Software // Operating Systems
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8/19/2013
09:01 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards

Forrester study finds that 62% of tablet users want keyboards, but that alone won't drive sales of Windows 8 for Microsoft.

From Microsoft's perspective, the most obvious answer is troublingly simple: Consumers like the design of certain Windows 8 devices but are repelled by everything else -- the Live Tiles, the Search charm, the missing Start button, the lack of quality apps, the high prices, and so on.

Whether Microsoft can rebound with Windows 8.1 likely depends on how charitably one defines "rebound."

In the enterprise, Microsoft should see a meaningful uptick. Windows 8 will probably never be as big as Windows XP or Windows 7, but Windows 8.1 should ensure the OS won't turn into Windows Vista either.

Millions of commercial Windows XP users will be under pressure to upgrade by April, when the OS loses support. So far, most of these upgrades have gone to Windows 7, and many of them will continue to do so. But Windows 8.1 will include a boot-to-desktop option, enhanced security and VPN features, and a restored Start button. Thanks to these enhancements, Microsoft hopes Win 8 will attract companies that are upgrading not only OSes, but also hardware.

Windows software isn't going to stop being important to businesses. As companies that have already switched to Windows 7 begin to buy new machines in coming years, Microsoft can expect many of them to switch to whatever version of Windows is most current. Plus, there is the virtualization trend and products such as Windows 8 to Go, which enable Windows to persist even when workers use non-Windows hardware. Microsoft is also intelligently leveraging Azure to compensate for the decline in Windows' stature.

Still, it all falls short of Microsoft's historic world-beating standards and also the "one Microsoft" vision around which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently reorganized the company.

To meet loftier goals, Microsoft also needs to tap into BYOD and consumerization trends. For established enterprise workflows, Windows beats all comers. But new movements such as BYOD have begun to impact business workflows in more organic ways. Apple didn't become an enterprise player because of strategic planning; it became one because people liked using the iPad and found ways to use it at work. This encouraged developers to make line-of-business apps, and now Apple and Android tablets are in workplaces all over the world. Microsoft needs to find a way for Windows 8 to inspire comparable user interest.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, it's not clear if Windows 8.1 can generate this kind of user enthusiasm. The update is an objective improvement over Windows 8, but it isn't a top-to-bottom redesign. If users truly hate the Modern UI, the update isn't going to appease them. Microsoft's best hope is that people abhor Live Tiles less than they think they do.

Window 8's infamous learning curve is manageable but takes at least a little effort. It's possible that some Win 8 dissenters were simply so discombobulated by the Modern UI that they never gave the OS a chance. In the best-case scenario for Microsoft, Windows 8.1 will allow users to become comfortable with the UI more quickly, leading to fewer kneejerk dismissals of the interface.

Intel's new Haswell and Bay Trail chips should also help by endowing Windows 8.1 tablets with stronger graphics processing and better battery life. More affordable Windows tablets will help too, though many models, including the recently discounted Surface tablets, still cost more than competitors' offerings.

We may, as many argue, have entered into a "post-PC era" dominated by smartphones and tablets, posing a challenge to companies like Intel and Dell and Microsoft that were leaders of the PC era. It is still unclear whether the past leaders can transition into leadership positions in the new era. One thing is clear, however: Microsoft needs to do more than hope that keyboards will drive sales of its flagship operating system.

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 3:11:55 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
No, it'll be saved (or at least given a graceful and dignified exit) by Microsoft's patience and deep pockets.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 4:21:28 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
IMO -- the key issue with Microsoft's new UI is they expected folks to learn it by trial and error. Most times it isn't at all obvious what you are supposed to do next. iOS apps are considerably more intuitive than Windows 8 (both the OS itself and its built-in apps). I have not tried the update (8.1) but if it still expects folks to guess what to do next, expect the general public to reject it.

The most vivid example is when, by default, a desktop browser window wants to view a PDF. In Windows 7 the browser would typically open the document inside the browser or, at worst, open a separate window that hovers over the original page or appears in a different browser tab. When finished, returning to the prior page is ridiculously obvious. In Windows 8, all continuity is lost as the user stares at the modern viewer that doesn't offer them any clues as to how to get back to the prior page. Of course after one LEARNS what to do (a left to right swipe into the screen and then tap on the desktop task), it's rather simple to return but what was Microsoft smoking when it decided this was a good thing?

In fairness, my iPhone has similar challenges. For instance, when I am in the stock market app, headlines open in Safari and I have to double-tap the button to bring up the task list and return to the app when I'm finished. However, this is how it has always worked. There never was a different and easier experience. That's why Windows 8 is such a surprise -- especially from a company that before now, regarded backward compatibility a top priority.
melgross
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melgross,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 5:05:23 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
A reason for dismal sales is the fact their supposed interest in a windows tablet was tempered by just how bad the experience actually is. People haven't learned anything from the debacle of the first Windows tablets during the first decade of the 2000Gs. Windows simply doesn't work well enough on small screens with a pointing device.
Alex Kane Rudansky
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Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 5:41:49 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
Interesting that only 35% want a laptop-like tablet. I would think that combination would be the most popular.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 6:09:11 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
I was also surprised that laptop-like tablet were chosen by only 35%.

