What’s wrong with Windows 8?
Microsoft executives were unusually candid with reporters about the growing pains of it new Windows 8 operating system. As always when a large company’s future is being staked on a specific product, it’s progress generates coverage.
Here’s the story from the Wall Street Journal:
A Microsoft executive is acknowledging what many tech-watchers already knew: The company’s Windows 8 software hasn’t gone off without a hitch, and Microsoft is turning itself inside out to respond.
Last fall’s launch of the new operating system was supposed to be a milestone to catapult Microsoft and its allies into the market for new kinds of computing devices–including tablets and convertible products–and help generally get consumers more interested in buying new PCs. Six months after the operating software’s debut, it isn’t yet a hit by the accounts of some PC executives and research firms.
One market-research firm, IDC, went so far as to say that Windows 8 did more than fail to revive the PC market–it actually turned off users with changes to basic elements of the widely used operating system.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal last week, Windows co-head Tami Reller was more candid than other Microsoft executives in saying Windows 8 hasn’t come on like gangbusters, though she said the company is seeing steady if not steep sales progress. She said Microsoft has sold more than 100 million Windows 8 licenses.
Without offering many details yet, Ms. Reller outlined how Microsoft is working on changing software features, helping people overcome obstacles to learning the revamped software, altering the shopping experience for consumers, getting more of people’s favorite apps available for Windows 8 and making sure a wider array of Windows 8 computing devices will be on sale.
As someone who recently tried to navigate Windows 8 on my parents’ new laptop after nearly a decade of using Apple products, I found it nearly impossible to figure out. Apparently, I’m not alone, according to CNN Money:
Many users have found the new operating system difficult to pick up. Some of the top complaints: The lack of the “Start” button that had been around since 1995, hidden menu items and multiple locations for settings.
More than 2,400 different devices now run Windows 8, but many still lack touch capabilities that make the operating system really shine. The Windows 8 device lineup is also scant on smaller tablet options, including the seven-inch and eight-inch varieties popularized by the Apple iPad mini and Amazon Kindle Fire.
Microsoft said it has a plan to address all of those problems. Here’s the biggest piece: The company will launch an update to Windows 8, codenamed “Blue,” by this year’s holiday season. Microsoft was skimpy on details, but rumors include the return of the Start button and changes to make apps easier and more intuitive to use. The company said it will reveal more about that update in the coming weeks.
Microsoft defended the product’s sales and those of PCs while also moving to allow more devices to run the system, the New York Times said:
Ms. Reller said Microsoft’s own research on Windows 8 usage patterns showed that customer satisfaction with the system was on par with that of Windows 7, when the Windows 8 users being analyzed have tablets or other systems equipped with touch screens. Of people with conventional PCs, operated by keyboard and mice or trackpads, Ms. Reller said, “We need to help them learn faster.”
In another development, Ms. Reller said Microsoft was allowing its hardware partners to make Windows 8 tablets with screen sizes in the range of seven to eight inches, smaller than the nine-inch-plus tablets that have been available so far. That could give Microsoft a stronger answer to the iPad mini, which has been a strong seller for Apple.
Ms. Reller described Windows Blue several times as an “update” to Windows 8, though she wouldn’t say whether the software would be available free to people who have already bought Windows 8 computers. The company has already issued hundreds of smaller updates to Windows 8 that are automatically downloaded to users’ computers.
Ms. Reller said Microsoft had sold about 100 million licenses for Windows 8 since the software was introduced, roughly in line with the number of Windows 7 licenses sold in the comparable amount of time after its introduction. While research firms like IDC are showing double-digit declines in PC shipments, Ms. Reller said those figures reflected sales into retail channels, not to actual customers. She said Microsoft was seeing consistent growth in PCs going through the online activation process that everyone with a new PC has to do.
Either way, the launch and its subsequent problems isn’t helping Microsoft’s reputation or encouraging device makers to invest in the technology. The reputational damage may be more than it can overcome. At the least, it needs to make the technology more accessible on PCs. But if may be too late to salvage the system’s reputation as the next big innovation.