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5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8

Microsoft's new OS holds plenty of potential, but so far consumers aren't loving the radically redesigned desktop. Microsoft should consider these changes.

Windows 8: 8 Big Benefits For SMBs
Windows 8: 8 Big Benefits For SMBs
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Microsoft spent billions developing and marketing Windows 8, but by all accounts it's proving to be a tough sell. Consumers just aren't buying into the hybrid tablet/PC operating system. I've maintained all along that there's some great technology behind Windows 8, but Microsoft needs to do more to make it both user- and merchant-friendly.

Some background: Microsoft believes Windows 8 represents the best of both worlds -a full featured PC OS married to a touch-based UI geared toward tablets. That's great in theory, but many would-be purchasers are finding the combination confusing and difficult to use.

Microsoft has been mum on sales data, but considerable evidence has emerged over the past couple of weeks that Windows 8 systems aren't doing well at retail. The latest: an NPD report that sales of Windows-based systems are down 21% since Windows 8 debuted on Oct. 26, compared to the same period a year ago.

That's not good news for Microsoft. What follows are some steps the company could take to polish Windows 8 to make it more palatable to both users and stores that have to sell it.

1. Cut Prices

Microsoft needs to get realistic about how much consumers are willing to pay for a new, unproven platform, given the alternatives. The company introduced Surface RT starting at $499. For that amount, buyers could get the latest generation iPad.

Now, Microsoft will surely argue that Surface RT is superior -- you can run Office natively, for starters -- but that doesn't matter. The iPad is a megabrand. To compete with it, Redmond needs to take a page from Amazon's playbook and use its hardware as a loss leader to establish its platform. Kindle Fire HD 8.9" starts at $299, which would be about right for Surface RT.

2. Ship Surface Pro, ASAP

Microsoft made the inexplicable decision to keep its top-of-line Surface model off store shelves until after the holiday season. That may have been a concession to its PC OEM partners, who have shipped their own Intel Core-based Windows 8 systems in time for Christmas. But the decision is muddling the market.

[ Will Microsoft introduce more hardware products beyond Surface? CEO Steve Ballmer suggests it's likely. ]

Consumers can purchase Surface RT immediately, but if they want a Microsoft tablet that can run legacy Windows applications, they must wait. The quandary will undoubtedly push many to say "to heck it with it," and opt for an iPad or Android tablet. At the least, Microsoft needs to announce a specific launch date for Surface Pro. "Sometime in January" isn't good enough for those making buying decisions now. As for Surface Pro's starting price of $899? See above.

3. Get Appy

Microsoft now has more than 20,000 apps available for download from the Windows Store. But the number is meaningless. It's great that that there's Fruit Ninja and more than 300 photo apps, but serious omissions remain. Like, say, Facebook. Or Twitter. Or LinkedIn. The absence of the former is enough by itself to dissuade swaths of buyers whose primary use for a tablet is social networking. On the upside, the Windows Store is filling out with apps from leading brands. This week, ESPN released its Windows 8 app. Microsoft needs more of those.

4. Unify The User Experience

A major source of frustration voiced by early adopters of Windows 8 is the lack of consistency between Metro (or Modern UI) mode and the classic Windows desktop. Metro is what users see when they first boot up. It's got the Live Tiles and apps optimized for touch and tablets. From Metro, you can launch the Windows Explorer desktop, which is similar to Windows 7 (with some marked differences) and is geared toward mouse and keyboard computing.

It's understandable that there would be differences in how the two operate. But there's no good reason for the vast UI and performance gulfs between the Metro and Windows Explorer versions of the same applications. Take Internet Explorer 10. Even cosmetic differences -- like the fact that the navigation bar is on top in the desktop version and on the bottom in the Metro version -- are bound to flummox some users. But it's more than cosmetic.

On Thursday I tried to listen to the Webcast of Microsoft's annual shareholder meeting on IE10 Metro. "The site you opened is not on the Compatibility View (CV) list" is the response I got. Apparently IE10 Metro, Adobe Flash and Microsoft's own investor site don't play well together. I was able to get the Webcast from the desktop version of IE10.

5. Metro A Go Go?

If all else fails, Microsoft has one last, nuclear option, which I've previously suggested. It could ditch Metro, and introduce what I've been calling Windows 8 Classic. Windows 8 Classic would restore familiar features like the Start button and Task Bar, while retaining Windows 8's numerous new security and manageability features.

Among those is Secure Boot, a process designed to prevent malware from infecting computers during startup, even before Windows and all of its built-in safeguards are launched. It works by confirming that all components have the appropriate security certificates before they are allowed to launch. Secure Boot requires UEFI BIOS to run, which is only found on the newest PCs.

For companies that hire lots of consultants, contractors and other temps and need to give such personnel access to a corporate desktop image and apps without granting full server permissions, there's Windows To Go. It lets users boot a preconfigured, IT-certified Windows 8 image onto any laptop from a USB. It also lets them boot up a Windows 8 image on a Windows 7 PC. Metro notwithstanding, there's a lot more for enterprises to like about Windows 8.

But if the operating system and the devices on which it runs continue to languish, Microsoft will need to take bold steps to ensure it remains commercially viable. What do you think Microsoft should do to improve Windows 8? Let me know in the comments section below.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/17/2012 | 9:54:36 PM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
I have been using PCs since the Apple II. When the Atari ST/TT machines were on the market the big innovation was the standardization of the explorer window menus for all different applications. Then Windows came along and excelled at supporting and tweaking the Explorer window ever so slightly over time.

