Microsoft’s astonishing Windows 8 boondoggle

by Dan Rowinski

December 9 2012

Dan Rowinski is a writer for tech site ReadWriteWeb.

The other day, I got a Skype video call from my mother. This was unusual since she rarely calls me via Skype. I answered the call and saw my mother sitting in her living room, the camera at an odd angle as I looked up at her.

"I hate Windows 8," she said to me.

This sentiment, I assured her, was completely natural.

Mother was in the midst of testing her new Window 8 tablet, trying to figure out the interface and get some work done. Calling me was her version of figuring out Skype on her new-fangled but imminently confusing device.

Herein rests a problem for Microsoft. People just do not like Windows 8. My mother is computer savvy but a bit set in her ways. She likes her iPad but can see the value of Android and once reviewed the Nexus 7 when it came out in July. Yet, she looks at the Metro-style interface of Windows 8 and wants to chuck it out down the stairs.

Early sales of Surface tablets reportedly have been far less than what Microsoft expected leading the company to reduce shipments for the year. Research firm IDC projects that Microsoft will take about 10.3% of the total tablet market … by 2016.

A tenth of the tablet market in the next three-ish years is probably not what Microsoft had in mind when it launched its extravagant new operating system and started pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into marketing. You cannot walk into a subway station in the United States these days without seeing posters for the Surface everywhere or turn on the television and avoid happy, dancing people click-clacking their new Surface tablets to some poppy tune.

All to little effect

Microsoft is one of those arrogant tech companies that believes it should succeed just because it put a lot of work into a product and throws a lot of money behind it. The fact of the matter though is that Microsoft is slow, its tablets (and even the Windows Phone 8 smartphones) are marginal competitors and the mobile duopoly of Apple and Android provide higher quality products with easier to understand interfaces.

Which brings us back to Microsoft’s primary problem. Many people share the same sentiment as my mother. They just do not like Windows 8 (or RT). Microsoft may have overthought the stylish new interface and provided something that is too far a departure from its previous operating systems that people just are not bringing themselves to buy it.

One of the primary problems is that Windows 8 tablets are built with the “Hubs and Tiles” interface that first came to Windows Phone. Coming from a windows-based user interface to a tiles-based one has not sat well with initial reviewers and consumers,

Then there is price

The original Surface RT with 32GB starts at $499, the same as the 16 GB, Wi-Fi only iPad. The Surface Pro will come in at a startling $899 and, really, not add much additional functionality, though the ability to run all WIndows software (which RT does not) is a plus for business users and other potential customers. If Android has proved anything over the past few years, it is that the best way to compete against Apple in the smartphone and tablet space is to undercut the iPad and iPhones on price. Microsoft is either unable or unwilling to do this and sales will thusly suffer.

For as long as the Windows 8 operating system was in development (three years) and how long Microsoft waited to get real products on the market, the missteps it has taken with its flagship are little short of astonishing. And Microsoft is going to have to live with it, because it is not like Windows 9 is coming out any time soon. 

Dan Rowinski is a writer for tech site ReadWriteWeb.

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  • willichan
    1 year 6 months ago

    My first impression when I looked at Win 8 was, "Ugh! Look at that ugly, old Compuserve screen."

  • saintlouisranger
    1 year 8 months ago

    In Iowa, in the 1980’s, a small software company created a wonderful utility called “Tiles” and as you might have guessed, it was designed to work on the Apple Macintosh. So, you see there is nothing new in the Windows 8 environment that wasn’t “borrowed” or outright stolen from someone else. Tiles was powerful and intuitive unlike Windows 8. I find it a sad state of affairs that all of the Windows Fanboys go, “Look, see, Microsoft has brought fire down from the mountain.” When really, all that has been done, was to copy a 30 year old technologie from a little company that couldn’t even put up a fight to defend it product. And that is the rest of the story…

  • albruno
    1 year 8 months ago

    my first experience with window 8 was helping my progressive 73 year old friend. we used teamviewer to work on a contact list export 'challenge'.

    Windows 8 was easy to figure out.. only after several minutes.
    Would i want to upgrade from windows 7? i can wait.. but windows 8 seems to me to be a nice step forward in evolution -- albeit only working with it for an hour. it seemed very familiar

  • CRR
    1 year 8 months ago

    Uh... a point of correction...The tile UI first appeared with the Zune Media Player. Otherwise a good article.

  • albie
    1 year 11 months ago

    Tab Times, how could you hire such a person? I have an iMac, iPhone 5 and iPad, in addition to a windows laptop, so I am clearly not a fanboy in either camp, but I know one when I see one and Dan is clearly an Apple devotee. There are very few if any facts in the article and plenty of blanket generalizations like "People just do not like Windows 8" - I am sure some don't but you simply, as a journalist, cannot infer that all people don't. In some ways I greatly prefer it to iOS. The articles is poorly written and not informative -- it may as well be a blog post. I got more information from some of these responses than the actual article. In the long run though, this article just makes Tab Times look bad.

  • Genghis
    1 year 11 months ago

    Perhaps your mother is not the target market.

    IMO, most of the resistance to Win8 is from intermediate to advanced Windows users. They have the most cognitive dissonance because they are already using Windows reasonably efficiently.

    Win8 from their point of view only presents a redundant learning experience.

