Windows 8’s Greatest Sin

Anyone who is in business knows that once you have made a sale, you want the next sale to become as seamless and as automatic as possible. This is why newspapers and magazines push subscriptions so heavily and why so many services, like cable, phone, electricity, etc, rely so heavily upon monthly billing. They know that customers are far more likely to continue buying their goods or services from their existing provider if the purchase of those goods or services becomes routine and automatic. When the customer is given no chance to re-think or re-evaluate their decision, there is far less liklihood that they will change that decision.

Perhaps Windows 8’s greatest sin is that it is going to force Microsoft’s current customers to have to re-decide; to re-evaluate; to re-think their current purchasing decision. And if you’re the incumbant, that’s never a good thing.


Netflix started a website that rented videos and delivered those videos to its customers by mail. Netflix introduced the monthly subscription concept to their service in September 1999 and dropped the single-rental model in early 2000. Since that time, the company has built its reputation on the business model of flat-fee, unlimited rentals without due dates, late fees, shipping or handling fees, or per title rental fees. ~ via Wikipedia

Netflix continued to expand their services by offering streaming video rentals. At the base level, Netflix was charging its customers a flat $10 for both its mail and streaming videos. Then Netflix committed a cardinal sin.

In the fall of 2011, Netflix dramatically changed its pricing. Customers could no longer continue to pay $10 and get both the mail and streaming services. Customers had to choose between paying $8 for the mail service or $8 for the streaming service or $16 for both. This forced Netflix’ customers to re-evaluate their subscription plans. And when they chose, many of them chose to cancel their subscriptions altogether.

On October 24, 2011, Netflix announced it had lost 800,000 US subscribers in the third quarter of 2011 and that more subscriber losses were expected.

Netflix’ decision hardly killed the company but it unnecessarily cost them approximately a million subscribers. By forcing their customers to re-evaluate and re-think their previously automatic decisions, they gave their customers the worst option of all – the option to opt out of their Netflix subscription altogether.

Windows Upgrades Were the Surest of Sure Things

Microsoft’s Windows has had a virtual monopoly on personal computing since the mid-ninties. Windows software comes bundled with most new PCs, so the vast majority of operating system upgrades were invisible, automatic and virtually painless.

There were fewer sure bets than that those who owned a Windows PC were going to buy another Windows PC. The only question was “when”. For most, seeking an alternative to Windows simply didn’t even enter into their minds.

Windows 8 Will Cause Hesitation

A new study by Forrester Research — as reported by Social Barrel — shows that only 33% of companies who responded to their new survey have plans to move to Windows 8, Microsoft’s latest upgrade of its operating system.

Ten percent of the respondents have no intention at all to upgrade. The remaining 40% of the survey respondents stated that they have no plans of upgrading to Windows 8 yet.

“Social Barrel” says the percentage decline is “massive” in comparison with companies that intended to shift to Windows 7 when it launched in 2009. At that time, 67% of the companies that participated in a Forrester survey intended to shift to Windows 7, with 28% either not considering the update or are totally skipping it. ~ MacNews

Windows Users Have Other Options

It’s a whole new computing world out there. In 2006, there were only PCs and a smattering of smartphones and tablets. In 2012, we have:

— Mobile devices outselling PCs
— The Mac and the iPad seen as perfectly mainstream
— Bring Your Own Device and computer decision making moving from the home to the workplace rather than from the workplace to the home
— iPad’s viewed as all the computer that some people need

Last week – two days before Windows 8 was announced – Apple introduced a new iPad Mini. But, in a surprise move, Apple also updated their third generation iPad to a fourth generation, and refreshed almost their entire Mac line.

Do you think that was coincidental? Or do you think that Apple was offering Windows’ existing users a clear alternative to Windows 8?

