Windows 8: Let's Not Plan The Funeral Yet
Even in tech time, it seems silly to sound the death knell so soon on such a significant overhaul. Did you really expect instant success?
Windows exec Tami Reller told the crowd at the Credit Suisse 2012 Annual Technology Conference that Microsoft has already sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the first month of general availability. Moreover, upgrades to Windows 8 are moving more rapidly than upgrades to Windows 7 -- the most popular operating system ever -- did in its first month on the market.
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I find this news oddly refreshing. When I mentioned to my wife the various rumors and reports that Windows 8 might be DOA, she responded, "Really? Didn't it just come out?"
Yes, it did. But there's a Hollywood box office mentality when it comes to high-profile technology launches -- if people aren't immediately lining up for your latest-and-greatest, then it's a flop. I think that's misguided. Windows customers -- me included -- aren't paying 12 bucks for two hours of entertainment. We're buying software, and in many cases, hardware, too, that we'll rely on for at least a couple of years. (Or, if you're still running XP, many years.) What's the rush?
Especially for smaller businesses, it doesn't usually make much sense to pay the early adoption tax. When I recently laid out my reasons for passing on Windows 8 at launch, I noted that if I did upgrade at some point down the line, the decision would likely be motivated by a hardware purchase. Much of that hardware is still on the assembly line, and what is already out there is relatively expensive. It stands to reason that the hardware -- not to mention the apps and underlying OS -- will improve with time, too.
While I'm just a single user, organizations that upgrade to Windows 8 likewise need to consider a corresponding hardware refresh -- touch PCs and tablets, in particular -- for an optimal deployment. And hardware aside, there's the basic fact that Windows 8's mobile-minded UI requires most users to reset their traditional PC habits.
In other words, if Windows 8 is going to succeed with businesses, consumers, or both, it's going to take a while. The problem isn't necessarily with Windows 8 and the changes it ushers in. The problem is that "it's going to take a while" isn't a popular saying in the technology business, or in any business these days. There's something to be said for urgency -- but not if it's accompanied by myopia.
Perhaps it's naive to chafe at the go-big-or-go-home impatience that's so pervasive in the industry. Shareholders aren't philanthropists, after all. (Even Bill Gates is reputed, perhaps apocryphally, to have once dressed down an executive in a meeting: "Why don't you just give up your options and join the Peace Corps?") But I'd counter that it would be downright unrealistic to have expected Windows 8 to become a massive sensation overnight.
In a sense, 40 million is a small number in Microsoft terms; the company has sold 630 million Windows 7 licenses worldwide. Some of the not-so-rosy analyst reports have no doubt spawned tense meetings in Redmond conference rooms on both the consumer and business fronts. Microsoft still has a lot of catching up to do on mobile devices; Apple and Google have made the most of their head starts. While Microsoft bragged that the Windows Store opened with more apps than any other app marketplace at launch -- and has subsequently doubled the inventory -- it has a long way to go to match what's on offer for iOS or Android devices. That will be a major hindrance with consumers in the short term. Indeed, revered tech reviewer Walt Mossberg just listed a lack of apps as one of two strikes against Nokia's Lumia 920, which runs Windows Phone 8.
Windows 8 faces challenges in the corporate world, too -- a world where Windows has made the cash register ring millions of times over and continues to dominate PC market share. It's certainly plausible that Microsoft will need to issue a "Windows Classic" or Windows 8.5 version to foster significant adoption by businesses, many of whom are still working their way up to Windows 7.
But 40 million signals that it might be a bit soon to start digging a plot for Windows 8 alongside Vista in the technology graveyard. So Windows 8 wasn't an instant blockbuster. So what? It could still be a success story. It just might take a while.
Upgrading isn't the easy decision that Win 7 was. We take a close look at Server 2012, changes to mobility and security, and more in the new Here Comes Windows 8 issue of InformationWeek. Also in this issue: Why you should have the difficult conversations about the value of OS and PC upgrades before discussing Windows 8. (Free registration required.)