Windows 8 seemed to be on the tech world’s mind this weekend, but for all the wrong reasons.
That’s because Paul Thurrott, an independent reporter who mostly covers Microsoft, published a report saying Microsoft is working on a new version of Windows that addresses problems people have with Windows 8. That new operating system will likely be called Windows 9 and ship in 2015. (For now, Microsoft has been calling the new operating system “Threshold” internally.)
Here are the two key paragraphs from Thurrott’s report:
In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8 — just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista — there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.
These things don’t happen in isolation — the big and slow Vista arrived inauspiciously just as netbooks were taking off and Windows 8 arrived just as media tablets changed everything — and it’s fair to say that the technology world of today barely resembles that of 2006, creating new challenges for Windows. Threshold will target this new world. It could very well be a make or break release.
What Thurrott is saying is that Windows 8 simply isn’t up to snuff. Customers aren’t interested, otherwise they’d be buying it. Internally, Microsoft must realise there’s something fundamentally wrong with the operating system, otherwise there wouldn’t be such a drastic effort to make changes. Thurrott also compares Windows 8 to Windows Vista. If you’re unfamiliar, Vista was a new version of Windows that launched in 2007 to very poor reviews and lower-than-expected user upgrades. Eventually, Microsoft had to go back to the drawing board with Vista and fix a lot of problems. That’s why we got Windows 7, which is generally considered to be a very good PC operating system.
It now seems like with Windows 8, Microsoft is suffering from Vista Syndrome again, which is why we’ll likely get a preview of Windows 9 at Microsoft’s big developers conference in April. Thurrott says Windows 9 is due to launch in 2015 and will fix many of the gripes people have with Windows 8. For example, it’ll have a tweaked user interface that’s easier to manage.
Things aren’t exactly rosy for Windows 8 at the moment. Devices that run it, like Microsoft’s own Surface tablets, have been getting so-so reviews. Thurrott says only 25 million PCs are running Windows 8.1, which launched as a free upgrade to Windows 8 last year. It has a lot of improvements over the first version, so it’s a worrying sign that so few people have taken the time to upgrade. Finally, the PC market continues to implode. 2013 saw the biggest decline ever, according to Gartner. And just look at this chart of PC sales growth since 2009:
There’s another piece to the puzzle. Chromebooks, those cheap laptops running Google’s Chrome operating system, are gaining momentum. While Windows PCs still outsell Chromebooks by a large margin, Google’s increasing popularity in desktop computing has forced Microsoft to go very negative on Chromebooks. In fact, Microsoft has an entire website dedicated to bashing Chromebooks. It may seem like a big bully punching down at a niche player, but it’s clear that Microsoft sees a shift in computing habits. Why buy a Windows 8 PC when Chromebooks generally cost much less and can already do just about everything you want?
Windows 8 has an interesting promise. It wants to be the operating system that does everything. Right now, tablets like the iPad are still primarily content consumption devices. They don’t make good productivity tools, even if you snap on one of those nice keyboard accessories. With Windows 8, Microsoft believes you can have one machine that does everything, and that’s the narrative it’s been pushing in commercials and company blog posts.
But it’s clear there’s some element missing. Yes, Windows 8 can do all those things, but it’s not an elegant solution. Microsoft still hasn’t figured out the magic recipe that creates one device for everything in your life. And to be fair, no one has. We’re still probably a few years away from that.
As Thurrott mentions, the stakes are high for Windows 9. It could easily be a “make or break” software release for Windows. Get it right, and Windows is back on track. Get it wrong, and watch Windows crumble.