If I’m Going To Have To Learn A New User Interface Anyway…

Windows 8 is remarkable, daring, and innovative. But it’s also a departure from nearly everything that Windows’ customers have known Windows to be. Windows 8 is a radical makeover. It forces people to relearn how to use their computers.

And if customers have to re-learn how to user their computers anyway, then they might as well consider learning a new operating system. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Buy New Computer Hardware Anyway…

Windows 8 is designed for a touchscreen.

And if customers have to buy new computer hardware anyway, then they might as well consider buying a new type of computer. Or tablet. Like a Mac or an iPad.

If I’m Going To Have To Decide Which Type Of Computer To Buy Anyway…

Microsoft thinks it is giving its customer’s choice, but what it is really doing is foisting decisions upon its user base.

— Windows RT or Windows 8 Tablet?
— Surface or one of a plethora of thrid party hardeware options?

In the abstract, choice is always good. But when you’re trying to get an existing customer to re-buy from you, extensive decision making is the last thing you want.

If the customer has to decide between this Surface and that, between Arm and x86, between phablets and laplets, then the customer might just decide to exit the Windows ecosystem altogether. Because once you start to think about your options, you start to think about ALL your options, not just the options made available by Microsoft.


When you have an existing customer, the worst sin you can commit is to force that customer re-evaluate their past buying decisions. I’m quite sure that Windows 8 is going to sell a LOT of computers. However, many of those computer purchases may end up being Macs or iPads.

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?

61 thoughts on “Windows 8’s Greatest Sin”

  1. Oddly, I think the greatest Sin of Windows 8 is that it doesn’t give you a choice how to use it. It forces Metro down the users throat. Fine if their computer is a Tablet. Not so fine if it is a desktop.

    If the user was on desktop, it should start up on the desktop and should have the same user experience as Windows 7.

    That simple change would reduce 90% of the complaints/grief with Windows 8.

    1. I am fully in agreement here. I hadn’t used Win8 until i bought it over the weekend and installed it on my laptop. It’s VERY jarring moving between the Metro interface and Desktop and I would have preferred having the option to stay completely in the desktop. Can’t understand why I have to go to metro to look for apps…or modify my user profile. Why is the shutdown button buried so deep? Why does the Charm bar come up quickly in some instance and not in others? I am sure MS will do great and they are in this for the long run and hopefully they will make some tweaks in the future but for now I am not all they warmed to the new OS….

    2. Definitely a big blunder by Microsoft.

      Ubuntu tried to do the same thing with their Unity desktop. Linux Mint, who used to be 2nd most downloaded distro, has displaced Ubuntu by not keeping the same desktop feel that’s been around since Windows 95.

      I see a lot of good in Windows 8 but the desktop isn’t touch enabled yet. I would have loved to seen aero metro-like tiles. That would have been sexy.

    3. Another issue that nobody seems to have addressed yet is the apparent security restrictions between the new “metro” start menu and the desktop. I have always used antivirus and a 3rd party firewall. If an app I launch via the Start menu, requires outgoing internet permissions (most do), then I never see an outbound alert from my firewall UNLESS I go to the desktop. Which also means, the app will just sit there in limbo…never launching.

      Because I have fairly tight outbound security in place, launching an app sometimes requires 3-5 trips BACK TO THE DESKTOP to answer outbound firewall alerts. Same goes if I happen to get a virus while in “metro”. You’ll never see the alert unless you head back to your desktop.

      I have to wonder who at Microsoft thought this up?

      1. Desktop apps do have the ability to bring up notifications that will appear anywhere in the system, not just on the desktop. They need to be updated to support this.

          1. Citation:
            These are the same notifications that Metro style apps can raise, and will appear whether the desktop is currently on screen or not. I don’t think many desktop apps actually support this yet, the only one I know of is Outlook 2013.

