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5/22/2013
04:32 PM
Mike Feibus
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Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong

Windows 8.1 should be coming out now. Here's why Microsoft can no longer afford to target the fall for new releases.

8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8
(click image for slideshow)
It is going to be very difficult for Microsoft to succeed with Windows 8.1, and that has little to do with whether the official build will include a Start button or boot-to-desktop option. Rather, it's because Microsoft picked a terrible time to release the upcoming follow-on to Windows 8.

When it comes to weaving the saga of Windows 8.1, the media has pretty well vetted three of the Five W's. Most of the analysis goes like this: Microsoft (Who) must improve on Windows 8 by doing X (What) to bring more computer users into the Modern UI era (Why). The other two W's, though, have been largely ignored. One of them, Where, isn't really relevant to the story. But it's curious that the question of When has barely been touched, because it's tremendously important to the prospects for Windows 8.1 success.

Microsoft hasn't come out and said when Windows 8.1, code-named Windows Blue, will be commercially available, although Digitimes reported last week that the official release will come in late October. Judging from the state of development activity, the timing sounds about right. This much is certain: Windows 8.1 will not be available in the next six weeks, as it needs to be to make it into the first batch of next-generation PCs.

[ When it does arrive, will Windows 8.1 increase acceptance of Microsoft's beleaguered OS? Read Windows 8: 5 Hopeful Signs. ]

Those cool new systems are being released in June and early July for a reason: to intercept the critical back-to-school selling season. An October launch for Windows 8.1 means that back-to-school PCs will be saddled with a lame-duck version of Windows. (I've written before about how important it is for the PC OEMs to update in lockstep their entire product: hardware, OS, and aesthetics. That means we'll see fewer PC sales than we would if PC makers were able to pair their latest hardware with the latest operating system.

In some ways, releasing a new version of Windows in October, which Microsoft has tried to do since Windows XP, makes sense. Microsoft has three primary channels for distributing Windows: Retail, for standalone copies; government, enterprise and other large buyers, which install Windows themselves onto the computers they buy; and the PC makers, which bundle Windows with new systems. October is ideal timing for selling retail copies to customers who want to install the latest onto their home PCs. And large customers don't much care which season Microsoft picks to release Windows, because they're not going to rush out and buy it anyway.

So it's only the PC OEMs that get stung by an October release date. And they still have time to regroup and address the holiday season, even if they risk losing back-to-school sales. They've even got a chance to recoup those delayed purchases.

When Microsoft was forced to push out the Windows Vista launch to early 2007, for example, the final period of 2006 ended up being the PC market's worst in the 22-quarter stretch from early 2003, when consumer notebook purchasing lifted PC shipments out of the post-Y2K slump, through the end of 2008, when the financial crash stalled sales. According to IDC, PC shipments grew just 8.3% in the fourth quarter of 2006, the only period during the stretch that didn't log double-digit growth. But sales bounced back the following period, jumping 15.3% over the first quarter of 2006. Of course, there weren't any tablets around to siphon off holiday spending in 2006. You couldn't even buy a Kindle for another year.

The landscape has changed, and there's far more at stake now. Today, consumers don't just sit and wait until PC vendors get their act together. They spend their holiday budget on other things. Tablets, mostly. And if they buy tablets, the loss to the PC business doesn't end with missed seasonal sales. That's because these consumers aren't the same PC users they were before they got the tablets. Their tastes have changed. And their usage patterns have changed. They do less on the PC than they once did.

Some of them won't come back to the PC. More commonly, though, consumers who opt for a tablet because the stable of available PCs doesn't compel them eventually will return to buy a PC. They'll take longer to do that than they otherwise would have. And they probably won't spend as much on it as they once would, because the PC isn't as essential to them as it once was.

That cuts to the core of the PC OEMs' business. But it's also a nick in Microsoft's bottom line, and one the company can't afford to ignore any longer.

An October release date for Windows 8.1 won't do as much damage as the Windows 8 release caused a year ago. For one thing, Windows 8.1 is a comparatively minor release, so Windows 8 won't feel quite as lame-ducky on back-to-school systems this year as Windows 7 did last summer. For another, there are fewer PC users who've never owned a tablet to alienate. Not after last summer.

