Microsoft, Windows 8, and the Innovator’s Dilemma (or, why you hate Windows 8)

One thing is obvious from the immediate reaction to Windows 8 Release Preview. Most of those who try it do not like it. It is a contrast to the pre-release days of Windows 7, when there was near-consensus that, whatever you think of Windows overall, the new edition was better than its predecessors.

Why would a company with huge resources and the world’s most popular desktop operating system – 600 million Windows 7 licenses so far, according to OEM VP Steven Guggenheimer – create a new edition which its customers do not want?

Microsoft under Steve Ballmer is a somewhat dysfunctional company – too many meetings, says ex-softie Brandon Watson – but there is still a wealth of talent there. Specifically, Windows President Steven Sinofsky has proven his ability, first with Microsoft Office 2007 which beat off the challenge from OpenOffice.org, and next with Windows 7, which if it repeated the disappointment of Windows Vista would have damaged the company severely.

If it is not incompetence, then, what is it?

In this context, Clayton M. Christensen’s 1997 classic The Innovator’s Dilemma – When new technologies cause great firms to fail is a good read. Chapter one is here. Christensen studied the hard drive market, asking why sixteen of the seventeen companies which dominated the industry in 1976 had failed or been acquired by 1995, replaced by new entrants to the market. Christensen argues that these firms failed because they listened too much to their customers. He says that delivering what your customers want is mostly a good idea, but occasionally fatal:

This is one of the innovator’s dilemmas: Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.

Specifically, hard drive companies failed because new entrants had physically smaller hard drives that were more popular. The reason the established companies failed was because their customers had told them that physically smaller drives was not what they wanted:

Why were the leading drive makers unable to launch 8-inch drives until it was too late? Clearly, they were technologically capable of producing these drives. Their failure resulted from delay in making the strategic commitment to enter the emerging market in which the 8-inch drives initially could be sold. Interviews with marketing and engineering executives close to these companies suggest that the established 14-inch drive manufacturers were held captive by customers. Mainframe computer manufacturers did not need an 8-inch drive. In fact, they explicitly did not want it: they wanted drives with increased capacity at a lower cost per megabyte. The 14-inch drive manufacturers were listening and responding to their established customers. And their customers–in a way that was not apparent to either the disk drive manufacturers or their computer-making customers–were pulling them along a trajectory of 22 percent capacity growth in a 14-inch platform that would ultimately prove fatal.

Are there any parallels with what is happening in computer operating systems today? I think there are. It is not exact, given that tablet pioneer Apple cannot be described as a new entrant, though Google with Android is a closer match. Nevertheless, there is a new kind of operating system based on mobility, touch control, long battery life, secure store-delivered apps, and cloud connectivity, which is eating into the market share for Windows. Further, it seems to me that for Microsoft to do the kind of new Windows that its customers are asking for, which Christensen calls a “sustaining innovation”, like Windows 7 but faster, more reliable, more secure, and with new features that make it easier to use and more capable, would be a trajectory of death. Existing customers would praise it and be more likely to upgrade, but it would do nothing to stem the market share bleed to Apple iPad and the like. Nor would it advance Microsoft’s position in smartphones.

Should Microsoft have adapted its Windows Phone OS for tablets two years ago, or created Metro-style Windows as an independent OS while maintaining Windows desktop separately? YES say customers infuriated by the full-screen Start menu. Yet, the dismal sales for Windows Phone show how difficult it is to enter a market where competitors are firmly entrenched. Would not the same apply to Windows Metro? Reviewers might like it, developers might like it, but in the shops customers would still prefer the safety of iPad and Android and their vast range of available apps.

You begin to see the remorseless logic behind Windows 8, which binds new and old so tightly that you cannot escape either. Don’t like it? Stick with Windows 7.

Microsoft will not say this, but my guess is that customer dissatisfaction with Windows 8 is expected. It is the cost, a heavy cost, of the fight to be a part of the next generation of client computers. It is noticeable though that while the feedback from users is mostly hostile, Microsoft’s OEM partners are right behind it. They do not like seeing their business munched by Apple.

The above does not prove that Microsoft is doing the right thing. Displeasing your customers, remember, is mostly the wrong thing to do. Windows 8 may fail, and Microsoft, already a company with shrinking influence, may go into an unstoppable decline. Bill Gates was right about the tablet taking over from the laptop, history may say, but Microsoft was incapable of making the radical changes to Windows that would make it work until it was too late.

Give credit for this though: Windows 8 is a bold move, and unlike the Tablet PCs that Gates waved around ten years ago, it is an OS that is fit for purpose. Sinofsky’s goal is to unify the smartphone and the tablet, making a new mobile OS that users will enjoy while also maintaining the legacy desktop and slotting in to enterprise management infrastructure. I admire his tenacity in the face of intense protest, and I am beginning to understand that foresight rather than stupidity underlies his efforts.

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43 comments to Microsoft, Windows 8, and the Innovator’s Dilemma (or, why you hate Windows 8)

  • Burak KALAYCI

    I remember reading about how many times innovators’ asses were saved by working on 2 versions with 2 separate teams and how the one who makes less mistakes wins/survives. (from In Search of Stupidity/Rick Chapman and other books). I hope MS has a secret backup plan…

    Releasing a better OS than Vista was not an achievement, releasing a worse one (like Windows 8) is.

    You know Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    My corollary to that is: Attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    I rest my case.

  • Burak KALAYCI

    Windows 8) = Windows 8 )

  • Kevin

    Windows 8 is as you say a bold move for Microsoft. This is also for the trends. I think the trend for future personal computing for the next decade is that, tablet will be more capable than today it is, thanks to the rapid hardware and software developers. And the Pc will also do more stuff than today it does. PC remains as general used device.