            There is also a somewhat obscure feature that allows desktop app windows to actually appear on top of Metro style apps in some cases, but only if the desktop app has been installed with special permissions. This is how the Task Manager will always be on screen, whether the desktop is or not, if you set it to “Always On Top”

          2. The issues that I have with Toast Notifications are multiple. The application sending a toast notification must have a shortcut installed on the start page and all indications are that the toast notifications aren’t interactive. While I can click the notification and it will take me to the desktop application throwing the notification, it won’t put me back on the start menu when I’ve clicked the firewall alert. So these notifications aren’t the same as what we’ve seen on every almost all versions of Windows up to 8. I’m not sure what the workaround will be.

            I’ve tried two different firewall apps now that claim Windows 8 compatibility. While they seem to run fine on Windows 8, this notification scenario completely makes Win8 unusable for my particular circumstances.

            My future does not include Windows of any flavor on a tablet device..only on laptops or desktops. Why MS insists on making “metro” a non-changeable format across all devices is beyond me. Maybe they think the desktop is dead too?

  2. John,

    Here’s how I see the situation:

    For the desktop and laptop market, from what I’ve read, Windows 8 is so different from Windows 7 (but may not offer sufficient benefits to making a big and difficult change to the new OS) that I see a lot of users staying with Windows 7 – and that could even be most users. Microsoft should not have introduced Windows 8 to desktops and laptops at all. It’s simply the wrong product for those computers.

    For the Surface, tablets are touch devices so the OS that Microsoft named Windows 8 is right for the Surface. But it was a mistake to give the outdated Windows name to the tablet’s OS. This is preeminently true in the case of Windows RT, which is called Windows but won’t run anything that anyone downloads for Windows. Consequently there’s a good chance that Microsoft has created a large and troublesome PR issue for themselves that they could have easily avoided if they weren’t stuck on a brand from the 1990s.

    1. Agree with your take, Rich.

      I just wanted to view things from a different angle. That’s why I included the Netflix story. Never disturb a customer who is regularly paying you money. Microsoft has just done that and by the tens of millions. We’ll see if those “disturbed” customers choose to stay with Windows or if they choose to follow a different path.

      1. It is more like I am trapped in the Microsoft ecosystem, and Steve Ballmer has finally figured out I can’t get away, and has started poking me through the bars with a stick.

        I don’t see my escape…

      2. It is as though Steve Ballmer has finally unlocked the Windows “cage” that so many users felt they were trapped in and desperately wanted out. Perhaps tens of millions will recognize that the cage is no longer locked and venture out into the new mobile computing world.

  3. While Microsoft may have committed a “sin” by forcing Metro on Win8 users, it still has an ace up its sleeve. It has legacy Office and Active Directory infrastructure in millions of organizations from coffee shops to Fortune 500 companies. Entire armies of self-taught Word and Excel VBA experts keep those companies running and they are not about to give up on the legacy Office scripts, complex Excel spreadsheets, and T-SQL queries. The worst that can happen to Microsoft is that 20 years from now the majority of corporate IT departments will still be installing Windows 7 on brand new computers and buying Office and BackOffice licenses while workers keep one Windows PC at home to continue office work, so even if Microsoft has no Metro users it would still be making a huge profit.

    1. “The worst that can happen to Microsoft is that 20 years from now the majority of corporate IT departments will still be installing Windows 7 on brand new computers and buying Office and BackOffice licenses…” – Calipenguin

      I agree with the facts as you’ve stated them, Calipenguin, but I disagree with your conclusion. Once things reach a tipping point, change can come very suddenly.

      Look at Nokia. Just two years ago people were laughing at the idea that Nokia could be toppled. Now they’ve gone from the largest phone maker in the world to number 8.

      Look at RIM. Even as their empire crumbled, pundits assured me that government and business would never turn their backs on the keyboards and the security that RIM provided.

      Look at Palm. They dominated PDAs. Then in a heartbeat…they were gone.

