I’ve been thinking about writing a post about Windows 8 for quite some time, but I decided to let the much-anticipated tide of mockery and schadenfreude wash over the technology landscape first.
Sure enough, Windows 8 has been lambasted in the technology press, mainstream press, analyst community, stock market, and elsewhere.
Although I think it’s a red herring, who would have predicted the backlash over people losing their Start button? The reaction is symptomatic of a release that simply pushes users too far beyond their comfort zone without offering enough reward in usability terms. Everywhere you look, cutting analysis explores all the ways that Microsoft’s latest “bet-the-farm” gamble on Windows 8 has failed.
Some argue that software developers, in particular, are bitterly disappointed with the direction taken by Windows 8 — their reluctance to ditch all their “hard-won .NET, Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) expertise to work natively on Windows 8″ is well documented in this scathing ZDNet article titled Five reasons why Windows 8 has failed.
At InnerWorkings, we too have noticed a much slower adoption of Windows 8 developer training than would be expected for such a massive shift in the software development landscape. But it’s fair to say that all major shifts are slow to work their way through the enterprise software food chain, and we’ve seen this technology adoption movie many times before.
Nobody needs to be reminded of the Windows Vista debacle, swiftly followed by the much more impressive Windows 7 OS. In fact, therein lies one of the main problems for Windows 8 (aside from the serious design over usability flaws exposed by Jacob Nielsen) — Windows 7 is such a robust and powerful desktop operating system and many users simply don’t see the need to switch yet.
Windows 8 also represents an extremely ambitious attempt to break free from the past and move all users, kicking and screaming, into a touch-enabled environment across multiple devices. I’ve heard many people comment that Windows 8 works well in smaller devices like smart phones and tablets, but its sparse tile-driven UI induces usability headaches in desktop environments and larger screens.
So how does Microsoft deal with some of these harsh realities surrounding Windows 8? Let us not forget that this company doesn’t give up without a fight, particularly when the future of its market share and influence is at stake. If we’ve learned anything from Microsoft in the past 2 decades, it’s that the company is adept at recovering from limp product launches and early adoption bombs to build a more credible presence in the market. I expect no less from Microsoft on this occasion.
So the emerging question now is how will Microsoft recover from the damage inflicted upon business users, software developers, and consumers by the first release of Windows 8? The drumbeat has already started for Windows Blue, a substantial update that will address many of the pain points associated with Windows 8. Many people feel that Microsoft cannot turn back, while others say the company must retreat and regroup.
It’s tempting to spend a lot of energy wondering what Microsoft was thinking when building Windows 8 and there is no shortage of theories. Did they really want to kill the desktop? Did they overlook the learning curve, as indicated recently by Tammy Reller, head of marketing and finance for the Windows business. Journalists are tripping over themselves to decide which Steve is to blame for the current situation, Ballmer or Sinofsky.
It seems likely that Windows 8 will be acknowledged as a bitter disappointment for Microsoft, notwithstanding the news that over 100 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold since launch. Given Microsoft’s enormous ecosystem of partners and resellers, those numbers don’t surprise me although they do point to some contradictions between the public reception of Windows 8 and its actual reach as a new operating system.
The expectation is that a public preview of Windows Blue will be available by late June 2013, so we can expect some significant roll-backs on particularly annoying features and areas where the envelope was pushed too hard or in the wrong direction. As Mary Jo Foley points out in this excellent article titled With Windows Blue, Microsoft may (finally) do the right thing, listening to your customers is not a sign of weakness.
My intuition tells me that Windows Blue will go a long way towards addressing the ill will that Windows 8 has created in the marketplace, and Microsoft will use its massive reach and global install base of 1.4B users to perform another “Houdini act”. To kill an education metaphor, Windows 8 presents Microsoft with hard lessons but I have little doubt that they are being learned.