Microsoft’s astonishing Windows 8 boondoggle

December 8, 2012
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"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. 

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