Windows 8 Sales Stall: 3 Strategies

Microsoft appears to have a plan for revitalizing Windows 8. But will it be enough to overcome the OS's disappointing launch?
Forbes has suggested Haswell could offer a superior performance and stimulate PC sales. DigiTimes, citing supply-chain sources, expects the chips to contribute to eye-popping growth for several struggling PC makers, including a 30% increase in PC shipments for HP and a 19% increase for Dell.

Such forecasts are somewhat audacious, given that IDC expects PC sales to be down this year, and a rumor that Haswell will ship with USB 3.0 problems doesn't inspire confidence. But if Haswell empowers OEMs to produce affordable and compelling new devices, Windows 8's outlook could be much brighter by early 2014.

Offer Compelling Use Cases.

To some users, Windows 8's appeal is obvious: it offers both tablet and laptop in a single ultraportable package. Based on sales, though, this duality hasn't been particularly persuasive. Much of the disenchantment can be attributed to user experience frustrations. Some apps behave differently in the touch-oriented Metro interface than they do in the traditional Explorer interface, for example. The apps themselves have also failed to inspire killer use cases. As Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft recently told InformationWeek, "Nobody can tell us an app for Windows 8 that they just have to have."

Indeed, whereas Apple's iPad ads emphasize the variety of experiences its apps enable, Microsoft's Surface spots, though dynamic, communicate the Windows 8 experience largely through interpretive dance. To those for whom the OS's capabilities are not self-evident, Redmond has not provided clear guidance.

Though steadfast in her assertion that Windows 8 has kept pace with its well-received predecessor, Windows CMO/CFO Tami Reller has acknowledged that Microsoft's pre-installed Metro apps need work. Windows Blue is expected to provide a number of enhancements this summer, including a new version of Internet Explorer 10 and improved search functions. But recent rumors suggest Redmond might refresh its base apps even sooner, perhaps within the month.

If Microsoft can deliver a superlative experience, the company would set an inspiring example for developers. Programmers have expressed frustration about writing for Windows 8 since before the OS launched. Support systems have slowly come online, but only about 46,000 Windows 8 apps have been submitted, far fewer than the 100,000 forecast by at least one Microsoft executive in October. There's also evidence that developer activity has dropped off.

Microsoft has the resources and ingenuity to create imaginative and compelling user experiences, as SketchInsight, its recently revealed predictive whiteboard attests. These qualities aren't yet as evident in Windows 8, but if Microsoft can conjure a few first-rate applications, the remaining pieces could start to fall into place.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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