When the ribbon interface came along, I dropped MS Office for Open Office/LibreOffice and haven't looked back. The Windows desktop, Start Button, and Start Menu have been the comfort zone for decades for Windows users of all skill levels.

Windows 7 is the best OS so far to come from MS. W2k was the second best.
The idea that MS is forcing Windows PC users to jump into a touch screen UI and find their way to the desktop that doesn't have a Start Button or Start Menu is ludicrous. If MS were a business, they would realize that currently 98% of the PCs are non touch screen machines and in order to sell Windows 8 they should give the users the choice of booting to the standard desktop complete with Start Button and Menu, or the Tiled Metro UI if they are curious or the 2% that have touch screens.

I am not an Apple fan, but I appreciate their keeping the desktop OS and the tablet OS separate.

To tell 98% of the PC users that you have to start with Metro and discover the Charms and Hot Corners to get anything done is perhaps related to the departure of Sinofsy from MS.
70% of MS profits come from business clients. That is the group that is most resistant to change because of the high training costs it imposes on IT departments.

I teach my basic PC classes on the promise to take some of the mysteries out of Microsoft some of the time. Now with Windows 8, I am going to change my classes to literature where the first required reading is The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

User Rank: Apprentice
12/18/2012 | 6:41:28 AM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
I've personally spent the past two weeks on this OS and I have to say, I cannot wait to wake-up and just dump the HDD off this two week old laptop and put a combination of Win7 and Linux on this thing. I have wasted more then enough time on this not only horrible looking OS, but also non user friendly OS. I personally am certified in every version of the MS OS's but this is one I am going to skip right over. When someone purchases a new computer, they expect that after a few simple setup requirements that they are able to just go and run with it. However, Win8 simply does not allow that. As an expert in Windows, I am done using it and I certainly am not recommending it to any of my customers. I've already lost enough money over this OS with my customers. I've already ordered the product off my shelves as it has been an extreme embarrassment to my business and my customers. MS should seriously consider recalling all systems with Win8 on it immediately. This is mine and roughly 3100 of my customers opinion. You are free to think what you want.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/20/2012 | 2:40:22 AM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
@aprildyer said: To have Microsoft release a new interface because it helps Microsoft's business is literally no concern of ours.

Exactly, the only reason I can think Microsoft did all these changes was to be able to advance their hidden agenda which is to "encourage" all of us to embrace their app store model. That's the reason they eve call the Windows Desktop an "app".

By making Windows 8 an app store based OS is supposed to get developer excited to create app store applications and the more app store applications the better it is for Microsoft.

At the end, this change is purely to benefit Microsoft, not the users.
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2012 | 4:20:42 PM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
"2. Ship Surface Pro, ASAP"
Couldn't agree more. I am starting a new job mid January, and need a tablet, or tablet type device for it. Had the Surface Pro been available now, I would have bought one. I ended up buying a Lenovo Yoga. I would have even waited a week or two if I knew the Surface Pro was going to be out on say, Jan 10.

In the brief time I spent so far playing with the Yoga, a hybrid Ultrabook/tablet, I have to say that Windows 8 is amazing for tablet use, quite good for touch laptop use, and just about the same as Windows 7 for conventional keyboard/mouse/laptop use.

The folks making all the noise about how bad Win8 is with the Metro interface, they do know that there is a traditional interface as well right?
Steve Naidamast
Steve Naidamast,
User Rank: Strategist
12/29/2012 | 4:42:28 PM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
With the exception of the disparity between working with the Metro interface and the standard desktop, I found the pre-release of Windows 8 to be solid, stable, and rather quick even running
in a VM partition. However, I have to agree with the overall developer community that forcing the Metro interface on every user and hardware type was a very poor decision. As many have noted,
you cannot force people to change when there is no goo reason to do so and Metro on the desktop and laptops simply does not work well. For smart devices and tablets I find it to be superior to that of the Apple and Apple-like interfaces, which now present way too much eye-noise but that is only a personal preference.

No one has to save Windows 8. It just needs a minor tweak to the interface that will allow users to select their own style. And we professional developers practically to a person as well as other very serious users of computers still prefer the standard desktop with its multitasking benefits to that of the Metro single-task style interface. The original interface is simply far more efficient for serious work on machines. Metro may be great for consumers who are seemingly in love with the non-stop fluff that is being promoted as serious computing experiences as well as those where it is actually a superior model to work with such as running the bridge of a star-ship but overall the standard desktop is "Still the one!" and will be for quite a while to come...
User Rank: Apprentice
12/29/2012 | 4:54:06 PM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
It is as simple as Apple pie, apple has iOS for touch screen devices and OS x for MACs...It seems to work really well for a company with some marketing saavy.
User Rank: Apprentice
1/3/2013 | 7:06:08 PM
re: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Save Windows 8
I just received a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop running Windows 8 as a gift over the holidays. My experience is this: the first day I was frustrated by two things, the inability to change the date and time in Metro and trying to use Metro without a touch screen.

The second day using it, my experience was very different. I actually realized that I enjoyed using the touchpad almost more than a touch screen. It seemed faster, more responsive, and more accurate than a touch screen (comparing it to my iPad II). I also discovered that I really enjoyed Metro once I got the hang of it. I found I could move very quickly and easily between screens, and I found myself enjoying it quite a lot.

There is no doubt that it requires a learning curve, much tougher for some than for others. (As one commenter pointed out, his kids had no problems rapidly figuring it out!) If you stick with it and use the help menus and shortcut keys, you should be fine. If that's too difficult for you, then stay with Windows 7, since there is really no point in using Windows 8 if you're only going to use the desktop.
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