      If Microsoft does not extend it’s reach into tablets and phones, they will be suddenly shut out of the future of computing. And if Windows has no presence in mobile, suddenly the Windows’ compatibility-driven desktop monopoly will turn into a liability. Why use an operating system on your desktop that has no counterpart in mobile when you mostly work in mobile all…day…long?

      We’ll see. But don’t be so very sure that Microsoft’s personal computing monopoly is immune from danger. I never thought that the Berlin Wall would fall…and it seemed to have happened overnight. Things change. And they often change quite unexpectedly and quite suddenly.

      1. Strangely, I agree with both FalKirk and Calipenguin.

        It is easy to underestimate the tremendous advantage Microsoft derives from its entrenched status in the enterprise. The installations simply are not going to go away for many years. And the annuity revenue streams they produce provide Microsoft with the two things its needs very badly right now, time and money. In a sense, it’s position is similar to that of IBM in the 90s, though less dire. IBM was able to use the cash flowing from its entrenched businesses to buy time and finance a top-to-bottom transformation.

        But Microsoft must also make an all-out effort to succeed in the mobile businesses that it has until now largely ignored. The Surface and its software and services ecosystem is a very importsant step in this direction. Each of the components may be flawed in its own way, but this is a huge step in the right direction. Unlike RIM and Nokia, it has seen the danger, probably in time. (Poor Palm is a different story. It didn’t lack for vision, but never had the financial resources to execute.)

        It also helps that Microsoft’s rivals have their own glaring flaws. Google still seems terribly unfocused and geeky. Apple, for all its genius at hardware and device software still seems baffled by cloud services and unable to see beyond a homogeneous world of all-Apple end points.

        Microsoft has big problems and I do question whether it has the right leadership to solve them. But it also has tremendous advantages.

        1. “IBM [went through] a top-to-bottom transformation.” And the man who made that happen was Louis Gerstner. But I don’t see Microsoft doing the same, because Steve Ballmer is not Louis Gerstner, and Microsoft’s board seems as committed to him as they are to the name Windows. Neither the person or the name are the best choice for the future of the company.

      2. Once things reach a tipping point, change can come very suddenly.

        This is a point far too many tech pundits gloss over. Microsoft’s cash cows could dry up far rapidly than most people realise. Add to that the fact that many of Microsoft’s efforts are funded by these cash cows, a significant loss of revenue could cause a cascade of losses across all their divisions.

      3. Well stated and brings to mind one of Yogi Berra’s less well-known quotes, “The future ain’t what it used to be…”

      4. Once things reach a tipping point, change can come very suddenly.

        Microsoft is still a business organized around a 1990s business model. They seem to have no understanding of doing business in the 21st century. They are still trying to find the “cheese”, to mix metaphors, they are always skating to where the puck is not where it will be when they get there.

  4. I don’t know why the hell people keep missing this point and I always have to state it at multiple places. Surface with vertical touch display = Gorilla arm! You can use it for brief periods like ATMs but prolongue usage will kill you! Given that it kills the “touch revolution” on Windows; and thanks to weird hybrid of Desktop + Tiles you will have uncomfortable zones on you “Browse to open” dialogues.
    Now given the Gorilla arm effect + tiny close buttons to mess with in desktop mode my question is pretty simple, why not make a separate OS that tightly integrates with Windows 7? Yes keep it touch, keep it Metro, and strong integration but don’t Efffing mess my Desktop!
    I love the Apple approach on this, iOS separate OS no mess! Gives you tight integration. Plus also notice since the Lion how beautifully they inspired some really effective parts applicable on Desktop OS. Totally awesome! They didn’t shipped Macbooks with touch screen, they know there darn moves! Microsoft right now sounds like set of excited technology enthusiast, not UX people!

    1. I agree, and I point I have been making, and I made in my column today here at our site on the Surface, is that converging the OS will come with compromises. Comprises at the expense of the best PC experience and the best tablet experience.

      I would rather see companies innovate on these two computing mode difference rather than converge them.

