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Windows 8 disaster

EIGHT months after it was released, Windows 8 has been an unmitigated disaster, not only for its maker, Microsoft, but also for the personal computer industry. For years, computer makers have relied almost exclusively on Microsoft to provide them with operating systems to power their desktops and laptops. This near monopoly of Windows did not always give consumers the best computing solutions, but it did offer them a measure of stability that comes with standardization. In recent memory, Windows Vista disrupted that stability with an operating system that was so slow and buggy that PC World called it the biggest tech disappointment of 2007, and InfoWorld ranked it No. 2 in the industry’s 25 all-time flops. Now analysts and users alike are saying Windows 8 is even worse, with even slower adoption rates than Vista in 2007. Online, articles have begun to appear about what unhappy users can do about their Windows 8 machines. “Any poor soul who buys a new PC will be saddled with Windows 8,” wrote one InfoWorld reader in January. “No one wants it. It is Vista times ten.” Sadly for Microsoft, many people feel the same way. The first few times I tried to using a Windows 8 PC, it was a struggle. The “modern” user interface (first called “Metro”) with its faddish and colorful tiles resembled a pre-school toy computer. And while it was amusing to watch the tiles spin and slide away, it took way too much poking around to find the functionality I expected from a serious operating system. In my experience, the only way to make a Windows 8 PC usable is to find third-party tools to make it work more like Windows 7, or even more drastic, find a way to “downgrade” to Windows 7. Some folks suggest that Windows 7 users were simply upset because the new OS was unfamiliar, and that people would simply get used to the new interface. At the Computex show in Taipei earlier this month, Microsoft said Windows 8.1, aka Windows Blue, would restore the start button that many Windows users missed. But Windows 8’s problems go well beyond a missing start button and are rooted in Microsoft’s decision to create a unified interface for both touch-enabled devices such as tablets and mobile phones, and traditional mouse-and-keyboard computers. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been particularly clever or successful in doing so, and Microsoft has traded away the advantages of familiarity in traditional PCs for some vague promise that it will do better in touch-enabled devices, where it is being bitch slapped by Apple and Android. To a certain extent, the popular Ubuntu Linux distribution went through similar problems when its commercial sponsor Canonical created the Unity interface to power all sorts of computing devices. Despite the initial noise from reluctant users, however, Unity has developed over the last few iterations into a capable interface, both for touch-enabled devices and traditional computers. I’m not sure I see the same thing happening with Windows 8 but time will tell. In the meantime, every day seems to bring more bad news for Microsoft’s unpopular operating system. In his CNet column, Brooke Crothers reports that Citi Research revised its forecast after seeing what Microsoft, Intel and PC vendors had in store at Computex. In a note to investors, the market research company said it was revising its 2013 PC year-to-year growth to minus 10 percent, from its earlier minus 4 percent projection. The company based its projections on a softening demand for PCs and “muted benefit” from Windows Blue and Intel’s newest Haswell processor. The news is even worse for Windows 8-powered tablets. In another sign of Microsoft’s growing desperation, its chief marketing officer for Windows, Tami Reller, said at Computex that the company would bundle Microsoft Office for free on Windows tablets, something it has never done on traditional computers. Call it a hunch, but the dismal sales figures for Windows tablets might have something to do with that move. In the first quarter this year, only 900,000 Windows 8 tablets were sold, or a measly 1.8 percent of the worldwide market of 49.2 million, the latest figures from market researcher IDC showed. Apple accounted for about 40 percent while Android tablets made up at least 27 percent. No wonder Microsoft is feeling blue. Chin Wong Column archives and blog at:
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