With the release of Microsoft Windows 8 late last week still fresh in our minds, some commentary by tech analyst Jeff Kagan really stood out for me.
Kagan is reported (on this site) to have said "The problem is that Microsoft is not giving users the chance to get used to the new operating system slowly. Instead they are launching this in an all-or-nothing way."
It wasn’t so much the “The problem is...” line; analysts in particular have to pepper their work with pros and cons - it is an expected feature. The interesting part in my opinion was “all-or-nothing way”.
Traditionally, Microsoft has tried to maintain a high level of backwards compatibility. When you have such large share of the desktop market and your largest clients are slow-moving megacorps and governments, there is a lot of friction to changing the fundamentals. It is actually an impressive feat that recent versions of Windows can still run much of the software written for it for the last decade unchanged.
One of the Windows 8 catchphrases has been “from the ground up” and the technological lay of the land has moved quite a bit. Arguably the releases since Windows XP have been mostly cosmetic, with featured changes to core components being announced and then slowly backed away from as it got closer to launch. Microsoft got stuck between the weight of past successes and the ever expanding horizon being exploited by Apple and Google.
This approach-avoidance conflict has characterised Microsoft’s behaviour to the point that for years, Tech sites have simply left them out of the conversation. A look at Google Trends at the term “Microsoft Windows” shows a gradual decline in web search interest worldwide and even more pronounced in Australia.
The best way to break through the malaise is to grit your teeth, set your goals and go all the way. For Microsoft it is all or nothing on so many different levels.
For this reason, the relatively low-key product launch, the cautious yet determined language being used and the willingness to break some traditions bodes well for Microsoft as a business that has gained a bit of humility and a whole lot of hunger.
Now I won’t put my hand on my heart and say that Windows 8 is the product that will make or break Microsoft. The technology sector is already full of pundits that think that success is a binary condition.
One of the strange behaviours that persists around most technical product launches is that analysts, professionals, enthusiasts and consumers alike feel that that they have to decide in advance that the product is fantastic, awesome and magical or dead on arrival without actually using it first themselves. What I can say is that Windows 8 is an important product to watch, regardless of whether you intend to use it or not. This is product renewal on a larger scale than when Apple’s moved Mac to the OS X line and we all know how well that worked out for them.
Personally, I want all operating systems to succeed and to continue innovating, competing and enabling new waves of products and services. Diversity is good and necessary.
You may argue that if Microsoft took this attitude earlier they might have mitigated some of the feelings of desperation that have been occasionally put on display. But Microsoft is moving again and that is always better than standing still.
I left the Windows fold when Vista came in, and Windows 8 is unlikely to get me back in the short term, but technology changes quickly and I won’t say never. The small exposure that I have had to a Windows 8 tablet a few weeks ago left me feeling intrigued by it - it is certainly different and that, in my opinion, is a good thing.
Is Windows 8 the sign that Microsoft is getting its mojo back?
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