    Apple has demonstrated that there are a multitude of users on the fringes of the tech world who could utilize appliances that are more user friendly than conventional Windows. I see they too are bring iOS elements across to OS X but not as spectacularly as MS has done.

    Win 8 is a big step in that direction. New users don't seem to experience the same magnitude of dissatisfaction as seasoned Windows users. Yet MS has a large user base to bring over with a huge investment in applications. Thus Win 8 is a stepping stone for the user base and an entry point for all those fringe users who would benefit from something simpler.

    Arrogant? Arrogance would be to watch Apple sail by and undermine Windows sales without adapting to the new learnings presented by iOS. Arrogance would be not to redefine the UI to accommodate touch input. Arrogance would be to assume we've reached the pinnacle of UI design & to languish on our laurels.

    Windows RT is intended for the prosumer market. The consumers who want to able to produce MS Office compatible files but will probably use their tablets 80% of the time as information consumers. iPad users don't get much extra functionality over a MacBook Pro and yet they swear by them. Why couldn't a Windows RT machine do the same service but at the same time allow users to create or edit an MS Office file whenever the occasional arises?

    I've got a X-Series Thinkpad Tablet and I use my Tablet full-time during the day working with PDF & MS Office files. In the evening its 90% mostly doing web shopping & looking up Wikipedia to support my TV watching.

    You're assessing this unit only from your own POV. Not from a marketers POV. I did three years as a market research executive. During that time, I figured out that I only represent one segment of any market; and astonishingly (to me at the time), my segment might be a relatively small minority!

    Even though the market for personal computing devices has been around now for nearly 40 years, and there are millions of savvy users already, what if they are vastly outnumbered by the nonusers who find the current UIs, which you are comfortable with, too complicated?

    I'm happy to see the consumerisation of mobile computing. Gone is the PC and welcome to the appliance.

  • ronindaosoehi
    1 year 11 months ago

    Windows 8 is crap. It's not intuitive, there's the story about Steve Jobs giving an iPad to a 5 year old in Africa who had never used technology and the kid being able to use it, the same is not true of Windows 8. But it's worse, here's what I think when I think of the Surface or other Windows 8 tablets:

    - No software support (Except for Office, which is a plus but not optimized for touch)
    - Heavy
    - Poor battery life
    - Expensive
    - Ok keyboards

    Do we start to get the point. The problem is I don't see the extra value for the extra costs. The form factor compares well with laptops but not with tablets, they generally lack the portability or functionality I'm looking for (the RT versions can be fairly portable but lack the software support, the Pro versions have more functionality but aren't sufficiently portable). The iPad is a better, cheaper, more portable device. The Android tablets are cheaper, more portable devices. Where are the ultra portable Windows 8 tablets that compete with the inexpensive Android models? Where are the portable Windows 8 tablets that compete with the iPad? Add to all of this an interface that's hard to understand and you've got a recipe for disaster. Apple is fairly straight forward, you touch an icon to open an app to do what you want. Android has this but also the advantage of widgets, which are also straight forward. The potential of tiles is actually decent but much more complex because you don't necessarily directly access an app, you might have to go into some sort of a hub to access an app or function, functions are burried beneath the surface and when you want to access more functionality such as search or context menus or multi-tasking you've got this weird way of doing that and they don't work especially well. Unfortunately, while Microsoft was able to weather Windows Vista, Windows 8 could sink major parts of their business or business aspirations, they might as well write off a whole huge profit center and focus on the business/server and gaming sides, which is brutal.

    The main advantage of Windows 8 tablets is Office, unfortunately, the market share of iOS and Android tablets is so great and the volume is so great that Microsoft will be forced to release touch friendly versions of Office for those platforms or face that major business unit suffering as well as new competitors show the world Office isn't so critical after all.

  • djh1212
    1 year 11 months ago

    Not sure what you're Mother is talking about. I guess it's a matter of personal opinion. I like using windows 8 surface RT and also on the desktop very much.

  • OrionHunter
    1 year 11 months ago

    I have to ask - how did your mom get a Surface? I mean with limited distribution and her son a tech writer, how did she not end up with another device? My guess is you live with her and its yours but I must admit it competes with my other theory that you've never seen one.

    That being said, I'm starting to get tired of these "Metro sucks" articles. How tapping or clicking on an icon, and sliding your icon stack left or right with a swipe got to be hard I'll never know. Especially since that's exactly what you do with iOS on the iPad. Is it the "bigness" of the tile? Someone explain that to me. Or the fact there is more info on a live tile than an icon?

    Maybe it's the button you push to get back to the start screen when in an app? No, you do that with iPad as well. The split screen? Being able to have two apps on the screen at the same time? iOS doen't do that, only Android and RT do that. Maybe the free Office 2013 makes it hard or ugly. Could be the overlapping windows on the desktop? Again, iOS doesn't do that. You'd have to have used a computer over the last 20 years to know how to use that. Perhaps it the app stack on left side of the screen. You know iOS doesn't have that either.

    I guess we'll stuck with in any case, Microsoft being arrogant. Just like we were stuck with Vista after people said they didn't like it. Microsoft never changes... arrogant.

    This is humorous. I suggest you get a hold of one and revisit this. RT and Surface has problems for- price for instance, lack of apps, perception; but ugly, hard, and nonfunctional aren't in that list.

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