Windows 10: Fixing the Windows 8 Mistake

Back in February, I wrote a post called “The Windows 8 Mistake“, which outlined my perception of the reasons why Microsoft did what it did with Windows 8, why it was wrong to do so, and why Windows 8 was so poorly received. I also gave some thought to how Microsoft might go about fixing the problems it caused with Windows 8. With the announcement this week that work is underway on Windows 10, I thought it would be worth revisiting that piece and evaluating whether the new version is likely to solve the problems created by Windows 8 or perpetuate them. I think Windows 10 can be seen in many ways as Microsoft’s attempt to fix the Windows 8 mistake, but I’m not yet convinced it’s the right approach.

A brief recap of the mistake and its consequences

To recap briefly what I said in that previous piece:

  • Microsoft’s strategy for Windows 8 was driven by the desire to create the tablet in the image of the PC, not the smartphone. As such, it created a touch-centric OS and completely rewrote the UI in a way which made some sense for touch devices but felt very alien to the vast majority of existing Windows users more accustomed to a keyboard and mouse.
  • Microsoft also put dividing lines between devices in the wrong places, creating both PC-like and smartphone-like operating systems for tablets (full Windows 8 and Windows RT) and sowed further confusion about Windows 8 tablets.
  • This strategy failed both in the objective of driving tablets down a more PC-like path and in terms of creating a compelling operating system. Windows 8 has become another dud in a series of misfired versions of Windows over the years, more Vista than XP.

My to-do list for fixing Windows 8

The to-do list from my previous piece was as follows:

  • Merge Windows Phone and Windows RT, mirroring the existing iOS and Android structures, and rename Windows RT as Windows Tablet.
  • Make both flavors of the merged mobile OS free for users and OEMs, eliminating licensing fees
  • Do much more to promote consumer services, notably Microsoft’s own Music, Video and Gaming stores and offerings, across its consumer devices (smartphones, tablets and Xbox)
  • Continue with Windows 8 as a separate operating system, making Metro an optional overlay UI for touch screens, but allowing users to choose the old fashioned desktop UI as their primary or only UI if they so choose.

Microsoft has now either done, or announced plans to do, almost all of these things. Windows RT is going away and, in fact, it’s going further in unifying the different Windows flavors by creating a single version called Windows 10, with no more Windows RT or Windows Phone. It announced at Build that versions of Windows running on smaller devices would be free – this doesn’t go quite as far as making all tablet versions of Windows free, but it goes some way towards doing what I suggested. It has also significantly tweaked Windows 8 and in Windows 10 is restoring the traditional start menu and desktop as default features. The third bullet on my list is a longer term goal and one where Microsoft has made some progress, and where it is placing new emphasis with things like OneDrive, but there’s a long way still do go.

Windows 10 fixes many of the problems with Windows 8

Windows 10 goes a long way towards fixing what was wrong with Windows 8. It restores the desktop and Start Menu as familiar features – arguably, keystone features – of Windows, it removes the weird schizophrenia between the Modern UI and desktop worlds, and above all it recognizes that touch is not going to be the dominant mode of interaction for devices running this OS. That’s obviously a good thing. If Microsoft wants to increase (or even maintain) Windows adoption and if it wants to drive upgrade cycles, fixing the fundamental flaws in Windows 8 was critical.

But an update years in the making can’t just fix problems with the last one

However, fixing mistakes from the previous version of your operating system can’t be the sole focus, especially when you’re taking years between releases while everyone else is moving to annual or faster updates. As Apple gets ready to launch OS X Yosemite just a year after the major overhaul of Mavericks, Microsoft is talking about an update which won’t be available for about a year. And the whole focus of what we’ve heard so far has been about putting right what went wrong in Windows 8. Now, to be fair, there is bound to be more coming later on, and as we’ve already said fixing the Windows 8 mistakes was critical, but it’s a bad sign the entire focus so far is on fixing mistakes rather than creating true delighters. That will have to change by the time Windows 10 launches.

