Was Windows 8 a calculated bet?

After missing the boat on capitalizing on the early boom of mobile computing, Microsoft came out with Windows 8 in 2012, three years after the iPad. While the name itself just suggests that it is just the next version of Windows, Windows 8 was much more than that – A huge shift in both the underlying workings and the aesthetic appearances of the operating system. It was a fundamental shift in the thinking of how the operating system is supposed to be used. Windows 8 was the promise that Windows can still continue to be Windows in its true ultra-productive form, while being the fun operating system that will delight users, those users who were initially steered away to Android and iOS.

Of course, for this to happen the core interface needed changing, moving to a touch based user interface as opposed to the traditional mouse and keyboard interface. And again to entice users to use this new OS, this touch interface needed apps. So what was Microsoft’s answer? Shoving a touch UI with gestures and fullscreen apps down the throats of all people using Windows PC’s. There were no touch based PC’s around before Windows 8, and more than 1 billion users who are using Windows with their regular setup were left with a sub-par experience. Almost all of the industry followers noted that the reasoning behind this was to give developers a huge install base to develop apps for the touch version from day one. Did it work? The Windows 8 Store became the fastest growing app store in the world, reaching to the 100,000 number the quickest. The quality of apps was definitely questionable, especially after being compared to rival platforms, but Microsoft got something to promote its new OS with.

While Windows 8 gained market share at the same rate of that of Windows 7, the overall PC industry was still shrinking. Windows 8 got a bad reputation with it being disliked almost universally by regular and power users both. The promise that touch screen PC’s were the answer to the changing market wasn’t coming to fruition. This reception of Windows 8 wasn’t a surprise to most people, but was it really a surprise to Microsoft?

The more and more I think about this, the more and more I am convinced that Microsoft foresaw this reaction and frankly did not care. Why? Because the majority of the complainers were going to be the ones who are using regular non-touch PC’s and they did not have any other option but to still keep using Windows. Macs are and always were beyond the reach of the majority of the market, and Linux has never gotten mainstream traction. These people were essentially ‘stuck’ with Windows 8, or on any other older version of Windows.

This seems like a master plan which has so far worked out really well, but the most important thing that Microsoft lost is brand trust. Calling this mess Windows was a mistake, losing the name ‘Metro’ was a setback and OEM’s publicly expressing displeasure with Microsoft’s new direction didn’t help too. Microsoft may have always planned to make everybody happy again with Windows 9, but this interim period has definitely hurt them more than they could have ever anticipated. Windows RT was a catastrophe. The Surface was a catastrophe. The basic principle that launched Windows 8 – one OS everywhere – hasn’t yet happened. Maybe that happens in Windows 9. Maybe this path was leading up to the release of Windows 9. With the recent re-organizations and CEO change, the leadership is definitely not stable right now. But as a technology enthusiast, I can only hope that Microsoft makes it. History doesn’t repeat itself again with someone else swooping in and finally building what Microsoft is trying to build, and everyone doesn’t repeat themselves yet again by saying,

See Microsoft, this is how it’s done.

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