Friday, September 09, 2011

Windows 8 Isn't for Desktops

Windows 8 Tablet Concept/Mock-upWith BUILD just around the corner, opinions are running high about what next week's Windows 8 unveil will bring. But here's a thought:

Even if Windows 8 is the most awesomest OS you've ever seen, who's going to buy it?

Of course, you, dear geek reader, don't count. You, like me, like to live at the cutting (sometimes bleeding) edge of everything. So outside of developers and geeks, who is the customer for Windows 8?

It Isn't Business

We can safely assume Microsoft's bread-and-butter business customer is not going drive record sales of Windows 8. For starters, much of what's new in Windows 8 is focusing on consumer value and experiences. The new immersive tile UI is cool, but it's probably not what a business wants to put in-front of its call-center/task-driven/Office-addicted employees. In fact, many businesses still would be content with Windows XP if it wasn't now (or almost now) unsupported and unavailable on new PCs, so even the modestly improved "Classic Shell" in Win8 (i.e. Win7-like explorer) offers little incentive to upgrade.

In fact, Windows XP plays a big role in the problem facing Windows 8.

As reported today by Gartner, businesses are suffering "upgrade fatigue" having just finished major upgrades to Windows 7. Due to the utter disaster that was Windows Vista, most businesses skipped that version and upgraded directly from Windows XP to Windows 7. In fact, by Gartner's reporting, 80 percent of companies upgraded from XP to Windows 7. That's an amazing accomplishment for Win7, but a big problem for Win8.

What has Microsoft inadvertently taught companies? You can upgrade your OS every 10 years. No need to incur the pain and costs of upgrading every 2 to 3 years as business used to do in the 90s.

Add to that the slowing hardware cycles in business (which often help usher-in new OSs) and increased push to virtualize the desktop, and it's clear business is not likely to help Windows 8.

It's Isn't Consumers

So if business isn't the customer, it must be consumers, right? Microsoft certainly seems to hope so with a big emphasis on consumer features in Windows 8. But do consumers (non-geek) really buy Windows anymore? Do they buy any operating system, for that matter?

Unlike 1995, when people stood in line to buy copies of Windows 95, the OS in 2011 is a commodity. It's an invisible layer that just comes with a PC, phone, or tablet. With constant crashing and BSODs a thing of the relative past, people have forgotten about the plumbing layer that makes their PC tick.

No, consumers don't buy Windows. They buy new computers, and an OS comes with the computer. But unfortunately for Microsoft, the sales of new computers are starting to fall-off, too. So the primary well through which new versions of Windows are pushed to consumers is starting to dry-up, with the consumer flocking to "cool" Apple hardware and tablets.

And like business, the family PC is lasting longer than it used to these days. Gaming has largely moved to the console (for which Microsoft is getting its share via the Xbox), and browsing the web, checking email, or creating a Office doc just doesn't need more megahertz.

Tablets or Bust

If the neither business or consumer customers are interested in buying an OS, then it's fair to conclude that Windows 8 is not for desktops. Sure, it will trickle-out to desktops via new computer purchases and the lagging corporate giant finally upgrading from XP, but the success of Windows 8 will not come from its traditional home on PCs and laptops.

For Microsoft and Windows 8, it's tablets or bust.

Think the new Metro Tile UI looks a little crazy on a desktop? Fine. Microsoft doesn't care, because it has clearly been designed to make the Windows tablet experience more exciting. You already know what you're going to get (and likely what you want) on a desktop with Windows 8: a lightly improved version of Windows 7. But on a tablet, everyone is ready to be wowed with something radical (and not in the deflating "WOW Starts Now" Vista sense).

That said, consumers still don't buy operating systems.

In this era of tablets, shoppers do not go in search of an "iOS tablet" or an "Android tablet" (see: Google Buys Motorola). Instead they buy the iPad, the Motorola Zoom, or the Samsung Galaxy. They buy the experience, software + hardware.