Microsoft risks repeating the Windows 8 mistake

There is one other major feature of Windows 10. Unifying the various threads of Windows into a single platform, with a single store and a single approach for developers. But here I believe Microsoft risks repeating one of the mistakes it made with Windows 8. Doing something because it appears to make good strategic sense for Microsoft rather than because it’s best for consumers.

Remember the key mistake with Windows 8 was attempting to parlay Microsoft’s desktop hegemony into mobile dominance. As a result, making decisions bad for customers, especially on mouse-and-keyboard devices (i.e. the vast majority of Microsoft’s installed base). With Windows 10, Microsoft risks repeating that mistake by attempting to again parlay its dominance on the desktop into dominance in mobile, but this time from a developer perspective. Microsoft hopes by unifying the flavors of Windows into a single platform, it can boost development for its mobile devices, because the large base of Windows developers will instantly become Windows Phone developers too.

This is flawed for two major reasons:

  • First, it puts developers rather than users first: unifying these operating systems has very little benefit to end users. Microsoft risks once again forcing a change on them to meet its own strategic objectives. In the process, it risks making decisions which hurt end users rather than helping them.
  • Second, it’s likely to fail even on its own merits, just as Microsoft’s attempt to reshape tablets in the PC’s image has largely failed. The simple reason? The vast majority of app development is now mobile first and the vast majority of the apps people use on their mobiles don’t exist as desktop apps at all, but as web apps. Think of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so on: none of them exist as fully fledged Windows apps today, because on desktops people use them in the browser. Whereas it mattered greatly in the past that Windows had masses of developers and Microsoft might have been able to parlay this strength into a strength in mobile, that ship has sailed.

As such, Microsoft’s strategy here risks both alienating users, who don’t want a single operating system across smartphones, tablets and PCs, and failing in its very objective of stimulating cross-device Windows development and boosting interest in developing for Windows smartphones.

Diversity: an asset and a liability

One interesting theme in Microsoft’s launch event was its recognition of the diversity of the Windows user base. This diversity was very well captured by the speakers, who talked about the diversity in the levels of expertise of users of Windows, the diversity in the devices in the market, the diversity of the use cases for those devices, and so on. This diversity is one of Microsoft’s great strengths: the 1.5 billion devices running Windows which Terry Myerson cited would be impossible without supporting a very diverse set of users and use cases. But it’s also Windows’ biggest liabilities, because it means each new version of Windows has to support all these users and use cases.

That diversity, and the frequent mentions of it, seem at odds with the One Windows vision at first, but it appears Microsoft intends to solve it with a multitude of different UIs built on top of Windows. In that context, then, one wonders to what extent developers truly will be able to develop apps once to run anywhere, when the UI contexts in which they’ll run might be very different (all full-screen apps on smartphones, for example, versus mouse and keyboard on many PCs). This is always the problem with any attempt at cross-device and cross-platform app development: it often leads to a lowest common denominator approach where nothing works excellently anywhere, and only the most painstaking developers end up crafting apps that truly work well on every device and in every UI context.

Windows 10 needs to build the foundation for faster iteration too

For all that we did hear about Windows 10 at the event, there were two key things we heard nothing about:

  • Pricing – it’s been widely rumored that Windows 10 may be a free update, which would make good strategic sense both as a sop to people disappointed with Windows 8 and as a way to drive a massive upgrade cycle and therefore get much of the base on the single-OS system.
  • Delivery – there’s also been talk about Windows as a service, and a new streaming model for Windows along the lines of what Microsoft has done with Office 365. This would also make a lot of sense and would further Microsoft’s shift from device purchase models to software-as-a-service models.

Both of these mysteries lead to a third: the cadence for future Windows releases. With Apple doing annual OS X releases and both Apple and Google doing at least annual mobile OS releases, Microsoft needs to get itself into a position where it can iterate more rapidly. Both lower pricing and new delivery models might feed into this, but it’s particularly critical that Windows 10 be built in such a way that it can be rapidly updated, especially in the variant that runs on smartphones. Windows Phone has been a fairly slow-moving OS, with only one major update since launch several years ago. That needs to change, and that’s something else I’m hoping we’ll hear more about as the release gets closer.



