re: Windows 8: 5 Hopeful Signs
No question, the UI is THE major issue-- and the article uses this precise point as its bookends. That said, I don't think Point 3 is ridiculous. There's evidence that Windows 8 has a better adoption rate on tablets than it does on more traditional computers, and the holiday sales were hampered not only by complaints about the UI but also the fact that the few touch-enabled Win8 devices on the market were not only compromised (e.g. battery life) but also expensive. If Win 8.1 accompanies a great diversity of device types, a greater diversity of price points, and fewer compromises, then Microsoft will have removed several of the barriers that blocked adoption. The UI issue remains, so price, battery life and all the rest doesn't constitute some sort of panacea. But a panacea should deliver HUGE gains, not the sort of organic progress I'm talking about.
To be clear, this isn't to say that these barriers are as important as the UI. As I wrote in the article, if Win 8 can't immediately engage the user, a lot of people simply won't bother with it. But will more options and more price points encourage some fence-sitting would-be consumers to buy? Of course it will. It's useful to have x86 in a highly portable package with great battery life. If Microsoft can hitch that capability to an improved tablet interface, that appeal will only grow. Do tens of millions of people value this utility? Maybe not. But it's pretty tough to say that it doesn't matter to anyone, and that it won't have a positive impact on Win 8 adoption. As the article said, we're not talking the kind of growth that Android had over the last year. We're talking about Windows 8 becoming a legitimate third option on tablets. The reasons I cited might not be colossal game-changers individually, but the aggregate effect of a series of small enhancements can still be pretty big-- especially if the UI is good enough to avoid distracting users from the other benefits.
And about that "good enough" argument. One of the ideas implicit in that argument is that I'm NOT defending Windows 8 as a triumph of user design. I'm saying that Microsoft has some built-in advantages that it can leverage-- like access to x86 apps. To an extent, Windows 8's tepid sales suggest that Redmond assumed these advantages were more powerful than they actually are. But even if Windows 8 doesn't delight users like iOS and Android do, it also offers use cases that neither iOS nor Android can support. That makes the OS useful and provides a case for buying a Win8 device-- especially now that they're cheaper, faster and more power-efficient.
As for 'touching" one's way through the work day-- you have a point, but only for certain kinds of users. For someone like me, who spends most of the day pounding on a keyboard, the idea of relying on a touch UI is terrifying. And though I value tablets with attachable keyboards when I have to do reporting at a conference or something, I still want a real monitor and real keyboard whenever I can get one. For lots of tasks, traditional computers are still more preferable than any of the touch-oriented options.
But a lot of business tasks aren't above heavy content creation. They're about having the right information at the right moment-- about optimized content sharing and consumption, in other words. For those users, touch-oriented devices make the workday better, not worse. PCs aren't going away, but the workplace won't be dominated by a single device type either. Work will flow around a variety of endpoints, with touch a bigger deal for some people than for others.
I don't think Microsoft needs to make a version of Windows without touch. Instead, I think Microsoft needs to make sure that all the touch-oriented stuff doesn't get in the way of the desktop experience. It was a poor decision, for example, to force users - even those on traditional PCs - to boot to the Live Tile start screen. But Windows 8.1 is most likely fixing that problem, and as long as it fixes a few others, the reasons to buy won't be as outnumbered by the reasons not to buy.
That's not to say Windows 8 will suddenly be a huge success. I don't think it will EVER achieve the market penetration that Windows 7 has, for example. But do I believe there's a market that would value cheap tablets that also handle work-related tasks? Not when most models are deeply compromised and/or expensive, no. But when some of the compromises go away and prices drop, yes, I think that market will be there.
To be clear, Windows 8 will still be a sort of "jack of all trades, master of none" in many respects-- but unless the user has specific needs (i.e. "master" needs), new Win8 tablets will offer undeniable value propositions. Will that be good enough to stimulate meaningful Windows 8 adoption? It depends on how you define "meaningful" -- does Redmond need a 10% market share by 2014? 20%? 30%? As long as "meaningful" isn't defined in particularly lofty terms, and as long as Win8.1 isn't a complete flop, I think the setting is right for Windows 8 to make gains.
Michael Endler, IW Associate Editor