Who Will Control Microsoft's Fate?

Based on this complete analysis, the success of Windows 8 is going to come down to the hardware Microsoft can bring to market for Windows-powered tablets.

Traditionally, with the exception of Xbox, Microsoft leaves hardware manufacturing to partners. And so far, there's no reason to think Microsoft won't continue to rely on this model with Windows 8 and tablets. But given the unbelievable importance to Microsoft of a successful Windows 8 tablet, which will depend in large part on hardware, is Microsoft ready to leave its fate in someone else's hands?

Look left or look right and Microsoft's peer competitors are all controlling software and hardware:

  • Apple with iOS and the iPad
  • Google with Android and (acquired) Motorola hardware
  • Amazon with custom Kindle Android and assumed tablet hardware

Is it time for Microsoft to pivot and take control of the entire experience? Will Microsoft follow the Google model and acquire a major hardware partner (I wonder who that would be…) while still licensing the OS to the remaining partners?

If there's one announcement not widely rumored for BUILD, I would predict it will revolve around this very issue. And since Microsoft isn't likely to depend on the same partners that have failed to help Windows Phone, maybe BUILD will bring the introduction of the Windows Tablet (Designed by Microsoft in Washington. Assembled in China.).

We'll find out in a few days. Either way, Windows 8 isn't for desktops, it's for tablets.


Anonymous said...

Can't agree with a single thing. Just lost 5 minutes of my life reading this!

Anonymous said...

Agreed, not sure why anyone would buy this but its looking like another vista in the making..maybe worse. NO THANK YOU

CanuckConsultant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D'Arcy from Winnipeg said...

I disagree that Windows 8 won't be for business. The user experience/user interface model of mouse/keyboard isn't necessarily the best one in all situations. Having a true made-for-touch OS means that new types of applications can be written for industries that can take advantage of it.

They've also showed that you can still install more traditional desktop applications (i.e. Excel, Word), so it doesn't appear that applications will require the Metro look/feel.

Consumers will adopt it in much the same way they adopted Win 7 - either through cheap upgrades or purchasing new computers with it pre-installed. And if the Windows tablets hit the right price point, it'll have a great adoption.

From a business perspective, I'm really excited for Build to see what type of new applications can be dreamt up - Windows 8 like anything else will rely on the 3rd party dev community to determine its success.


Ben Hayat said...

There is a wealth of truth and reality in this article. If you can't see it, you need to take the blinders off.

Todd Anglin said...

@Anon1- Actually, you wasted 5 min and 30 seconds since you took the time to post a comment. Glad you enjoyed the post!

@Anon2- I wouldn't say Win8 is anything like Vista (which failed on technical execution). Rather, Win8 risks "failing" by coming to market with the world changed around it. The OS landscape has changed *a lot*, even since Win7, so Win8 is going to have to blaze new trails.

@Happy Canadian- I think we agree, but with subtle differences. For Win8 to find its way to business, consumers will need to adopt the tablet. Consumerism of the enterprise is very real right now, so Win8 tablets need to be "pulled" (not pushed) in to business.

I that can happen, Win8 will be successful to the degree that it needs to be for the future of Microsoft.

@Ben- Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Interesting view even though I do not agree. Windows 8 is beyond the tablet with ARM CPU support and better kernel features. I know these are not sexy but they will get Windows on all devices and across all platforms. The key to this all is that we will have one kernel to develop against for everything from phones to the XBox on our TV's. We will have the ability to develop great UX without the issues of different OS like int he past with Windows CE.

Todd Anglin said...

Hello Mr. Woody-

Actually, I think we agree. Your point is an extension of mine- Windows 8 is about non-traditional PC form factors. I think Win8 must be successful on tablets *first* to give it the momentum it needs to really travel to TVs and other embedded devices. But either way, we agree that the success of Win8 has to come from A) unifying the Windows dev experience (across devices), and B) finding success outside of the PC.