Published by

Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

28 thoughts on “Windows 10: Fixing the Windows 8 Mistake”

  1. Sounds to me that if Microsoft were a car company, it’s as if they have two engines in their product lineup, a V6 and a V8, but they chose to refer to both by a common name: V. I’m not sure this branding for obfuscation rather than illumination is a good idea.

    1. We haven’t seen how the branding will work yet. That’s a crucial element Microsoft simply hasn’t told us about at this point (and I suspect hasn’t figured out yet either).

  2. In the end Metro is just a shell. Shells are absolutely nothing new. They go almost as far back as computers. Many, like Metro, even had their own shell specific applications. The problem with Metro is (was) that it was over-promoted and quasi-mandatory. PC users don’t take too well to any form of mandatory. It’s a personal device, after all. It is also FAR less capable that the desktop, though simpler. In the end, Metro is just an App and should be treated in that vein.

    The underlying OS is the best version of Windows ever. Too bad they botched the release.
    I agree with the article in many places. Well done.

    1. They made a public statement about what they’re trying to do, and we can certainly evaluate whether it’s good or bad on that basis. Like I said, there’s lots we still don’t know, but it’s useful to say where Microsoft appears to be on the right track and where it isn’t, based on what we know so far. Once it’s all out there, it’s too late to make changes.

    2. Hardware manufacturers, software developers, and Microsoft employees do not have the luxury of waiting 18 months. With a new guy running Microsoft, who has promised to move the company in a new direction, this communication is important to the tech press and tech industry in general as well.

      If you are just a user, yes you can wait. But in that case, why read Techpinions?

      1. Not sure I understand. Users have no reason to read Techpinions? Or you read Techpinions because you just can’t wait.

        1. “Users have no reason to read Techpinions?” Yes, exactly. Like most users of cars have no reason to read car magazines or visit automotive websites. It takes a little bit of enthusiasm, or some strong professional interest.

  3. The numbers game — various variants of Windows is on 1.5 billion devices — is of little consequence — iOS has roughly the same numbers between iPhone, iPad and iPod. What Microsoft has to prove to developers is that consumers will actually invest in Windows-based devices.

    Microsoft has been losing customers on a steady rhythm for the last 5+ years. Business, government and education have been steadily investing in iOS or Android/Chrome devices to replace Blackberry while sidestepping most anything running Windows.

    Is there time to recover? Is there any room at the table for Microsoft? I doubt they’re going away entirely but there’s not a lot of hope for them at this stage in the tech industry game. And if enterprise is their last bastion they’re in trouble now that IBM and Apple are going steady.

    I downloaded the technical preview of Windows 10 last night and my early impression is that it’s worse than Windows 8 from a wow-this-is-cool-and-different perspective. It’s Windows 7 with a modified Start Menu with an incredibly poor implementation of Spaces and Exposé from OS X. Nothing more, nothing less.

    I know it’s still early but at this point I’d tell anyone running Win7 or Win8 not to bother. They’re better off where they are.

  4. “Doing something because it appears to make good strategic sense for Microsoft rather than because it’s best for consumers.” Really spot on! Microsoft seems a bit lost in my opinion. Not knowning what to do they tried Surface 1,2,3 and they haven’t really caught on. Surface 3 is a very good product, though. I think the problem is Windows! Windows RT seemed a desperation move to get the tablet market. INTEL which was caught off guard was unable to produce an ARM architecture chip and Apple and Google were much ahead of Microsoft. Microsoft thought they were too superior because they truly believed they could change everything with Windows, forcing users and companies to use what they have always believed was the best thing for THEM not to their USERS.

    1. While I don’t disagree that MS doing what’s best for THEM, they are not alone…
      Others even get defended for doing what’s best for THEM.