    I tried windows 8 since its consumer preview, the first reaction is it’s a hybrid OS. After the first half hour struggling, I felt great for this system. The most important feature of windows 8 is that, I could use it as traditional desktop OS, and also I could use it the metro style apps. Just imagine I could use the same apps on my pc and my tablets. This consistence experience is the weapon of MS to take a big cut on the tablet market, given there are hundreds of hardware partners with MS and the huge amount of windows users. This OS has huge momentums. Though current windows users may not like it, maybe windows 8 will end up badly, I think MS is on the right direction. It provides a consistent and unified OS for future personal computing.

  • Pete

    MS is sacrificing Win8 sales to elbow into the tablet market. A lot of the Windows revenue comes from new computers with Windows preinstalled and corporations with SLAs (which can stick with Win7, WinXP or whatever, but still pay for Win8). MS is probably counting on this lock-in to ride it out.

    The risk is that even more users will move to OSX and the number of SLAs will decrease as corps get angry at Microsoft. Unless Win8 is a smashing success on tablets the net customer satisfaction (CSAT) for MS drops, which is not a good long-term strategy.

  • Tom

    Well, Sinofsky also has personal experience to back him up. The Office 2007 Fluent Ribbon was also a *highly* controversial design — which worked out fine. That was designed by the same team that is responsible for Metro: Steven Sinofsky, Julie Larson-Green, Jensen Harris.

    But more importantly for Microsoft, this is a risk that it can afford to take. Microsoft is only netting $30-50 per OEM license of Windows. If it can average $40 in app sales per Windows 8 PC, its 25-30% commission means that Windows-derived net income just increased by 20-25%. Or to look at it from the other direction, Microsoft can afford to alienate about 20% of its customers and not lose a penny in income.

    But even that’s too pessimistic. Microsoft’s Windows revenues are split roughly 50/50 between consumer and business. And business is also split between transactional and annuity — large enterprises that pay Microsoft a certain amount per desktop per year. Transactional can continue to opt for Windows 7 through downgrade rights. Meanwhile, annuity keeps paying the same amount to Microsoft whether they upgrade to Windows 8, stick with Windows 7, or keep on using Windows XP.

    What’s more, Windows RT slates will probably generate accretive revenue rather than cannibalize Windows sales. And even cannibalism wouldn’t be that bad, because the word is that Windows RT costs more than expected due to the bundled copy of Office.

    So to sum it up — Microsoft can afford to lose perhaps 40+% of its consumer sales before actually taking a hit to net income. That’s a hell of a financial cushion. That’s why they dare to take such a large gamble with the cash cow. It’s a very loaded dice.

  • Phil

    Tim, well penned, although sometimes I think perhaps a bit too much is made of Christensen’s ideas, particularly in light of how wrong he was about the iPhone. (Christensen was recently profiled in The New Yorker, which would suggest that at least the idea of his ideas is now in circulation in the mainstream intelligentsia.)

    A fascinating look at the whole mobile scene (past, present and possible future) is the following presentation made recently by a student of Christensen’s, Horace Dediu, at Mobilism 2012 (whatever that is):

    http://vimeo.com/42689537?pg=embed&sec=42689537

    If you get through to the interesting Q&A session, Dediu suggests that he thinks iOS and Android are on track for a billion users, at which point they become self-sustaining. Nevertheless, he thinks there’s room for others, perhaps 1 or 2 forks of Android and even Windows Phone, and that the number required for a sustainable platform might be as “low” as 200 million users – that’s what MS is frantically going for.

    Thanks.

    -Phil

  • I don’t get why people seem to be forgetting about the influence on Windows Phone. The release of Windows 8 will force many people to adopt and get used to the Metro style, and this will undoubtedly aid Windows Phone and tablet sales, particularly with the release of Windows Phone 8 just around the corner.

  • Ben

    Having used some of the released versions of windows 8, I do like some of it, especially the idea of the unified operating system core, and ability to use the applications everywhere.

    What bugs me is the attempt to force the same user interface everywhere. Windows supports mice, but there is still a reasonably solid ability to user the operating system with just a keyboard. So why when they’re creating a touch interface, must they attempt to reduce the usability of the mouse?

    Since Vista I have enjoyed the addition of a scroll bar and pinned applications on the start bar. It’s the area of the screen where I can quickly and efficiently access just about any installed application on my computer, and as a software developer I find this extremely useful.

    The metro replacements for the start bar and some other screens do not scale well, I want as much information as possible on my screen, and prefer not to give up my screen space to a series inch high squares I have to vertically scan to find things.

  • Peter Austin

    Agree with the analysis, but…
    (1) Windows Phone is not failing because it’s bad. It’s failing because of the Windows brand and because it’s an immature product which means sales staff see a higher return rate and hence lower commission than the alternatives, so they prefer to push Android etc.
    (2) MS repeatedly launches and then abandons new architectures. Silverlight for example. App developers are not going to be confident that this latest change will ‘stick’, until WinPho has been out there for several years.
    (3) I totally agree about the Innovators dilemma, which means firms’ tech gets regularly outdated. See ‘technical debt’. But when trains were being replaced by planes, no railway company successfully bolted wings onto its carriages. Just recognising the issue is not enough.
    (4) Apple followed a much lower-risk path by launching iOS as a separate operating system; letting the Mac continue. This makes sense because the use cases are different – office workers can keep their Macs, while people who just need a browser and some apps can go with iPad. MS may well fail to compete with iPad (if only because Apple have the best hardware sewn up with long-term contracts) while driving people who need a conventional computer across to Mac. MS could have avoided this risk by following Apple’s path.

  • mtcoder

    Key is intergration and MS couldn’t pull off the integration they wanted with standard windows OS, but they didn’t want a ton of different OS’s laying around cause it splinters your developer base. The solution make an all in one OS for all your devices.

    Xbox, desktop, phone, tablet all running the same OS all easily synced via skydrive/wifi. That is the bigger key there having MS OS on all of your daily devices. All the other players in the market leave you with having seperate OSes. Playing angry birds on your phone, sit down in your chair and press send to xbox. Poof angry birds fires up where you currently are and your kinetic lets you play using your hands now. New email from grandma *blupp ding* outlook email tag hovers over bottom right of your tv. You press pause and click on it grandma’s email on your tv. You get done playing games and chatting with grandma, and decide to finish off the tcp report, so you sit down at your desk and load it up work on it, but it’s been a long day and you want to review it in bed before tomorrow meeting. so you click send to tablet, poof. Read it on the tablet make a few changes to the report, insert a few photos from your phone you took earlier that you saved on skydrive. Close your tablet and go to sleep. All using the exact same OS easily synched with skydrive. All you need is a connection.