We'll chat more next week at BUILD, I'm sure. :)

GREENtag said...

Windows 8...hmmm. I feel that Windows 8 would be more of a spaceship navigation mainframe or software. I would rather walk up to my craft, press a button on my hand or smile at my spaceship and with facial and expressions it picks up I am there and does a biometric scan to pick up my mood and open the door and welcome me inside and then provide me with a visual interface to navigate to my next destination on my everyday or weekend business or pleasure. This sounds more like Windows 8 to me. Not a desktop software program. If they made me a software developer and given me the money and privs I would start a startup necessary to implement that, and it would take less than a year. I wish they would take me on on this challenge. All I need is 500,000,000.00 (five hundred million euros). I live in South Africa, my name is Jacques Mostert, and I am building a device to filter my drinking water because our water is dirty over here.

Anonymous said...

I keep showing the Windows 8 Demo on YouTube to people and the first thing they say is "I want that." Many people I talk to have held off getting a tablet because they want windows running on the tablet (so they can run Office and some of their other apps). I think Microsoft is evolving Windows the way it needs to be evolved.

Anonymous said...

While my crystal ball is far too encrusted with the coprolites of dinosaur OS's of the past to show me what's going to happen at Build ...

What about the fact that the IPad (no, don't own one, nary a single Apple in my hardware orchard), is being widely adapted by business users ?

I hope to be surprised in at least some ways in the next week.

Bill Woo

synp said...

I disagree about tablets. People do buy iPads, but as an alternative, they buy an Android tablet, not a Galaxy or a Xoom. The Android tablets are interchangeable, similar to Windows-running PCs. That is why the manufacturers (other than Apple) make almost no money on them (or on smartphones)

A tablet running Windows, whether it's manufactured by HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer or Microsoft itself would have a very different experience from a iOS or Android-based one. The challenge for Microsoft is to make this experience something people will like.

Ernest Cook said...

I picked up on the trend the author refers to as "total experience" point before this article. Let me add one more that may not be worthy of note or...HP/WebOS.

In the beginning, we NEEDED a wild wild west computer experience and Mr. Gates and his team knew that. By offering the glue that would hold all those innovating vendors together an empire was born. Over the years this wild market has driven better solutions to the point that hardware vendors are not really innovating much these days; that is computer components have evolved so much as to be a commodity now.

IMHO it all adds up to Microsoft needing to invest deeply in a company so that they can ensure a perfect unified experience like my Xbox is today. My question is can Nokia produce an innovative, reliable hardware platform for the next generation?

mtcoder said...

windows 8 has tons and tons of goodies in it for the enterprise, not to mention the whole virtual client pre built into the core. Not as an add on layer. The world isn't dropping windows as an OS, they are dropping desktop machines and going into server and virtual machines. Honestly I have even done it at home. Wife runs a virtual machine off my desktop machine. Also the metro UI slides away to show standard aero desktop, for standard applications.

Also with it running across all platform types, developers are drooling (with some napkins ready if they screw it up) for a unified OS. Build once deploy to phone, desktop, tablet, xbox. Not to mention with built in support for kinetic your giving that power to all of those devices. Which used by developers will create hugely popular applications. Heck channel 9 just did a proof of concept, with using your windows phone as a controller for a desktop game. Worked just fine, using kinetic for other controls. Just possible ways to really improve device interpolability. Add on windows main selling point, of the enterprise security layer, google and apple don't have and you give enterprise's fun devices that are still controllable and manageable.

Anonymous said...

What a completely stupid article. I hate these articles that pop up on CodeProject that are controversial for controversy's sake. Apparently you spent zero time reading any Windows 8 dev blogs, or you would see that W8 really is a "big tent." Sure, the tablet/consumer features are getting the most buzz, but it's got a ton of cool crap under the hood for everybody. How much more enterprise friendly can you get than built-in Hyper-V support?? My entire dev team can't wait for this.

Todd Anglin said...