  5. Everyone is making such a big deal out of this. I’ve used the consumer preview and RTM version. It really isn’t all that different and has a few nice new features about it. Metro really isn’t that bad. If you have a decent trackpad, you can do gestures on it. Dare I say this author is a Mac fan? I mean, how is this any different than selecting from the billions of Android products out there? They seem to be doing just fine. How’s that UK apology working out for ya?

    1. “Dare I say this author is a Mac fan?” – George

      George, I didn’t criticize Window 8 in any way. My point was that the user interface and the hardware requirements for Windows 8 were so different from previous versions of Windows that Windows users – like the Netflix users I described above – were going to have to step back and decide whether they wanted upgrade. And when you force existing customers to re-evaluate, they often choose to opt-out our leave the system entirely.

      My article was not so much about Windows 8 as it was about Microsoft’s decision to force their existing customers to make difficult upgrade choices.

  6. I enjoyed the previous comments but I just want a PC which works reliably. Unfortunately my old PC failed to meet even this humble goal anymore and I needed to buy a new PC on the day that Windows 8 launched. As a result I was given no real choice about which OS I used. I have deleted the blatantly commercial bits, pinned ‘traditional’ windows screens to the Start page for some applications so I use the new Windows tiles to access everything that I use. There are several annoying features (I too loathe the bland Aps tiles and the buried shutdown) and several things that I can’t make work properly but I am quickly learning and fixes will doubtless come for those problems which are not solely down to my incompetence. My verdict on Windows 8? So far it has worked very nicely for me.

    1. I think that many, many people will follow in your footsteps. It used to be that almost EVERYBODY had to follow the Windows upgrade path. Today with the availability of the iPad and the Mac, some may choose another path.

  7. Interesting article. Of course it can allow people to re-evaluate. There are a couple of things though that are still very much in Microsoft favour at the moment. Mobile tablets still can’t replace desktops/laptops for grunt work. They are too much of a pain to use. It might make some move to apple or Unix desktops but apple is soooo expensive and Unix still has a geek feel to it.

    The other thing working for Microsoft is that when it is setup metro is great for non computer users. It looks intuitive. I have just upgraded an old xp machine to windows 8 for my wife and she loves it. It boots in 24 seconds, and she can see a great big tile for the things she really wants to do. Now if at some point in the future she wants a tablet, what is she most likely to head for? Something that looks familiar and she understands (or thinks she does!).

    Windows 8 feels unfamiliar to me – but if it develops then I would be very tempted!

    1. “There are a couple of things though that are still very much in Microsoft favour…” – Will

      Agreed. Most Netflix users opted to stay with Netflix. Most Windows users will opt to stay with Windows. But Netflix lost a million users in the transition that they would not have otherwise lost. How many Windows user might be lost in this transition not that user have the other options (especially non-Microsoft tablets) available to them?

  8. Brilliant. I will be watching to see just how right you are. In my on case, I recently took the “plunge” of switching (more or less) from Mac OS X to iPad 3 (I’m a professional author, video director/ editor, and teacher of those things) and surprisingly, I don’t use my MacBook for anything any more. But I know that people I’ve tried to wean off windows onto Mac have always said “I just don’t want to learn a whole new system.” I’ll bet you’re right though—a LOT of people will be saying, “If I have to learn a new system anyway . . .”

    1. As a professional author and video editor, what do you use for those things? Surely not an iPad, which, great as it is for many things, is a poor tool for writing and an impossible one for video.

  9. Again, Techpinions hits the nail squarely on the head. Few major companies seem to have a greater ability to “shoot themselves in the foot” than Microsoft. The only question now is whether they put their foot in their mouth before pulling the trigger.

  10. You sound like your an apple fan, not that that is an issue. But if you already own a computer, easier to learn a newer version of an OS than buy a new system that will restrict your OS choice to one. Remember there are more than Microsoft and Apple out there. Unix, Linux

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