    Other companies give you bits and pieces but they don’t have the whole package. both apple and google can’t break into the TV market no matter how hard they try. MS already dominates the TV market cause Xbox is nearly in all homes in America and for those that it isn’t MS is releasing their subsidized xbox for dirt cheap so everyone can afford an xbox. *cough* windows 8 on their tv. They dominate the work and desktop environment, and just need to pull in the tablet market. I know their phone market is slowly increasing and is lack luster, but it’s more based on lack of exposure than it being bad. Overall its the best phone OS around hands down on some of the top end phones. Just hard to get people to try them. The apps are fewer in number but are much higher quality, but the key part to all of this is the developer.

    MS has been working hard to really work on their developer base. Free software for any person or company wanting to get started. Free / cheap hosting in most cases. And if they pull this one OS for all off. Developers won’t be able to stop drooling. I’m so tied of writing 6 versions of the same app. 3 versions for Android (one for each main “edition”), 1 for iOS, 1 for desktop, 1 for web.
    Granted html 5 etc is helping a bunch but I don’t get the deep intergation I need to make the apps feel native and smooth.
    Now I know this won’t change but if I write it one time and I cover desktop, phone, xbox, tablet. I will start there just cause first time through I cover all the devices a person might have. Then I can go back and work on making it work for others. As more developers start doing this, the market has huge potential to shift to who is in front. Especially since if you want to be on the desktop you are already writing it for windows 8 to begin with MS is just throwing the other devices in for free.

    Lastly they need the new OS and integration to smooth the enterprise life over. The whole bring your device is a royal pain for companies to deal with. And Android / Apple doesn’t have the tools to let enterprises properly maintain and secure data. Having once again a stream lined OS for all your devices that already has all your enterprise class things. Group policy, Active Directory, etc all built in makes it easier for companies to say here take this device cause it’s what we maintain and all we maintain.

    So is it bold yes. Do customers hate change, yes. do they move on and start to love change when its for the greater good yes.
    Apple is failing to innovate anymore, best they pulled off was a voice chat search engine. Which actually was done in the past years ago. They are making sure customers are happy but at a larger cost. enterprise drives consumers, regardless of what people think. Why do we all use office? cause it’s what we know, why do we typically use MS OS cause it’s what we work with all day. MS can use this market pressure to get their OS out to the masses and slowly into their homes. And xbox is a key corner stone Google and Apple can’t get a foot hold in, which can quickly dive the MS experience for other devices.

    Kinetic wasn’t for games it was for OS intergation, xbox while a gaming unit was and has always been more about having a pc attached to every TV. And with smartglass it just proves MS’s goal to use xbox to dominate the at home market.

  • Bruce Haxton

    Windows Metro is a gamble, as a developer with 40 years experience I don’t like it. I may move to tablets when/if they put a hard drive in them and stop wanting to charge me for extra cloud storage. Metro does not suit the way I develop software, and as I understand it even Microsoft developers used to turn it off when they were using Windows 8. I quite like windows 7 but the number of applications I use makes Metro just not a option for me. I regularly use approx. 30-40 apps and occasionally (on average once a month) use another 100 or so. As I see it, so much time would be spent finding the app I wanted that I would have no time to use it. I have been with WIndows from the start but due to Metro I am considering moving to the Mac or Linux on my next machine.

  • The only complaint with Windows 8 is the user interface. And the only complaint in the user interface is the counter-intuitive Metro. If Microsoft were to listen to its critics, which is apparently a recipe for failure, the only difference in Windows 8 would be to make Metro optional. That’s it! Nothing else has to be changed at all.

    Microsoft has developed this radical new UI in response to Apple finally creating a tablet market. Tech pundits have been writing for years that Microsoft needs to throw out Windows and start over with something new to be competitive. So, by this article, Microsoft is actually not bucking the trend but is following exactly what their customers and industry leaders say they want. Which, according to you, is a recipe for failure.

    Let’s take a more modern example than hard drives. Let’s look at Windows Phone. Windows Mobile/Phone was a dominant player in the mobile computing/phone space in its very early days. Its predecessor, Pocket PC, basically killed the market leader, Palm, before phone integration. RIM came along and definitely popularized the business aspects of this model of computing and certainly ate into Microsoft’s dominance, but they didn’t bring Microsoft down completely. When Apple entered the market, they killed RIM and Microsoft’s offerings both.

    Rather than just releasing an updated Windows Phone of the previous lineage, they threw it all out and started over (sound familiar?). Windows Phone fans complained loudly that the new OS, while it had good ideas, did not fit their needs (sound familiar??). Today, Windows Phone is irrelevant. Microsoft even seems to know this now since they are starting to offer all the core products to the competitors at an increasing rate. Plus, just recently they released an Android product called On{X} which has no Windows Phone version at all!

    Honestly, I think Windows 8 stradles the fence nicely. You have traditional desktops and a fad tablet UI. If they just allowed advanced users more options to tweak, and listened to some of the usability complaints (they have in some respects, in others they are ignoring it completely), they’d have something that pleased everybody.

  • Narg

    “Don’t like it? Stick with Windows 7.” 100% Perfect statement.

    I LOVE Windows 8… on a tablet. Seriously, this OS rocks on a tablet. I’ve already sold my iPad and have switched to Windows 8 for tablet use.

    But, on the desktop. Hell no! Windows 8 stinks on the desktop. Not even slightly, it stinks from top to bottom. I’ll stick with Windows 7 on the desktop until Microsoft wakes up and puts the desktop experience back the way it needs to be. Hopefully they’ll continue to innovate on the tablet, and fork Windows in the way it should have been changed years ago.

