/18/98: The U.S. Justice Department and 20 state attorneys general file an antitrust suit against Microsoft, charging the company with abusing its market power to thwart competition, including Netscape.
            4/3/00: Judge Jackson rules that the software giant violated antitrust laws and consistently acted to hold onto its power over industry competitors.
            6/7/00: The judge orders the break up of Microsoft into two companies.
            6/28/01: A federal appeals court reverses the breakup order.

            Finally, Apple’s impending failure in 1996 is consistent with my original proposition: in the computing industry, companies that can’t innovate are soon marginalized. Apple only survived for as long as it did by living off the declining profits of a legacy product (Apple II), just as Microsoft survives today by living off the profits of two legacy products (Windows and Office). Looking forward, Apple’s future is a question mark because its ability to innovate without Jobs has yet to be proved. Microsoft’s future is more certain, because it alienated a generation of users that it formerly held captive, and continues churning out products like Windows 8.

            I appreciate your knowledge of history and technology, but those are just ‘dots’ on the page. Without connecting the dots, it is impossible to see the picture before one’s eyes.

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