I’ve watched in amazement, befuddlement and disbelief over the past month or so as industry analysts and tech pundits have slated, berated and laughed at Windows 8, culminating in an article on Forbes.com today entitled ‘Microsoft’s Future Looks Grim’.
What. The. Hell?
Putting aside for now that these articles typically hang the entire future of the company the latest edition of the Windows home operating system and ignore the still available and fully supported Windows 7, the massively popular server platforms and products (MSSQL, Dynamics Family, System Center Family, Exchange, Lync anyone?), already hugely successful Microsoft Hardware division and the entire existence of the Xbox, they don’t seem to have any clue as to how Microsoft operate.
These days, tech bloggers seem used to rapid release cycles, short product lifespans, and every product release having the potential to seal the fate of a multi-billion dollar business. This is certainly the case with Apple – the original iPad was only released two and a half years ago, but is already no longer supported by and will receive no further software updates from the fruity giant. When Apple release a new OS, be it iOS or OSX, they expect everyone to upgrade to the new edition rapidly, allowing them to orphan the previous versions and simplify support.
This is not a strategy that Microsoft have ever followed, and it’s not one I see them adopting any time soon. Every significant OS release by Microsoft has a long support lifecycle – XP’s extended support stretches on into April 2014! – and there’s a tacit assumption that adoption will follow with peoples natural upgrade cycles, rather than being foisted upon them by Microsoft.
The same predictions flooded the interwebs when Vista was released, yet somehow Microsoft prevailed. Funny that. Not only did they prevail, they went on to release Windows 7, which surpassed Windows XP not too long ago as most popular Operating System in the World.
The total number of machines running Windows of some variety in the world as of August this year was 91.77%, of which 42.5% were XP and 42.72% were Windows 7. I hate spouting off statistics, as they can be warped and moulded to fit any argument typically, but I think this shows exactly how Microsoft customers operate.
They don’t feel the need to constantly upgrade, they continue to be supported by Microsoft for many years into the product’s life, and when it comes time for them to upgrade due to either old hardware, software requirements, or any other reason, they upgrade to a version which has had time to mature in the marketplace and will serve them well.
This is the one point I need to make crystal clear – MS users typically do not upgrade immediately upon the release of a new operating system, and nor are they forced to. People who buy a new Windows 8 PC also buy Windows 7 downgrade rights, so if they want to stick with Windows 7 they’re more than welcome to.
We saw the exact same thing when Vista was released, with people sticking with XP (which many still do!) due to the widely documented Vista teething problems, and when Windows 7 came out many finally moved across. The Windows 8 adoption rate falls somewhere between that of Vista and Windows 7 just now, making it a huge success when compared historically to the upgrade from XP to Vista, which many found as jarring as the move from 7 to 8 today.
It’s going to be hugely exciting watching what products come out over the next few years to take advantage of the Windows 8 ecosystem, the paradigm of ‘one kernel to rule them all’ that Microsoft have embraced is a huge shift in the industry which finally gives me a glimpse of the devices I want to use!
The Apple and Google (and partner) strategies have to date been to create two different classes of device – content creation devices and content consumption devices, and never the twain shall meet. Microsoft’s approach is to marry the two together under a single kernel which runs across desktops, laptops, netbooks, ARM tablets, x86 tablets, phones, and before too long, the new Xbox.
It’s no wonder Valve are speaking out against Windows 8 so vehemently! Windows 8 can marry PC, tablet, phone and Xbox gaming together, with the Xbox Marketplace becoming a single distribution point for all platforms. It rips into Valve’s Steam business in a massive way – what CEO wouldn’t speak out against that?
The Windows 8 app store is growing at a remarkable rate, at time of writing it has ~20,000 apps available (worldwide) and is growing at a rate of 500-600 apps per day. And quite rightly so – app developers are realising the huge potential of this ecosystem. The ability to develop once, and with minor effort distribute to all platforms has to be hugely enticing.
The promise of Windows 8 is still some time away, and while devices like the Surface give a tantalising look at the future I look forward to enjoying, it’s worth remembering that Microsoft is not playing a short game, it’s going to take years for us to get to the zenith of Windows 8’s potential, and that’s a trail I’m looking forward immensely to blazing.
Microsoft’s Future Looks Grim? My arse.