  • Narg

    I wanted to add some more thoughts…

    Is it me, or is Windows 8 coming out too soon? Bear with me on that statement a sec. Not that Microsoft isn’t late to the tablet market, they are. But Windows 8 is a full replacement for Windows 7 by Microsoft’s statements. Windows 7 is still doing great, so why replace it now? And Metro is more than ready for tablets, so why hasn’t Microsoft already released a tablet based Windows in tablet form only? So, it seems to me they are both early and late. I guess we are heading for a bit of chaos.

  • Sam B.

    “Most of those who try it do not like it”
    Do you have real data to support these claims or are you just venting? Looking at social media trends shows the complete opposite reaction!

  • webeye

    Seriously you windows haters need to take a big powder break. Give it up! If you can’t beat it leave it… Bitching about a beta, excuse me, a preview, wow, so very very intelligent. Let’s see, a single OS for my touch screen phone, my touch screen tablet, my touch screen monitor at my PC in my office (both work and home) and even my Widows 8 servers sharing a touch screen! Gee, never thought that would happen. Ah, what other operating system provides that kind of revelation? (I won’t even mention how the Kinect will play into this!)

    I once own an ipod. iTunes was so terrible to deal with I took a hammer to that dam ipod… Never will I ever own another Apple product!

  • sparky

    I thought Tom’s break-down of the financials very interesting. One other element not mentioned though is that even assuming a huge reduction on Windows 8 users compared to previous versions; Windows 8 becomes an excellent method of familiarising users with an interface which works great on phones. So even if it did lose 40% of its customers that still leaves a millions of people more likely to buy a Windows phone (and apps) in an ever increasing market.

  • Huhster

    No one is rubbishing 8 because it is bold and different – people are complaining because it is bold & different stuck together with old Windows in a way that makes absolutely no sense. Microsoft is trying to leverage their desktop/laptop market to give them a huge app store for mobile and all they will succeed in doing is push even more people on to Macs.

  • MSHYYC

    Burak has an interesting insight there. If a company has to be a “bold innovator”, it better have a backup plan. This is what saved Apple the first time in the 1980s. It was on a path of “sustained innovation” already after only a few years in business–having only one product line based on aging technologies (all their computers were different editions of the Apple II platform and related accessories–even the Apple III was an incremental step). Jobs saw the future was in graphical/menu-based systems from his visits to PARC and Raskin envisioned something similar in his original concepts for an “appliance computer”. Thus, they had two competing visions with some important similarities working towards a future product line–neither of which, incidentally, represented something their customers were clamouring for.

    Through Job’s interference in both projects each project influenced the other, and both were carried forward to completion and release to market. One project became “Lisa”, the other “Macintosh”. The first to market failed miserably, so though it was considered crazy by most everyone observing Apple’s antics having the Mac as a “backup” was important. But even the Mac was not a fantastic success and revenue maker for Apple until the release of later models like the “fat Mac” and the SE. Apple depended on its legacy Apple II line for some years afterward and even IIgs and last IIe and IIc machines ended up with 16-bit enhancements and a Mac-like GUI that seemingly competed with the Mac, yet the legacy support kept old customers happy and provided sustaining revenue for a new product line to take hold.

    Microsoft notoriously takes three real attempts to get something new right. This was the case with Windows where it had to get to 3.x before becoming a worthwhile product. If they are going to step away from that radically they may need to have that backup plan (perhaps that is something from the Windows Phone/CE-based line, or an XBOX derivative or perhaps something quietly being developed at MSFT Research?), and most certainly they are going to have to support the “legacy” line. If Win8 does not take off I can see Win7 hanging around in some capacity like XP did until the Vista era passed. I can see desktops and full-sized laptops being offered with Win7 and corporate use of Win7 being the standard for years. The x86 version of Win8 could carry some level of “classic desktop” baggage to aid in transition but its obvious that this baggage could kill windows 8 in the end–the extra baggage obviously hobbles it as an effective mobile competitor to Android and iOS while at the same time antagonizes the old-school desktop crowd that cannot let go of the Start Menu even if they should.

    So perhaps a page from history should be taken as was suggested in this article. Apple did not execute its transition to the Mac era according to any intricate plan or purpose–it was by all accounts a chaotic and sometimes bungling effort which probably succeeded because of the involvement of visionaries who saw the potential end result even if they didn’t know the best path there. Microsoft could learn from where Apple succeeded and use hindsight to chart a smoother course. I think MSFT might be better not to “evolve” into this new “metro”/touch-friendly/mobile-centric paradigm but instead execute a “reboot” with a new OS marketed in parallel with the “sustained innovation”/legacy line. The new OS probably shouldn’t even be called Windows at all. I’d not have bothered with a Windows 8, but rather incremental Windows 7.x releases over 10 to 12 years the way XP stuck around for that long. BUT instead of coasting on it also release “Microsoft Metro OS”. MS Metro would be a fully capable OS built to run on x86 or ARM or whatever, desktop or mobile, and though it could share some internal architecture and compatabilty with Win 7.x, legacy support/compatibility should NOT be the priority it has been with Windows.

    MSFT has dealt with this in the past to a degree too, for years supporting DOS/Win3.x/95/98/Me right alongside the not-fully-compatible/radically-different-architecture NT/Win2000 line. They may just have to do that again, addressing overlapping markets with two operating system lines for 5 to 10 years–this time with a the classic Windows OS and a new Metro OS for the future so that Metro doesn’t have to be unduly burdened with legacy support. MSFT is in real danger here in not making a clean enough break when it should, even if the Metro style of Windows 8 is the right way to go.

  • JB

    @Tom
    The Ribbon interface worked out well? Really? Everyone I know hates it. Everyone. (Of course, to be fair, they were all users of Office since at least Office 95) And the level of hatred is rising as several large companies are finally upgrading from Office 2003, and their employees are actually suffering productivity because of the upgrade. I’d say it’s far too early to say Ribbon worked out ok.