  5. What strikes me about Windows 8 is not some grand flaw about its design or the strategy behind it – I’d argue those are rather sensible. What was wrong was the awful execution of it, specifically the Metro part.
    I’ve been using Win8 myself since a few months after its release, and I’m even more happy with it than with XP and 7 before it. It’s incredibly stable (maybe 1 involuntary crash and 1 voluntary reboot a quarter), compatible will even very old apps and all my hardware, and very speedy, especially the sleep-wake cycle, but even those rare full reboots. But then I’m cheating, and using ClassicShell to completely short-circuit Metro, so I’m getting the best of both worlds: Win8’s updated and improved internals, but none of the unholy mess that is Metro.
    And darn is Metro a mess. I put it on my parents’ PC because I was so happy with 8,and figured Metro was a better interface for seniors. That was a big mistake. Metro is not half-baked, it’s quarter-baked at best. First, you drop back to Desktop constantly, which make users have to master not 1 UI, but 2 very clashing ones. Then, Metro has 0 discoverability (in common with iOS and Android) and consistency (Android is very consistent, iOS, a bit less). Then, Live tiles are very scarce, mostly useless, and unreliable. And finally, Metro Apps are very few, and rather not good. In the end, Metro feels like an early beta, more of a proof of concept than an actual, daily-use-ready, tool.
    And *that* is the very disquieting part. MS did design a good UI. They did start to implement and populate it. But then, when they couldn’t finish it by some random management’s deadline, they foisted it on customers in an unfinished and in the end unusable state. That degree of disdain for customers, which I’ve suspected in MS before (when my HD2 couldn’t sync to my Desktop -both under current versions of Windows- and MS told me to get screwed), goes to the core values of the company. They don’t care about users, they care about the quarter’s financials (BTW, good deals on upgrades are to be had at the end of each fiscal period), and employees care about pleasing management (their internal employee evaluation system is deadly), not shipping good product. That makes MS an untrustworthy and unreliable supplier.

    And that’s a pity because MS do have cards to play. They know servers and could let us own our own data, instead of sending it wholesale to full-of-holes Apple or spying Google. Live Tiles are much better than iOS’s icons, and probably than Android’s widgets too (or at least easier and cuter, if less powerful). Good Metro apps, all 7 of them, are as good as anything.

  6. Microsoft went to Sh** as soon as bill gates left the company to go murder Indian children with his vaccines.

  7. Microsoft has a lot to learn when it comes to delivering what “WE” want, that’s where they fail, they deliver what “they” want. all they really had to do, was re-brand windows 7 and implement newer Dx versions, newer IE, Maybe a free version of Microsoft office. and it would have been a success, yet they decided to utterly ruin the interface with windows 8, yeah windows 10 is a much improved version over windows 8, but because of them delivering what they wanted, instead of what the people wanted, windows 7 will continue to be the dominant os for years to come. We have seen it before and before. Windows 98 was the dominant OS for years, until XP took the throne. XP was also used primarily over Vista, Every time Microsoft screws up, they only hurt themselves with lack of sales.. When will they learn. We don’t want some whack jobs idea of the perfect OS, we want something familiar, we want something easy with everything out in the open, so easy our grandmother could use it… They don’t understand that.

  8. I think the current windows 10 strategy is perfect all they need to do is convince the current developers to continue to keep making apps and improving them by giving them more flexible tools to create more advance apps that are based on core principles that can make the apps more productive in extension the people,these principles are predictive,intuitive,customizable and filtration,coupled with the right hardware sensor all of this is possible.they also need to attract potential developers by giving them a little incentive…whenever I read articles about Microsoft ,most of them are conveying the sentiments that portray Microsoft to have all the faults,which is no so apple device are overrated and overpriced and they are not as secure as Microsoft android on the other hand is too diversed for its own good which is making it harder for it to be censored hence being more secure.Microsoft has a verity of product therefore if they want the PC

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