Whither Windows 8?

| April 5, 2013


Ashton’s Law: Whenever someone tries to do something for you, they usually end up doing it to you.Alan Ashton (co-founder of WordPerfect), 1974

Alan made that statement in the first computer science course I ever took (CS 131 in the fall of 1974, at Brigham Young University); it remains one of the most important maxims I have learned in nearly 40 years of software engineering. He didn’t term it “Ashton’s Law”; I did, and have referenced as such ever since.

Let me start off by saying that this is not a review of Windows 8. I’ve seen nothing in Windows 8 that has compelled me to install it on any of my Wintel systems (1 laptop, 3 desktops, and a server). All my systems currently run Windows 7 Pro 64-bit, except for the server, which runs Windows Home Server 2011. I was happy with XP, thought Vista was atrocious, and felt Win7 was a great improvement over both. To date, I have avoided buying a newer laptop or desktop precisely because the ones I’ve looked at come with Win8 pre-installed. That itself is feedback: I see Win8 as something to be avoided, not embraced.

Most of what I have read on Windows 8 has served to reinforce that impression, and the evidence is starting to accumulate that I am not alone in that opinion. Here’s the opening of an article that came out today by Louis Ramirez from Real Clear Technology:

Despite Microsoft’s best efforts, it seems that Windows 8 isn’t meeting expectations. According to research firm Net Applications, Microsoft’s latest OS hasn’t even been able to match sales of Vista (which, if you recall, was a major fail for the company). Making matters worse, Microsoft has a long line of unhappy manufacturers – including HP, ASUS, Fujitsu, and Samsung – upset with Windows 8’s failure to revitalize an already-sluggish PC market.

In response, Microsoft is discounting Windows 8 licenses to its original equipment manufacturing (OEM) partners; licensing fees have fallen from $120 to just $30. And while the discount is intended to help move 11″ ultraportables, our deal data suggests that the cut – in addition to the low adoption rate – is affecting prices on all Ivy Bridge Windows 8 systems, including mainstream 15″ configurations.

Perhaps even more telling are comments from a major Win8 app developer that were offered in defense of Windows 8:

Paul Kim, Ratio’s CEO, said part of the reason Windows 8 hasn’t done better so far is that many end users haven’t yet seen the full benefit of Microsoft’s approach.

“There’s a value to using a touch screen and a keyboard at the same time that society hasn’t truly understood because they haven’t immersed themselves in those scenarios that well,” Kim said, describing how he uses his Surface RT on the plane. . . .

However, Whitman added that he is confident Windows 8 will reach a critical mass. ”I think it’s just a slower takeoff,” he said.

First, the comment about tablets and keyboards is just silly, not to mention wrong. Tablets with keyboard have been around pretty much as long as tablets have; I’ve been using a keyboard with my iPad for 2 1/2 years, and do so particularly on planes. Similarly, there are plenty of keyboards for Android tablets. It is likely one of the first accessories purchased by any tablet owner who plans to use her or his tablet for work-related purposes.

Second, when you have to argue for the lack of understanding and/or appreciation of your potential customer base as a reason for slow adoption, you’re already in big trouble. Apple’s sold 120+ million iPads in 3 years; Microsoft has sold about 1% of that — about 1.5 million units — in roughly 6 months, or 18% of the same period. (Apple also sold 1 million iPads in its first month and sold 3 million in a single weekend last fall).

Third, all that I’ve read suggests that Win8 — as per Ashton’s Law — gets in the way some of the key aspects of Win7 that I use and rely upon the most. Why would I pay — both in terms of money and in terms of adjusting my working habits — to install an operating system that hinders me, rather than helps me?

Fourth, the UI is ugly. Here’s a quick test: how many OS, tablet, and smartphone manufacturers do you think are going to seek to imitate the look and feel of the Windows 8 user interface? By contrast, how many have sought (and still seek) to imitate the various incarnations of the Macintosh and iOS user interfaces, even at the risk of litigation?

I am relieved to find that many manufacturers continue to sell some laptops and desktops with Windows 7 pre-installed, and I may well go that route when I start to replace some of my aging systems. On the other hand, I may bite the bullet and finally start buying Apple hardware instead, with Win7 running under Parallels when I need it. Not the result that Microsoft was hoping for with Windows 8, but the one they have brought upon themselves nevertheless.  ..bruce..



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Category: Information Technology, Main, Microsoft

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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