Microsoft's Hail Mary Windows 8 Is A Mess In One Crucial Respect

global internet device sales forecastThe Post-PC Era

Photo: BI Intelligence

Microsoft released the Release Preview of Windows 8, the latest pre-launch version of Microsoft’s big operating system for desktops and tablets. The Verge has a good overview.It doesn’t seem hyperbolic to call Windows 8 a Hail Mary for Microsoft: we are in the post-PC era (see chart), and Microsoft needs to have its platform stay relevant for that era. Microsoft understands this, and this is why it has done something potentially clever (and very risky) for Windows 8: Windows 8 will have two user interfaces, not one, a “Desktop” focused on the keyboard/mouse paradigm, and the new “Metro” interface focused on the touch paradigm. 

windows 8 metro uiThis is what Metro looks like

Photo: Screenshot

This seems like a smart way to combine the old with the new, and shows that Microsoft actually recognises the threat, instead of dismissing it out of hand as it usually does.But there is one problem: this means that applications must be optimised for two interfaces, not one. (Or work only half the time.)

As The Verge wrote in their Windows 8 Release Preview review: “The other frustrating thing about Windows 8 is how often we’re still forced to jump between the Metro interface and the standard Desktop look, because a setting or an app only ran in Desktop mode.”

The reason why this matters, in turn, is because there is one thing that Microsoft needs to make Windows 8 work: developers, developers, developers. 

iOS is where developers get paid

Photo: Flurry

The reason why platforms are so valuable is because they have network effects. And, as we keep explaining, the network effect that matters is the developer network effect, not the user network effect (ie who has the most market share). It’s this reality that is tripping up Android: iOS still has the most developers, and that explains why Android is stalling despite having been surging thanks to carriers pushing it. iOS is where developers make money (see chart), which means it’s where developers go, which means it’s where the best apps are, which means it’s where consumers go, which means developers make money there, in a virtuous cycle. What does that mean for Windows 8? It means that if developers have to fine-tune their apps for two platforms and not one, all else equal it will be hard for Microsoft to get developers on their platform. 

Many apps will need to be rewritten for Windows 8 and Metro anyway–if so, a Windows developer developer might prefer to write one version for Windows 8 Desktop and one version for iOS, instead of one version for Windows 8 Desktop and another for Windows 8 Metro. If this is what happens for most developers, Microsoft will remain nowhere in smarpthones and tablets. And if that happens, Windows (and Microsoft) will become irrelevant in the new paradigm. 

In fairness to Microsoft, this is something they are aware of: they are spending lots of energy making developing for Metro easy, and enticing developers to develop for it. Still, this Metro/Desktop problem is going to be a serious hurdle to Windows becoming the dominant platform of the next computing era.

DON’T MISS: Understanding The Network Effect In The Mobile Platform War →

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