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Is Windows 8-Vista Comparison Fair?

Windows 9 rumors spell quick burial of Windows 8. Is this is a flop of Vista proportions?

7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
7 Mistakes Microsoft Made In 2013
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

If you've compared Windows 8 to Vista in the past, come on down and collect your prize. Well, there's not really a prize. Maybe just some righteous self-satisfaction.

What once seemed premature and over-reactive -- comparing Windows 8 to one of the biggest flops in Microsoft's storied history -- seems pretty darn accurate in light of rumors of Windows 9 arriving in 2015. As WinSuperSite.com's Paul Thurrott, who first reported the Windows 9 whispers, wrote: "In some ways, the most interesting thing about [Windows 9] is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista."

Some InformationWeek readers long ago slapped the Vista label on Windows 8 faster than you could say: "Hey, where's the Start button?" Back in October -- of 2012, mind you, a couple of weeks before Windows 8 was released for general availability -- reader RichMNY commented on a story: "Windows 8 is another Windows Vista MS blunder." Harsh words considering Windows 8 wasn't even on the shelves yet; pretty good call in hindsight, though.

Rich wasn't alone, either. Augman chimed in on the same story: "Has anyone forgotten Windows Vista?" In April 2013, after Windows 8 had been out a while and Windows 8.1 reports began swirling, reader UberGoober commented on a story: "Disagree strongly about Win8 being a huge step anywhere good, and the recent uptake numbers do indeed appear to make it a turkey. Business implementation is on the same order as Vista was."

[Good news for Win XP fans: See Microsoft Delays Windows XP Antivirus Doomsday.]

These weren't the only people evoking the failure of Vista when discussing Windows 8, mind you. Fast-forward to present day, and it would appear these weren't cases of the "haters" doing what haters do.

But is it a fair comparison, even now? It's certainly a reasonable one. Windows 8.1's market share sits at a scant 3.6%, according to Net Applications data. That's almost the exact same slice of the pie enjoyed by Vista. (Yes, people still use it.) To be fair, Windows 8 is approaching 7% share -- but that's not exactly a success story for an OS that has been in general release for well over a year. By contrast, the relatively ancient Windows XP -- which is approaching its end-of-life date on April 8 -- still runs on nearly 30% of PCs. In fact, even the combined usage of Windows 8 and 8.1 (10.49%) has a ways to go to catch up with Vista in its heyday, if you can call it that. Vista's market share peaked just shy of 19% in August 2009 before Windows 7 began its steady climb to the top.

Then there's the anecdotal evidence in the case for Windows 8 as the second coming of Vista. Not since Vista has a Windows OS generated so much carping. The volume of the Windows 8 complaining has perhaps been amplified by the mainstream popularity of mobile devices, social media, tech news sites, and so forth, but Vista drew an enormous amount of criticism, too. (So much so that I'd half-wince when telling someone I had a Vista laptop, RIP.)

Ultimately, the accuracy of the Vista-Windows 8 comparison will depend on Windows 9 when it evolves from whisper to reality. (It may also depend on how well Microsoft's next CEO manages this mess.) Vista stunk up the joint, but it paved the way for Windows 7, the most popular desktop OS ever. Windows 7 might not be glamorous, but it's tough to find people who say much bad about it, particularly in the enterprise setting. We'll learn more about Windows 9 when Microsoft makes it official at its BUILD developer conference in April. Even then, though, it will still be just a preview -- one that will likely leave lots of questions unanswered.

The high stakes now riding on Windows 9 actually offer more fodder for the Windows 8-Vista parallel. Consider this InformationWeek headline from 2006: "The Next Windows After Vista Will Demand Radical Rethinking From Microsoft." Rereading that piece is more than a walk down Windows memory lane; it sounds awfully familiar.

Back then, Bill Gates was beginning to transition out of his day-to-day responsibilities in the company and execs like Ray Ozzie and Steven Sinofsky were taking on greater responsibilities. Now, Steve Ballmer is working his way toward retirement, with execs like Julie Larson-Green, Terry Myerson, Qi Lu, and Satya Nadella taking on expanded roles in the "One Microsoft" reorg.

Back then, Microsoft was figuring out Windows' future in a web world where Google, among others, was growing mighty. Now, Microsoft is figuring out Windows in a mobile world where Google and Apple have been whipping its tail.

Back then, analysts said things like: "The next version of Windows will be a transition from where Microsoft is to where it needs to be." Today, an analyst could trot out the same quote without revision.

Back then, the head of Microsoft's research lab said: "Clearly, the company is in the midst of a pretty big transition. We do have to think about making the development process shorter and more predictable." Today, the company's still in the midst of a pretty big transition, and that shorter development cycle was touted as one of Windows 8.x's innovations.

So here we are again: Big transition, high stakes, the future in the balance, etc. It's a 2006 story that sounds quite familiar in 2014.

There another inextricable link between Vista and Windows 8. The latter overcompensated for Microsoft's (very) late start in the tablet-and-smartphone race. In spite of the software's merits, the UI in particular overshot the mark, failing to account for the millions of people who use laptops and desktops for work and other purposes. Last fall, Ballmer pointed his finger at the reason why Microsoft got so far behind in the mobile race: everyone was too busy working on Vista.

Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and midsized businesses.

Mobile, cloud, and BYOD blur the lines between work and home, forcing IT to envision a new identity and access management strategy. Also in the The Future Of Identity issue of InformationWeek: Threats to smart grids are far worse than generally believed, but tools and resources are available to protect them. (Free registration required.)

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anon0338503779
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anon0338503779,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2014 | 12:48:27 PM
Re: Unfair Comparison
>> What does Windows 7 offer that shames Windows 8?

I can't answer for everyone, but as business person who's used Windows since 3.0, I'd rather see improvements that don't require me to learn a new GUI. I'm stuck on Office 2003 for the same reason - I didn't want to get used to the ribbon.

Once I figured out how to turn off UAC, I didn't mind Vista. But with UAC turned off, what was Vista's claim to fame? It certainly wasn't an improvement over XP for the way I used my PC.

So for those that have a lot of time on their hands (to learn a new GUI) or not much experience with prior GUIs, I agree, Win 8 may be hunky-dory.

Now let me take a turn asking a question: 100% of my PC supports Thunderbird - emails, Office 2003 - mostly spreadsheets but some Word & Publisher. How can Windows 8 make my PC a more effective tool for accomplishing those tasks? IMHO, It doesn't which is why it is such a failure.
anon7260708497
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anon7260708497,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2014 | 8:12:25 AM
Re: Unfair Comparison
Not to start an argument, but Windows 8 does exactly what I want. Heck, it does even more. Just wanted to clarify that.

I'd like to ask you a question, if you don't mind. What does Windows 7 offer that shames Windows 8? Why would you prefer the older version instead of a more advanced OS with far more features and functionality?

I understand in the case of Vista and XP you'd prefer the old solid system versus the new one that continuously crashes. But Windows 8, as you yourself said, does in fact, work, unlike Vista. I just can't see the reason to keep it at bay when all that stands in your path is a little getting used to.
GregC553
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GregC553,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/22/2014 | 3:15:31 AM
Re: end of life?
Can you buy a car with a 10 year warranty, then blame the maker for not supporting the vehicle??
The world is not over because your too cheap to upgrade.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/22/2014 | 1:02:08 AM
Re: end of life?
I think they will have to, or maybe they will end XP and then backtrack. There are too many systems in gov't, the military, medical, industry - you name it - that are built around XP computers. They will start failing due to virus attacks, and the results will be catastrophic. It will be like what they thought Y2K would have been. Maybe Bill Gates himself will have to come out of retirement to stem the chaotic flood that will ensue.
GregC553
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GregC553,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2014 | 5:57:19 PM
8.x is 9
You do know that 8.X series goal is to end at 9.
There is no other developement team.
9 will not have the desktop.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
1/21/2014 | 4:26:14 PM
end of life?
Anyone taking bets on whether Microsoft will delay the end of Windows XP?
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
1/21/2014 | 4:09:40 PM
Re: Unfair Comparison
There is one big difference between Windows 8 and Vista. Windows 8 works. It may not do what I want, you want, or what most anyone wants else wants, but it does work. Windows 8 computers don't continuously crash. And, I saw a Windows 8 Tablet at Microcenter the other day, and it really seemed impressive, like a combination of a laptop and a tablet - wish I could afford one. But, that being said, for my desktop, I still opted for the solid convenience of Windows 7.
Adriaan Retief
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Adriaan Retief,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/21/2014 | 1:30:44 PM
Unfair Comparison

I'd like to start this comment with a warning:

THIS COMMENT CONTAINS AN UNPOPULAR OPINION. If you feel the urge to reply in order to tell me how stupid and how ignorant I am, please refrain from doing so unless you can disprove me with facts and logical reasoning - in which case I will gladly submit to you.

Now, on to the matter at hand.

I like Windows 8. I believe it to be better than Windows 7. I like the start screen. I like the tiles. I love the added features and functionality. It's all I could ever want in an OS - except, of course, for things I do not know of because they don't exist yet. For as long as I have been using Windows 8 (which is about two months now) I have only been pleased by Microsoft's latest OS.

I have no knowledge of nor experience with Vista as I directly went from XP to 7. However, in my opinion, Windows 8 is nowhere near as big of a failure as the majority of people claim Vista to be. In the future, when I too upgrade to Windows 9, or whatever the next edition shall be called, I will look back fondly upon Windows 8, and cherish my memories of the fluid start screen and the simplified apps.

I suppose all this ranting requires some justification, so here it is:

Windows 8 still has all the features of Windows 7 - and even more. Think, for one, of the message that pops up when you're copying files; with Windows 7 we simply saw a bar slowly filling up; with Windows 8 there's an optional graph showing copying speed, and you have the option to pause the process.

Windows Explorer too has been modified - and for the better, I believe. Although I cannot deny that Windows 8's Windows Explorer takes some getting used to, it is undoubtedly simplified, which brings me to my next point:

Windows 8 has overall been simplified - no more fancy Aero theme that hogs all your computing power - no doubt done so that Windows 8 may run on mobile devices without performace isssues. Which is a great thing for those of us who work on low end laptops, due to tight budgets.

All this also accounts for why I'm purchasing a Nokia Lumia - not because of the system specs, but purely for the OS. 

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