Interestingly, laptop-like tablets ARE the most popular option-- by 1%. With 34%, the next most popular option is the precise opposite: keep tablets and laptops completely separate.

It's telling, I think, that no single form factor enjoys a strong majority. Microsoft is trying to sell the Surface Pro as a tablet that's also a laptop, but it seems that only a minority of buyers really care about that functionality. The rest of buyers seem to prefer tablets that are capable in their own right, but that are nonetheless companions to, rather than replacements for, full-fledged computers.

Sure, a lot of people wouldn't mind a tablet that can take over more laptop duties. Everyone like convenience. But the stats imply that such functionality isn't a determining factor-- at least not to the extent that things like UI and mobile app selection are. A subset of people want the purposeful ergonomics of a Windows 8 hybrid, which is why I think commercial sales of Windows 8 will be okay. But many consumers and BYOD users seem just as happy to throw a Logitech keyboard on an iPad. It's not that Microsoft is wrong about keyboards being useful; it's that keyboards can't make up for what people don't like about Windows 8.
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The subtext is that one of Windows 8's primary means of differentiation isn't all that important to a large chunk of potential tablet users. In many of the ways that Win 8 tablets overlap with iOS and Android tablets, iOS and Android do things as well or better, at least from the standpoint of general users. When Windows 8 offers something unique, it appeals to only a subset of buyers. Even though Forrester's study made no judgements about operating systems, studies like this add nuance to what's gone wrong with Windows 8, and what Microsoft can focus on fixing as it rolls out Windows 8.1, its new Surface devices, etc.
ANON1250703092871
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ANON1250703092871,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 6:22:11 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
I don't think that's the question at all. When is someone going to come out with the touch screen keyboard. Why not, w2here's my 3D printer.B^]
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
8/19/2013 | 6:57:56 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
Have you taken 10 minutes to view a tutorial, read a help screen, etc. All the basic answers are there. In that amount of time you will discover about 20 things that will help you, in less than 10 minutes. You wasted more than that time posting your reply and in figuring out how to swipe left to right (or just touch the Windows key). Use a little initiative and common sense and READ THE MANUAL FIRST. Windows 8 is very easy to use, touch or non-touch. I am a senior citizen and it was no problem for me to figure it out.
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
8/19/2013 | 7:01:25 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
every tablet I have used, Apple, Sansung, Microsoft Surface...I have used a bluetooth or USB keyboard to facilitate key entry in a production mode. For email and surfing the Internet the screen kb is just OK. When I need to get something done in Excel it almost means using a laptop with a 14" or larger screen, not a tablet. I use both every day, but travel with a tablet and a small bluetooth kb now.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 8:05:54 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
It strikes me that the primary challenge Microsoft faces is how to navigate a balkanized market. Things were a lot more simple in the desktop era: Everything flowed from the Windows PC.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 8:33:21 PM
re: Windows 8 Won't Be Saved By Keyboards
I guess that's why everyone else is RTFM and it's flying off the shelves. I don't disagree with you but the consumer has spoken and they overwhelmingly like what Apple and Android are doing. While Windows may not be as bad as sales suggest, it can't all be marketing mistakes.

It's also very fixable. I've witnessed modern apps get better as they go through revisions in the Windows Store. The question is, why were they so bad in the first place? I believe it's the horrible example Microsoft set with their first pass at Windows 8.

Secondly, why has it taken so long for Microsoft to fix its built-in apps, control panel apps and start button? This is a company with enough money to buy almost any other company on the planet. I know there is the age-old project management adage that you cannot combine nine women and have a baby in one month but they have thousands of developers. Surely nothing fundamental was required to complete the modern control panel applets, replace a mouse over start screen mechanism to a button and change the defaults so viewing a PDF or picture on the desktop doesn't leave folks up the modern creek without a return button. Good grief these could have been fixed nine months ago.

I've gone through this crap before when character-mode developers first got their hands on Java and decided to build GUIs. Those were some of the worst UIs ever created. Just like Microsoft's touch. What baffles me is they have been trying touch for years and even after someone else shows them how it can be done, they still fubar it!

What's wrong with Windows 8 isn't really their technology (i.e. Windows and the modern API). IMO, it's Microsoft's implementation and having ideas that folks will RTFM. Although there are many problems with that approach, the biggest problem is when is the last time there was a manual next to a laptop, desktop or tablet in a store? Customers are going to pick it up and the first time they get stuck, they'll put it down and start playing with the next model on the shelf.
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