When Paul Thurrott speaks, Windows users listen. From time to time, Paul breaks out in a fit of unmoderated honesty. When that happens, everyone should listen. In a recent piece, he said some things that got the attention of the entire tech press, including me. The information within is not particularly surprising. It is the same stuff I have been saying all along. What is surprising is that he is now saying it, and that is a huge problem for Microsoft. When one of their most influential supporters starts sounding like me, Microsoft is in big trouble. This is the first of two quotes I will highlight
But Threshold is more important than any specific updates. Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That's a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.
Microsoft's problems have many names, but one of the worst problems it has goes by the name, iPad. The iPad was the first, credible, touch-based device people saw as a PC replacement, that didn't run Windows or Office. Microsoft's initial response is that nothing that omits Windows and Office could ever be a threat. They watched in horror as the iPad started eating into the undisputed marketshare of Windows PCs. By the time it dawned on them that something had to be done, it was probably already too late. Their reaction was knee-jerk, uncoordinated, and desperate.
Windows 8 tried to make PCs look like tablets, and tablets like PCs. Even now, they cannot tell the difference between the two. However, a billion, traditional PC users do know the difference. They are not adopting Windows 8 with any enthusiasm. Windows 8 was an arrogant, cynical approach to the problem. Having tried and failed many times in the past, Microsoft decided to shove touch computing down the throats of traditional users, whether or not they wanted it. They didn't. What they wanted were windowed apps that they knew how to open and close, and move about the screen. They wanted familiar menus that helped them navigate the system. They wanted clamshell laptops that could be used in the lap. In short, people who wanted a traditional PC, wanted a traditional PC. Microsoft was so focused on catching Apple, they took their eyes off their faithful customers. That was a mistake that might cost them the business.
But don't take my word for it. Paul Thurrott also had this to say:
In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It's an acknowledgment that what came before didn't work, and didn't resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn't have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there's no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.
What we know about the next Windows operating system is that its two biggest, user-facing advances will be to enable the new style of apps to be run on the desktop as traditional, windowed applications, and the full return of the Start menu. In other words, Windows 9 will be Windows 7. Microsoft will have to come to grips with the fact that people do not view them as creative or innovative. When Microsoft tries that, their customers rebel. People buy Windows PCs because they are a certain type of tool that is good for certain types of jobs for certain people. That's all it will ever be. Microsoft can be that and live, or try to be Apple and die.
In the meantime, Microsoft is losing its base. Enterprise customers will not touch Windows 8 with a ten-foot pole. Consumers who just want a simple, traditional, cheap PC will not pay the extra money for a touchscreen on a PC they would rather use with a mouse and keyboard. Touch gestures are meaningless to them. Those who want to spend a little extra for a really nice machine buy Macs. Microsoft will never dominate the high-end market. They spent too many years promoting things like $250 netbooks. People who want great tablet experiences buy iPads. Microsoft is also waking up to the reality that people who buy iPads neither want nor need Office. With Windows 8, Microsoft loaded up both barrels and aimed one at their traditional customers, and the other at their own feet. It is hard to recover from wounds like that.