    What I think Ribbon is going to accomplish is reducing the feature set used in Office to a handful the Ribbon makes easy to access, and the rest will be ignored. This may be genius, as it may be a plan to provide the 80% functionality needed for a tablet version of Office, finally reducing the feature bloat we’ve all been complaining about for years.

  • Vlaz

    I don’t get all the Windows 8 bashing. I’ve been using Windows 8 at home for 2 months now and I love it. Supre fast startup and shutdowns, great way to organize the apps I use most. The only complaint I have is that it can be difficult to find where MS has moved some of the Control Panel type configuration apps, but you do eventually find them and its pretty much a set it and forget it situation.

  • Ric

    “Should Microsoft have adapted its Windows Phone OS for tablets two years ago, or created Metro-style Windows as an independent OS while maintaining Windows desktop separately?” Its good to see someone finally voice what M$ ‘should’ have done. Just like they focused on a new phone platform, a tablet platform with complete interoperability with the other two would – I think – have maintained there powerful market position.

    As it is, the thing they havent taken in consideration is the hit to their brand another ‘Vista like’ misstep is going to have on their reputation. This may very well be the watershed that ushers them into the twilight of their innovation impact. I know for me personally, 7 may be the last M$ OS I ever buy.

    Almost like an end to an legendary era.

  • John

    Haven’t read through all the postings so someone may have already said it – I would amend the Innovator’s quote to be:

    “This is one of the innovator’s dilemmas: Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to [just] their [current] customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.”

    The buggy whip example and railroad example are great illustrations that you have to step back and look at the bigger market than just current customers (especially if they are change adverse!).

    That being said and not having played with Windows 8 at all; I’m still cautiously watching but in no rush to move on from 7. Question is will it be a great OS or Windows Bob (remember that one?) reincarnated.

  • Albin

    My takeaway from this very good article is that W8 is much less about devices, in particular the tablet versus other platforms, and much more an attempt to close off its total “ecosystem” as Apple has done, Google seems to resist doing, and W7 did not do. W7 continues the business model of permitting developers to provide and end users to install just about anything that “fits” on the OS. Apple and apparently now W8 will require everybody to go through the centrally planned “Store”. That is fundamental and new and explains a great deal.

  • Matt

    I think it is popular in the tech community to dislike anything Microsoft produces. So, I can see how an IT focused blog might get the impression that nobody likes it. I just don’t think this is true. For example, I showed some of the new Windows Metro apps to my wife (a designer and long time Mac user) and she said “wow, I wish my computer looked like that”. I think what a lot of people are underestimating how well the screens will look in marketing material. As IT folks, we really have just looked at them in the context of our workflow. It is different, so we dismiss it. But, when the marketing blitz hits, and people can go and *touch* the new devices (which for the most part are all touch enabled) and see the new beautiful UIs in action, I think a lot of people will dig it.

  • I think you’re wrong regarding a big success of Win8.
    I like the tile interface.
    I don’t get all the Windows 8 bashing
    what other operating system provides that kind of revelation?
    Windows 8 is as you say a bold move for Microsoft.
    Windows 8 look is very bold beautiful and fluid.
    im so happy for codename:Windows 8 and i think Windows 95 was a big deal for users and developers alike.
    and Fluent Ribbon was also a *highly* controversial design — which worked out fine.
    Overall, this release feels smoother, faster, snappier, and more stable.
    with this your luck can be perfect.now with touch you can have all your requirements plus even more.My prediction is clear and I know that there will be a much perfect luck for the whole W(P)8(RT) universe than Microsoft can imagine.

    no forget mark as anwser and log the uri

  • Jon

    I cannot express deeply enough how much I hate the metro interface on Windows 8. What appalls me even more is that Microsoft are removing Aero and have recently described it as “cheesy and dated”.

    I am the head of software development at my company. I have spent 12 months re-writing our flagship product using VB.net and WPF – the current shipping version of the program has a large Visual Basic 6 base of code, but I have completely halted development on the rewrite project now. I realise that Windows 7 should be around for a long time yet, but I have come to the conclusion that as a result of the hair-brained strategy that Microsoft is now following they will rapidly become a company in decline. No company is too big to fail. I do not see why I should continue to develop a product that Microsoft will already be tagging as “legacy” as I wanted to be as up-to-date as possible, and with another code base that will last another ten years. Because of the Aero removal and the push for WinRT the message I am hearing is that WPF has no real future, which means that we are probably wasting our time with the rewrite.

    Instead of the comfortable feeling I had 12 months ago that performing a rewrite using WPF was a no-brainer, I now find myself having had to finally investigate Android and Linux Mint as credible alternatives and am actually quite impressed with what I am seeing. Our company sells a very specific product and it won’t really matter to our new customers what platform we deliver on, so I am considering selling Android tablets with our future software pre-installed and configured (I realise that most developers won’t be in that position).

    I have been programming for Windows since 1990 and have been positive and enthusiastic about every version of Windows since version 2 (albeit to varying degrees). I have used both community previews of Windows 8, and now have the release preview – and every time I use it I feel angry so there is no way I will actually buy it. I seriously feel that Windows 8 will fail and will be a case-study used by management students for decades to come as an example of how to kill a successful product with ruthless efficiency. So, from having been rather evangelical about Microsoft for many years I now just feel that the development path I was following is suddenly a dead-end. I’m not going to wait and see whether Windows 9 will try to fix this, or whether Bobby Ewing is going to step out of the shower.

  • Steve Naidamast

    I believe the author of this post has completely missed the point… And I say this as a senior software engineer who actually likes the new Metro interface in Windows 8.

    However, as much as I do like the Metro interface, the useability of that interface when doing serious work on a desktop is very much lacking. Serious work on a desktop has a completely different paradigm than that of a mobile device. And anyone who believes that mobile devices will replace desktop computing in this genre obviously has little understanding of how serious computing is performed.