It's been tempting for Microsoft to time new Windows releases for the holiday season, but the company is going to have to change its mindset -- and do it soon. Eventually, its planners will come to realize that consumers aren't going to upgrade a PC to the next OS if they didn't bother to buy a PC that came bundled with the last version.

And that, my friends, is the Why behind the When.

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AustinIT
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AustinIT,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2013 | 7:20:23 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
What would really help is if MS would start a bi-annual update cycle and release them in July and January. Then, they can hit the back to school and the Christmas season. Those who don't get a new toy from Santa can get a January refresh to their last years model. Everyone goes home a winner.

In addition, once a year is not enough to deliver new features and fixes that users expect.
proberts551
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proberts551,
User Rank: Strategist
5/23/2013 | 6:49:45 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
This is a really great article that hits home on many truths about Windows 8 and 8.1. If Microsoft will only take a lesson from this and not try to completely change an operating system interface that is productive and familiar to the majority of its users.

It was a good idea to have a new UI interface for the new MS Tablets, but definitely a wrong move to shove this cumbersome UI on Seasoned Windows 7 and previous OS users. In fact, it was one of the most lame brain ideas ever conceived in the computer industry. You never force your clientele to do a GǣYou have no choiceGǥ because you will find out fast....they always do have a choice.
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
5/23/2013 | 6:03:21 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
And yet here you are reading it ...

Seriously, if I gave you the impression that I thought Microsoft should rush to market whatever build they're on, then I didn't do a very good job explaining. Of course the release-to-market build has to be stable! Targeting midyear for releases means changing the production schedule, so when it's time to go to market you've got a build that's market-ready. If MS had had the foresight to sync the Win 8.1 release with the new stable of systems coming out, the final product would necessarily be less ambitious than it would be for an October release. Hopefully, they'd be able to include enough enhancements at least to make Win 8.x more accessible. Other features that didn't make the cut would just go into Win 8.2 next summer!
DDURBIN1
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DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2013 | 5:28:16 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
I'd argue October releases don't make sense either but since it takes Microsoft three months to get a release to market we are stuck with this cycle July/Oct. There's not really enough time between October and December for the public to "get on board" with a revamped operating system. And in the case of Window 8, most took a pass. I did as I purchased two computers at the holidays but purchased online to get Windows 7 because only Windows 8 computers were found at retail stores.
Tronist
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Tronist,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2013 | 5:09:46 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Uh, yeah, only InformationWeek readers think W8 is crap.Guess what...most computer users don't read InformationWeek...it's a specialized trade mag!
So, you've taught people to surf the Web, read mail, listen to music, etc. by clicking on a tile. Other than entertaining themselves, is there anything of substance that you've taught them?
LorinThwaits
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LorinThwaits,
User Rank: Guru
5/23/2013 | 4:03:14 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
Totally disagree. With as badly as MSFT has screwed the pooch on this one, there is not much time to make amends with consumers and OEMs alike. Never mind the corporations, who didn't even give Win8 the time of day in the first place!

They had better hope for a win with the Haswell wave of product, and to achieve that they need a hierarchical start MENU and not just their crackpot start screen. How embarrassing is it to have the majority of your users rely on third-party products just for base usability of your OS???
Terabyte Net
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Terabyte Net,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/23/2013 | 2:29:25 PM
re: Windows 8.1 Timing All Wrong
So let's see. Microsoft should just snap their fingers and release 8.1 when you deem it convenient? Last time I checked most people would rather have a stable, fast, and test version released not something that's not ready. The press, including pretty much everyone at Informationweek, continues to slam Microsoft and you're a big reason why people don't "like" Windows 8. They don't like 8 not because they've actually spent an hour using it, but because they've been told they don't like it. I've yet to deploy a Win8 box where with 10 minutes of introduction users, both young and old, haven't taken right to it. The press makes $ on visits and the public doesn't read feel-good articles, they read articles about blood and guts so that's what you guys give them. It's really a shame that the press has to dig so deep for low value articles like this - seriously, what did you expect to gain by your insight? - and can't focus on what's actual news. Informationweek needs a new set of writers IMHO.
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