Why is Windows 8 not selling better?

The Register reports a rumoured blame game playing out between Microsoft and its OEM partners concerning why Windows 8 sales have not taken off in the hoped-for manner.

A separate source at a major Windows 8 PC maker confirmed frustration is simmering inside Microsoft, and the blame is settling on PC makers. He said [Microsoft] "is pinning the blame on the manufacturers for not having enough touch-based product".

PC makers on the other hand:

PC makers, though, are hitting back after Redmond’s finger-pointing – countering that if they’d followed Microsoft’s advice they’d have ended up building very expensive tablets and would have been saddled with the costs of a huge piles of unsold units. Those who did buy Windows 8 PCs ultimately bought the cheap laptops not high-end Ultrabooks or hybrids.

This is a silly discussion. I agree that not enough tablets were available at launch. On the other hand, the OEMs are correct: the market for high-end expensive hybrids is limited, and rightly so as they are not good value for most users.

What both sides seem to be ignoring is that Windows 8 was always going to be a hard sell. Microsoft made a conscious and deliberate decision to create a new tablet platform and bolt it on to desktop Windows in order to establish it. The added value for users who just want to run Office and other desktop apps is small, while the cost in terms of learning to find your way around a new Start screen is significant.

This could yet work out well for Microsoft. As the platform matures and better new-style apps appear, Windows 8 will become more attractive. Further, as users discover that Windows 8 is not really hard to use, the reasons not to upgrade will diminish. In theory, users will gradually be able to spend more time in the touch-friendly user interface rather than in the desktop, making pure tablet use of Windows 8 (no keyboard or mouse) more attractive.

The counter-argument is that Windows may never shake off its desktop inheritance and that the Metro-style platform will never be important.

Maybe Microsoft should have communicated "let’s have a low-key launch and build this slowly" rather than spending big on marketing in the hope that nobody would notice these issues.

It is true that there are big and long-standing problems with the way Windows machines are designed, built and marketed, problems that have caused Microsoft to create its own Surface devices (I am typing this on Surface RT) and to copy Apple by opening its own stores, selling "signature" PCs with third-party rubbish removed.

In addition, Microsoft made inexplicable mistakes with the launch of Windows 8 and Windows RT, such as building a mail app that is barely competent – one app that almost everyone will try and which could have been used to show off the potential of the new platform. Check the reviews; there is even something odd about the few five-star ratings.

That does not mean that the subdued launch of Windows 8 is mainly Microsoft’s fault, or mainly the fault of its partners. The reasons are more obvious and more fundamental.

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6 comments to Why is Windows 8 not selling better?

  • James Hancock

    There is a simple reason why Windows 8 isn’t selling better: The tech geeks aren’t behind it. Vista tanked because the tech geeks hated it. It was a good OS and no one with an HP or Dell Computer had any problems with it. It just didn’t have drivers at launch for home built computers and hacked together from parts computers and ran slower and needed more memory than XP because of all of the security. Of course the average user wouldn’t care, any Vista compatible computer (by logo) would work just fine, but their tech geek friends, when asked said “Get Windows XP, Vista Sucks!” and volia, that’s exactly what happened.

    Windows 7 had all of the driver issues worked out, because Vista drivers were out by that time. Further it used the same requirements as Vista and all of those old hacked together computers were long gone, so the geeks had no reason to complain. Thus they loved it and it is the second comming of Windows XP because the tech geeks tell their neophyte friends: “Get Windows 7, it’s great!”

    Along comes Windows 8, which with the app store, single tasking with background notifications, and touch is exactly what real users want and need. But of course the tech geeks use multiple monitors, which it doesn’t work well on, and have issues with the task bar still being there with not start menu and the initial apps aren’t what tech geeks wanted, they wanted mature apps like on their ipad that they play with, and Office looks out of place running on it, just like all desktop apps do, so the average tech geek gets absolutely no benefit from Windows 8 and thus cans it and tells all of their neophyte friends to stay away. Thus Windows 8 sells slowly. That it’s doing as well as it is is remarkable because of the tech backlash.

    Microsoft doesn’t get that they have to create simple but also tech geek at the same time. Windows 8 is close, but not quite there. If they’d done the following they would have had a hit:

    1. Make it so that you could run 2 Windows 8 apps per screen. (1 if not snapped). By doing this, the tech geeks would have nothing to complain about because the native apps could multi-task. Want more apps running? Get another screen. Most tech geeks run at least 2 screens, so this would have solved that.
    2. Make the right click pro menu in the bottom left a full Windows Start screen that pops up like Windows Phone 8 and is fully customizable like Windows Phone 8. Make it just be a swipe down and to the left or jam your mouse to the bottom left of a screen.
    3. Get a name for “Windows 8 Apps”. Metro worked, but find something that developer tech geeks can search for when programming the damn thing!
    4. Change the behavior of the mouse so it’s consistent with touch. This means click to grab and scroll, and click and hold to select etc. It’s incredibly intuitive (I built an app that copied this and it was great.) and would make people feel like it was more the same experience.
    5. Get rid of the task bar all together. The reason why people miss the start menu is because of muscle and visual subconscious memory. They see the task bar, and it’s SUPPOSED TO HAVE A START BUTTON. It’s what made Windows, Windows. By leaving the task bar and removing the button they created cognitive dissidence, especially for the tech geeks. Remove the bar and you remove the problem.
    6. Make all desktop apps run full screen so that they’re consistent with their Metro counterparts.
    7. Build a good, free music app that doesn’t have ads (it does!!!) and doesn’t ask you every hour if you’re still there. A tech geek hates nothing more than being harassed to buy something to play music that they already own.
    8. Make that music app be able to rate songs right from the toast popup. Heck make the app be able to rate music period.
    9. Don’t tell tech geeks that 8 year old media technology is awesome and that’s all your going to get and then deny there is a problem. Windows 8 apps don’t support bitstreaming of high definition audio, doesn’t support MPEG-2 (unless you install the WMC upgrade), and most importantly for the tech geek, doesn’t support MKV. All of these things combine to piss off the tech geek. The average user may not care because they’ buy all of their stuff via Netflix monthly or similar, but the tech geek HATES THIS. They ripped their bluray collection (and other various means that MS can’t stop nor should they try by locking things out or making them difficult) and they will not pay for the privilege of watching inferior quality Netflix of what they already have. Worse: Windows 8 Apps will automatically try and play the audio track in a file that it doesn’t support, even if there is an audio track that it does support in the file.

    If you watched the tech blogs response to Sinofky’s post on Windows 8′s media capabilities you will have seen one of the major turning points for tech geeks hating Windows 8. It was amazing to watch and more amazing that MS didn’t get what just happened to them. That they denied there was a problem and told people that they should be happy with the same crappy support that the Xbox has just made it much much worse. (aside from the fact that the Xbox also is a advertising hell that requires you to pay each year to get any value from it, which tech geeks HATE)

    If MS at the very least released a Media Pack that would auto-offer on attempts to play back MPEG-2, MKV or any bitstream audio tracks with a $10 media pack that would cover whatever licences are required and install the Media Foundation stuff required automatically and then just play and make every app after that play them just fine they would get back a lot of good will.

    MS needs to address all of these things if they want to get tech geeks back on board. And until they do, the adoption will be slow going, especially now that the price has increased so much as of Feb 1st.

    What’s more, they could have a huge win in the home entertainment market if they required that all media apps support ehome remotes natively, and provided DLNA DTCP copy protection and provided a scheduler for recording them that was built into the OS and available in Windows 8 Apps. By doing so, everyone from Netflix to Comcast could provide DVR support (since all cable boxes must support DLNA DTCP streaming as of Jan 1st 2014) and even if MS didn’t provide their own app for live tv and guide etc. 3rd parties would jump in and do it. Then it would simply be a matter of getting some Win RT set top boxes out the door from some 3rd party and a media server in a closet and you’d have the ecosystem that Apple is about to take away from them complete and finally Windows Media Center would make sense and be trivial for people to make work.

    Again, yes the hardware at launch mostly sucked, but that wasn’t the issue. The issue was that tech geeks, on home built computers HATE Windows 8 for the above reasons. They killed it, just like they killed Vista. MS needs to recognize this, and reach out to the tech geeks and LISTEN and then act. The above list is a good start. I’m sure there is more. (no, some voting BS site that MS puts up to make people feel better for “being heard” just like your vote of 150,000,000 actually makes a difference to our government, is not listening.)

  • I’ve programmed the MS stack for 20 years, but I found it more comfortable to transition from Win7 to Ubuntu than to Win8.
    The WinRT API is quite elegant, but the Metro UX is just revolting, alienating potential customers. Also, labeling NET as legacy with no simple migration path didn’t help attract enterprise LOB customers.
    Another aggravating factor is releasing Win8 in the current economic climate.

    Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good Win8 internals are, consumers have gone with Android – and it is simple prudence for developers to target the most pervasive platform.

  • Glenn

    Adoption of Windows 8 will rest on the applications developers bring to the platform. When there is a native iTunes application available, then Windows 8 will have truly arrived.

    I also believe that the Windows 8 store is one of the most dysfunctional sites I’ve ever seen. The organization is not there. Search is not there. It will have to improve drastically to make the buying experience up to the Windows 8 level.

    This OS will survive and thrive if Microsoft sticks with it.

  • Great topic to discuss and I don’t think I have read as great a comment on a tech blog as James Hancock’s above for a very long time – top work guys!

    As a tech geek myself I HATED Windows 8 as much as others when testing it in a Virtual Machine but once I changed my second old TFT monitor to one with touch capabilities and forced myself to use it for a few days I actually prefer it to Windows 7 now. However, as James comprehensively stated above, most tech geeks and subsequently normal end users made up their mind long before the botched release date and will simply skip Windows 8 unless an older, broken device forces them to use it. I only hope the majority of such reluctant users can get a cheap and reliable Windows 8 device with touch capabilities at this time though as otherwise Microsoft will lose several generations of old Windows users to the other operating systems that make computing easy, like Windows used to.

  • Burak KALAYCI

    @James Hancock: So you say ‘Vista was a good OS’… Sorry I stopped reading your comment right at there. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you also liked the Tiles OS.

  • Naota

    Vista is a good OS.

    I’m using it right now. It’s fast, responsive, and never crashes. It also gets along great with my GTX 560. I never have a problem installing new drivers for it.

    Windows 8 on the other hand, is nothing more than an ugly tablet UI, inappropriately jammed into a desktop.