    Mobile devices are for the most part simply toys that allow people to flit through information, text with friends and associates, read emails, and the like. Anything else other than such short term usage and one will quickly tire of the inability of a mobile OS to provide a more comfortable working environment. Besides these devices are small to tiny and what person in their right mind would want to seriously consider staring at such a device for hours on end when trying to do work that requires being able to multitask your screens.

    True, these new devices are currently outselling desktops by larger margins. However, they are the new toys on the block where the ultra-book is just beginning to emerge that actually provides a superior compromise for the need for mobility with a decent working environment. Mobile device manufacturers may find their own “Innovators Dilemma” upon them. In addition, a lot of this is simply cultural fad with the younger generation, the results of which are in fact quite horrifying to sociologists.

    The new Metro interface was designed for a specific market in mind, which was not the desktop. As a result, mixing the two has been and will be a terrible mistake that Microsoft will have to face. They made it far worse by removing the one option in Windows 8 that could have provided a compromise, the “Start Button” and its menu system.

    I am sorry but I do not see the development of Windows 8 as a result of any “Innovators Dilemma” paradigm here since the need for a familiar and working desktop environment will never be replaced by one for mobile devices. Microsoft, like Apple, should have separated the two and left it at that and thereby would have satisfied their current customer base while allowing for the necessary innovation for the mobile market. There would have been absolutely nothing wrong with this and in fact would have provided Microsoft with far more flexibility and maneuverability than their current strategy provides for. Microsoft is quite capable of supporting two different operating systems… Just like Apple…

  • John Wilbur

    Since the consumer preview became available, I have installed Win 8 on an old ASUS eeePC, no touch screen and 1024 x 600 screen resolution, initially sorely missing the start button. But now, I use that old eeePC more than I ever did when it had win XP on it. It’s not as good as my wife’s iPad right now (no touch control) but I certainly see the value in those active tiles. I say Microsoft had and has no choice if it wants to stay relevent. Desktops will eventually fade into the background as cloud storage, and more powerful/flexible tablets, and, more important, more delivery platforms evolve.

  • Mark

    Something as simple as making available a Win7-style Start button as an alternative to the Metro interface would suffice for me! Just this change would silence many of the desktop and laptop users who are slagging off the OS, and I don’t see it as a difficult thing for MS to do. Then we would have the *choice* to use either Metro or traditional desktop.

    Don’t get me started on VS2012 Express!

    I do not use tablets or smart phones, and won’t for the foreseeable future. They are simply not a good fit for my work and lifestyle. So, please MS, give us a non full-screen alternative to the Start button. Don’t make me stay on Win7 or migrate to Linux.

  • Dana

    My Windows 8 Impression

    First – I love Windows 7. Have it running on six PCs at home along with one running Windows Home Server. Windows 8 may be a bold move but so is jumping off a cliff. Sometimes bold moves aren’t all that productive

    Been playing with Win8 since the initial Developer Preview. There a couple of big “gotchas”, well actually, more than a couple.

    Strike one: There seems to be no consistency across applications. Some only open in Metro. Some, mostly admin functions, only open in the desktop. Many have a completely different look and feel than the others. Some file types default to Metro but the application that opens isn’t compatible with the file type. Ex., I was able to connect to my DLNA server from the desktop but when I selected a video file there it opened in the Metro Video app. The video app only displayed video files stored in the Microsoft cloud and didn’t even attempt to play the file I selected. There was a way to open local files in Metro but my DLNA server was missing from the list.

    Strike two: EVERYTHING in Metro relies on the cloud to function. I installed Win8 on my six year old convertible tablet/laptop PC. I was able to get most of the hardware functions to work but never could get the stylus to function. I realize the machine is rather old but one would think that there is some sort of generic touch/stylus driver built in. Brought the laptop into work to show some of the guys how bad Win8 is. Didn’t take long. I am not allowed to connect to the corporate network with my personal equipment so, since Metro depends on a functioning network connection, my PC basically became an anchor. If you have no network access Win8 is useless.

    Strike three: Tried to access a web site with a lot of Flash content using Internet Explorer in Metro. Said I didn’t have Flash installed. Tried to install it and it said I already had Flash and that I would have to open the site using the desktop version of IE. Two versions of IE, each incompatible with the other???

    You’re out! Bring back Windows ME, BOB and Clippy… Even they were better! ;-)

  • Pete

    I wonder if Windows 8 should really be called Tiles 1.0. Windows 8 should be an improved windows 7 with the ability to run Tiles in a sandbox.

  • michael

    Couldn’t disagree more. Windows 8 isn’t well-liked for a simple reason: It’s a mach-up of 2 UI paradigms that just don’t fit well together.

    This might still be acceptable if it accomplished something for the user — simplicity, attractiveness, whatever. But instead it does absolutely nothing for the user at all. It just allows MS to try to push its tablet interface on non-tablet users.

    Innovator’s Dilemma my ass.

  • Tom

    @MSHYYC: Historically, Microsoft takes three versions to get to success … but only two versions to get to a worthwhile product. Windows 2.0, MS-DOS 2.0, and WinWord 2.0 were all fine products. They just didn’t sell in the quantities that Windows 3.0, MS-DOS 3.0, and WinWord 6.0 did.

    @JB: People were predicting that Ribbon would destroy Microsoft’s Office revenues, that it would make businesses consider OpenOffice because it continued with the familiar pull-down menu interface. Didn’t work out that way. Microsoft’s Office business is doing great — better than Windows.

    Might they have done better if they hadn’t ditched the Ribbon? There’s no way to tell without a time machine. Certainly, they wouldn’t have a bunch of users who are used to the ribbon interface. There are kids entering college this fall who have been using Ribbon since they were 12. These kids will have a hard time switching to OpenOffice. The lock-in might well be worth the price of alienating some users.

    The Sinofsky calculation with Windows 8 is that 1 zillion customers at $60 each is better than 1.2 zillion customers at $50 each. For one thing, you get into a lot less antitrust trouble that way. For another thing, it keeps the company sharp, preventing complacency from setting in from the monopoly position. And if they can manage 1.1 or even 1.2 zillion customers at $60 each, then even better.