@Grumpy Anon- Only thing worse than stupid articles are stupid comments. Fortunately, your comment is great.

I actually agree, but think you miss the point. I never suggest that Win8 isn't *actually* good for Enterprise. Its definitely got some good Enterprise features. My point with business is that they *JUST* upgraded to Win7, and according to Gartner (not my opinion), they are not interested in upgrading again.

You must get your head out of the dev blogs and look at the bigger picture. Win8 is cool, sure, but there are other factors that are going to shape its success.

Anonymous said...

All depends on if MS supports windows 7 for the next 5 years or so and makes it available.
There are still a lot of XP shops limping along and a long ways to go before the win 7 marketshare surpasses and replaces XP. So that is not a problem as long as win 7 is still available and i"m sure it will be.
Win 8 will have to win over the retail consumer market. The big advantage is you get a really great tablet/pad OS along with a desktop OS, no need for 2 devices.
iPads and android devices have not replaced the laptop/desktop yet, they are accesories or additional devices. But it has allowed the buyers to keep their laptops/desktops longer because they simply don't use them as much.
But use them they do.
With win7 and win8 out there, MS stands a great chance to boost their marketshare.

Todd Anglin said...

@Anon- Market share of the PC is a problem because *everyone already has a version of Windows they're happy with.*

For a long time, Microsoft's biggest Windows and Office competitor has been Microsoft. Older versions, to be precise. In many ways, that's what tanked Vista. Thus my argument that Win8 must do very well on non-PC devices to avoid repeating Vista history.

Anonymous said...

I have a different view when it comes to PC sales and laptops.. There is still a huge market here (India) for PCs and laptops. MS can still push it thru to the Consumer sector in my view.

Also, ipads and gaming consoles are still not a popular consumer comodity over here. PC sales is goin to be consistent with present level for atleast the next decade.

Todd Anglin said...

@Anon from India- Great point! I hadn't fully considered emerging markets.

That said, MSFT traditionally sells lower-cost versions of Windows in those markets (see:, so I'm not sure if strong sales in India or China can really turn-in the kind of numbers Win8 needs to be judged a success.

Still, great point. Emerging markets could be a big boost for Win8, especially with its ability to run on cheaper ARM processors.

Anonymous said...

"If the neither business or consumer customers are interested in buying an OS, then it's fair to conclude that Windows 8 is not for desktops."

Non sequitur.

They weren't interested in buying an OS in the eighties and nineties, customers just wanted a PC with a decent OS preinstalled. That price was added to the hardware, and the rest is history.

Even Apple didn't outpace them on the desktop in all those years :)

Todd Anglin said...

@Anon Sequitur- True and not true.

Read the linked article in the post and do some research. In the 90s, consumers and business were refreshing OSs much more frequently. People lined-up to buy copies of Windows 95, 98, and XP.

You don't see that kind of OS awareness or excitement today. OS is a commodity layer today. And there is a growing consumer detachment from Windows as they recognize other OSs exist and can edit their Office docs.

So it's a new game for Win8. Even if it's a cool OS, it's going to have to find new ways to sell.

Anonymous said...

Is there any proof of concept that windows 8 is architecture based ..? 2)In OS competition with open source in market, windows cannot afford to limit its users .... get the point , 3)For tablets it has to come with a whole new innovative thing .... enough said !

Daniel Sanscartier said...

I think it is about time that Microsoft does something with the Desktop. The Desktop has been a barren wasteland fit only for showing stretched out pictures of your kids (or the latest the car or pin-up girl you are drooling over). For more than 20 years, the Windows Desktop has been nothing more than the graphical equivalent of the flashing DOS prompt.

It is true that adoption in Fortune 1000 companies is slow when it comes to new flavors of Windows. Most of the companies I work for are still using Windows XP for workstations. Only servers get OS updates. However, having a business OS than can run on PCs, tablets, cell phones (and game consoles) can only help adoption in the long run.