A few years ago, long before Vista hit the market, I made a few predictions: 1, that few people will buy it; 2, that it will be a despised product and 3, that I will never install it. It’s 2012 and even Microsoft admitted^ that Vista was a failure. Also, all my predictions turned out to be right.
Now I’m back with a new prediction: Windows 8 will disappoint the most important market it has: the PC market. And it will do so, in spite of the fact that it is…
A Great Product…
Unlike Windows Vista, which sucked/sucks/will suck, Windows 8 is great. It builds on the already solid foundations of Windows 7, and brings improvements in many areas (resources management, better integration with other devices, connectivity, etc.).
Since Vista, Microsoft has learned its lesson, and has been increasingly interested in community feedback. Beta releases, press releases, demos, the works. This yielded valuable information which the software engineers in Redmond used wisely.
On various websites and blogs, high ranking employees of the software mammoth praised certain aspects of Windows 8, by discussing some really nice features of the upcoming operating system.
Even if architecturally, W8 isn’t too different from W7, Microsoft managed to make it look like a major evolution. The company also continued to enhance the developer experience in their products ecosystem: cohesion, examples, documentation and easier deployment across a wide range of devices running Windows operating systems. All this will strengthen the already huge Microsoft developers community.
So if Windows 8 has so much going for it, then why will it be a flop? That’s because it comes…
… At The Wrong Time
Even worse than Windows Vista’s situation, the next version of the operating system will land barely three years after the release of the universally acclaimed Windows 7. Vista came 6 years after Windows XP, and it still wasn’t enough to determine most people to make the jump. XP was obsolete by the time Vista landed, but the new OS sucked so bad that many people (me included) would just not upgrade.
Windows 8 has big shoes to fill. Its predecessor is far from being obsolete and it satisfies everybody’s needs. Amazingly, according to some stats, even now, at the start of 2012, Windows XP is still #1^. This just goes to show how damn hard it is for a new Windows OS to break through the older releases. Now that the PC market is saturated (a subject I’m touching briefly in this other article^), new Windows licenses are even harder to sell.
Fortunately, W8 starts with a clean record – Vista had a lot of (well deserved) bad publicity prior to launch. But in spite of this, many market segments of great importance will simply skip the next Windows release for logical reasons.
Companies, as we all know, are very hard to convince to switch OS licenses, because of the huge costs and logistical issues involved. Most firms who didn’t go Vista, went W7. And they sure as hell won’t go for W8 barely two-three years after upgrading.
Gamers don’t have much to benefit from W8 either since it brings no major DirectX updates. Except for better XBox integration, which most people don’t care about, W8 doesn’t have much appeal to this crowd either.
Last but not least, let’s also not forget that we’re living in times of great economic turmoil. Investing in a new OS license so soon will not seem like a good idea to most folks.
Unification Can Be Dangerous
Ever since they first mentioned ARM, it became obvious that Microsoft is dead-serious about being a worthy contender in the Mobile arena. Most analysts focused on the software giant’s entry in the tablet market, but I think there’s more to it. Hint: Nokia & smartphones.
Microsoft is trying to down-scale W8 just like Google is trying to up-scale Android. Thing is, up-scaling is easier because at least you start from scratch.
The Redmond company’s desire to unify the look & feel of its OS is laudable. Unfortunately, it looks to me like they’re preparing to shoot themselves in the foot: with their too-simple-for-its-own-good Metro UI.
The PC market is the biggest buyer of Windows. So Microsoft keeps singing the Metro UI song to the wrong crowd. Metro is redundant, wasteful and, I think, plain ugly on any display device bigger than 10 inches. Plus, using a mouse negates Metro’s biggest advantage: ease of use on devices with limited input capabilities (touchy stuff, XBox, etc.).
Perhaps Microsoft will be wise and release Windows 8 for Desktops with Metro UI disabled by default. If not, it’s a waste of screen real estate, one that I doubt people will go for. It may be great for touchscreens, but this isn’t what you should name your biggest UI re-haul when addressing the PC market, especially when most of us simply don’t need it.
Microsoft should also be careful when taking radical decisions (such as removing the Start button^), because it was those kind of decisions which contributed to the Vista fiasco. And it is my feeling that W8 will be a radical release, even its redesigned logo^, which caused quite a stir, points to this. Luckily, this time, betas & consumer previews will probably tell Microsoft if the users are ready for such changes or not. Let’s hope they won’t ignore the feedback.
Ultimately, Windows 8 is, at most, just a “nice to have” for our current W7-powered desktops, netbooks and notebooks. As for the number of users upgrading from XP/Vista: it can’t be predicted, and it usually comes in (very small) doses. All this is bad news for Microsoft, because it only leaves tablets & smartphones as the markets with the greatest penetration potential for its new OS.
The problem with this is that tablets & smartphones have very thin profit margins. If you’re Google, you don’t care, because you don’t earn money from selling the OS, but from bringing in the audience to the adverts you’re pushing. If you’re Apple, you don’t care, because you’re not trying to peddle OS licenses to other manufacturers.
But Microsoft is just barely getting itself back on its feet in the Mobile arena from where it was knocked-out in the past (at least) five years. This will require the company to heavily subsidize its OS licenses in order to bring more manufacturers into its fold, and that will shrink its profit margins even more.
Won’t Be As Bad As Vista
This won’t be a repeat of the Vista “disaster”. Windows 8 is a good product and plenty of people will buy it. But I bet that its adoption rate will be way below that of Windows 7, probably somewhere between it and Vista. So Microsoft should prepare for a few tough quarters.
But what’s a great software company to do? Sit around and wait for 2015 to make a splash with a new OS? Of course not! Windows 8 is a step forward, of that, I am convinced. I can only congratulate Microsoft for keeping themselves walking the line and showing us that they still got it.
But, as a conscious buyer, I will wait for Windows 9, or whatever they’ll call it. This is a decision I’m willing to change if something revolutionary happens with the next iteration of my favorite OS. Maybe if they include ReFS in the standard Windows 8 OS^?