    @Jon: I don’t get it. *How* exactly does Metro prevent your codebase from lasting 10 years? WinForms has been legacy for 6 years now, and people are still writing brand-spanking-new apps in WinForms. MFC has been legacy for over a decade, and people are still writing new MFC apps. Or did you seriously think that the desktop is going away?

    There is one platform that got really screwed by Metro — Silverlight. But WPF? You’re overreacting. Parts of Visual Studio are written in WPF. Part of AutoCAD are written in WPF. There’s no reason why WPF shouldn’t live as long as WinForms.

  • Ralph Little

    The problem for Microsoft is pretty misrepresented here by allusion to the “Innovator’s Dilemma” as a justification for striking out in a radical direction for Windows 8.

    The reality is that the use cases for the traditional desktop are diverging. Those that wished to consume media, browse the internet and perform communications tasks are now using tablets and phones whereas they had a vastly under-used desktop machine previously. I would argue that those people now don’t really need a desktop machine at all and they are finding that the tablet and phone performs their tasks more conveniently.

    The other, more traditional desktop user still exists and they wish to do work.

    Microsoft’s problem is that they have a single OS which they identify with both these use cases. Unfortunately by trying to cater for both, they cater for neither.

    Many people that I have heard from actually like the Metro-style interface for a use case well suited to a tablet or phone. The main complaints I have heard of Windows 8 are on the desktop for doing proper work. In this use case, the tiled and full-screen interface just isn’t efficient and unbelievably annoying.

    Microsoft need to decide which users they are targeting and focus on them. Are they going after iPhone/Android users in the mobile market for consumption of media, or are they trying to sustain the rapidly diminishing (in terms of overall percentage of computing) desktop market?

    In trying to cater for both, they are satisfying neither.

  • Really

    Most of the comments here including the author is kind of silly and uninformed. I have used windows 8 and it is fantastic and I have read tons of reviews that pretty much say the same.

    I have also read many reviews which critisize it and all of them have this common theme of how metro sucks on a desktop. All those commenters have one thing in common they are using the metro touch interface on a non touch screen and have completely misinterpreted the concept. Ever tried to do a iPad on a non touch screen and see if you still love it (point being using something in a way it is not designed to be used). Being silly apart don’t forget that you are not forced or required to use both PC and Metro interfaces.

    Don’t use the Metro interface on your desktop if you don’t want to or don’t like it. You either don’t know or are simply ignorant of the fact that you are NOT required to do both. It is a choice between the two, you can just use either one of them or both, its entirely upto you. This choice is really wonderful considering how app centric todays mobile world has become and how we have come to love our apps.

    PS: And really you had to compare a software business of the scale that Microsoft does with a few tiny hardware companies, the two couldn’t be farther appart. I can understand your theory but the analogy really sucks.

  • dave s

    Microsoft does fine when they follow their proven time tested standard approach to development (e.g.: copying Apple). It’s when they deviate from that plan that they fall on their sword (Windows Mobile).

    Windows 8 looks like another deviation. Worrisome.

  • Jim L

    Sounds like another whine.

  • Alan Lindsay

    Where do you get your information? Your whole premise is based off an unsupported statement that most people who try Windows 8 hate it. Really? Show me the data. I personally liked it. Still do like it. You are aware that one click turns it back into Windows 7 I assume. That seems to me like a pretty good way to keep people happy especially since it boots in about 25% of the time of windows 7 and is faster in operation.

    I get the main point you are trying to make but make that instead of using a gratuitous swipe as a hook

  • Bradley

    Microsoft can’t go into a future containing Android and iOS with the ancient Win32 API. There’s too much cruft on top of cruft. So the first cut using a modern API, Win 8, is unimpressive. But this time they put some thought into the platform instead of rushing out crap, like they did 20 years ago, which produced huge social costs. I don’t think it matters that Win 8 is mediocre. Sucking hasn’t killed a Windows yet.

  • Hamranhansenhansen

    No, it is Apple that faced the Innovator’s Dilemma (and uniquely solved it.) Microsoft is just being disrupted.

    Apple *is* a new entrant — iPad is Apple’s first $500 PC. Almost all Windows PC’s sell for about $500. That is a separate market fom the $1000 systems that are almost all Macs today. Up until iPad, Apple simply did not compete with the majority of Windows systems. Now, they do. iPad costs $200 to make and there is huge demand and satisfaction at $399 retail, and it is 700 grams and 10-hour battery and almost zero training and I-T hours needed — sorry, but HP and Dell and Lenovo cannot build an Intel system to compete with that. Microsoft lost 25% of the $500 PC market to iPad in just 2 years, during which time iPad was still bootstrapping, getting full-size apps and so on. Now it has Avid and Keynote and GarageBand and many other PC apps on a Retina screen, for like $5 each, and it is a full PC now. If trends continue, iPad outsells Windows PC’s one day in 2015 or so and never looks back.

    So Microsoft is making an iPad out of Windows so they can sell it on $249 devices and compete with iPad. The thing that is confusing is there is no corresponding Mac from Microsoft. That is because they have no high-end users. The high-end Windows PC is a Mac.

    Many, many Windows sales were made based on just 1 feature: CHEAPEST. But iPad is cheaper now. Even if you pay the same price at retail, iPad has 2-4 times the battery, free OS updates, $5 apps, no viruses, almost no training, almost no setup or admin, and is smaller and mobile and uses less power. Consider POS systems, kiosks, Web terminals, office terminals — all being done with iPads for much less today than with Wintel 2 years ago. To become cheapest again, Microsoft needs to be on ARM and be so easy to use, no training is required.

    The “new kind of operating system” you describe is iOS, the one from iPhone, which is the iPod phone. This new simplified computing is iPod computing. People wanted an iPod PC — that is iPad. Microsoft had many years to get it done but failed.

    This is Apple’s game from 5 years ago (11 if you count iPod) that Microsoft is FINALLY responding to. No innovation from Microsoft, here. They were sitting atop a pile of dissatisfied $500 PC buyers who had no other option. This is not the first Windows nobody wanted. Windows is VASTLY unpopular. So even though the $500 PC market is still 75% Windows and only 25% iPad, iPad doubles in sales every year, while Windows is shrinking fast. This is not the beginning of anything. NT is going to ship on ARM over 5 years after OS X. Microsoft completely missed the boat. The reason it may seem new to you is you have been running Windows, which is always just a 1995 PC with a fresh coat of paint. Every single time. Well, they wore that out. The world has moved on to iPads — mobile PC’s. In the same way that all high-end phones have become clones of iPhone, all low-end PC’s are becoming clones of iPad.

    If you can look at the $500 PC market with innocent eyes, you can see iPad is next-generation. People cannot buy a $500 PC anymore and pay $500 more to I-T people to clean off viruses during its life. With Wi-Fi and 3G/4G running through your body 24/7, you tend to gravitate towards a 10-hour battery and transparent wireless access, not a portable desk you can set up on your lap and typically need a power cord. With print publishing collapsing in 2010, these days you need a reader, not just a typewriter. Businesses cannot buy a $500 PC and then spend $1000 to upgrade it to a new version of Windows and $1000 more to train the user to use the new version of Windows. Users don’t just run Word all day anymore. Even corporate users are making short movies now, for training or marketing. They need apps that walk them through that, like iMovie. Digital photos are ubiquitous. People have huge data sets, but can’t navigate a file system. A 1995 PC is nostalgic in today’s settings like a Selectric typewriter.

    And it also has to be noted that Microsoft’s PC makers are a disadvantage now. They fragment the platform and increase component costs. It’s the opposite of the 90′s because the hardware makers are all in China now. Microsoft outsources supply chain management to a bunch of PC makers, none of which has the scale to compete with Apple. There is also a real consumer computing market now, so demand is the thing you want. Supply is easy now. If you have demand for 100 million Windows RT tablets this year, it is A-B-C to do that. However, getting demand for 100 million devices is very, very hard. Creating 2 million tablets per year is also hard. Especially across dozens of brands. As low-end PC’s transition to ARM, Apple becomes the giant in low-end PC’s, not Microsoft.

    A key thing to understand is ARM systems are essentially iPods. That is Apple’s home turf. Windows 8 doesn’t just look like Zune, it *is* a Zune PC. Metro is there for 100% the exact same reason. Microsoft has to adapt to selling full-size general purpose computing in an iPod form factor, with iPod ease of use, iPod easy administration, iPod battery life, iPod price, iPod reliability, and even iPod fun, because the users themselves are choosing their PC’s now.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that an iPod has enough CPU/GPU power now that most computer users do not need more. You can’t show users an iPad and then make them pay more for a badly-built Intel PC with 300% of the weight and suffer 25% of the battery life to get more CPU/GPU power that they cannot use. They want touch, camera, reading, and 700 grams more than they want Intel. Technical people divide ARM from Intel and PC from iPad, but users look at iPad and see a next-generation PC like they saw iPod as a next-generation Walkman and iPhone as a next-generation phone. So the Windows PC is a BlackBerry right now.

    Windows 8 is very late. It is not being pushed on you early. You should have been running it for 3-4 years now on cheap but well-built ARM PC’s, and there should be 500,000 WinARM apps by now instead of 50. If Surface had been 10-inch ARM, that would have done it.

  • I wonder if Windows 8 should really be called Tiles 1.0. Windows 8 should be an improved windows 7 with the ability to run Tiles in a sandbox.

    Brilliant! And that actually would have been a great name, come to think of it.

    I now find myself having had to finally investigate Android and Linux Mint as credible alternatives and am actually quite impressed with what I am seeing.

    Funny, I’ve been investigating Java since Microsoft started demolishing its .NET developer community. Turns out Java benefited greatly from being bought by Oracle. They are much more heavily invested in the language than MS ever was in .NET, they are rapidly improving the JVM and adding language features from C#, and the new JavaFX UI system even adds a XAML-like design language. And everything’s multiplatform, too. Thank you, Microsoft, for encouraging me to leave your ecosystem!

  • Blessed Geek

    The jury is still out on Windows 8.

    All these annoying previews made by developers and programmers who have their own abstract ideas of how UI should work. I have read the reviews, downloaded the preview and will try it out.

    From, what I have read, the new interface would be a blast to users – normal but abnormal users.

    On a factory floor, where would be hundreds of computers to a shift of operators. Operators don’t care about programmers’ opinion what constitute usability. It’s just touch the screen.

    The list goes on:
    Manufacturing equipment and robotic mainframe providers. Frontdesk systems. Shipment and delivery systems consoles. The list goes on.

    The $40 price tag for Windows 8 (perhaps even less for volume purchases) is very tempting for equipment owners/manufacturers to upgrade from currently dominant XP to Windows 8. Especially if Microsoft makes that upgrade apap (as painless as possible).

    Why would an equipment programmer would want to upgrade to Windows 8. Equipment sytems programmers have been waiting for an OS that has a standardized touch screen response. Rather than a haphazard of non-standard suppliers. Not only so, it has to be compatible with ,NET. It has to run IE. It has to have all those annoying old legacy behaviours plus standardized touch screen responses. What Chris Pirillo does not care is – we don’t want to have to deal with two different operating systems when developing our software: one with touch screen and one without.

    There aren’t a lot of users involved, but the equipment industry represents perhaps 100 XP licences per user/operator. That is a lot licences. So before programmers have their grand idea why Windows 8 would be a failure – visit your local little off-road diner and look around the blue collar worker and ask him/her if he/she cares if we upgraded to Windows 8.

    Just as it turns out, that decision rests on us the programmers to decide if we wish to upgrade our equipment to Windows 8 – and to make the equipment or frontdesk operator happy and comfortable using the “new” touch screen interface. And they don’t get to escape out of our touchscreen env to see the nauseating features of Windows 8 (unless they have a developer’s server-side initiated unlock authentication).