8 things Microsoft needs to do to save Windows 8

8 things Microsoft needs to do to save Windows 8

Summary: The real world runs on real computers doing real work and those computers run Windows. Microsoft needs to remember that as they introduce Windows 8 to the real world.


Our home media PC is getting a little long in the tooth. It's always been a bit of a problem because we bought a horizontal case that would look pretty in our media room, rather than one optimized for holding PC hardware. Right now, the machine is just about three years old, hasn't had a Windows reinstall in all that time, and has developed its own set of quirks.

It's getting near that time. It's getting near that time when either a Windows reinstall is necessary, or its general crotchetiness will give us an excuse to build a spiffy, new machine. And that has had me thinking about whether we'll just put our trusty copy of 64-bit Windows 7 on it, or hold out for Windows 8.

That has had me thinking about whether I even want to run Windows 8, and that got me thinking about what it would take to make Windows 8 a real, acknowledged, indisputable success in the marketplace.

Here, then, are eight things Microsoft needs to do to save Windows 8:

1. Clearly overcome Windows 8's WTF problem

Windows 8 suffers from WTFitis. Most of us, when presented with news of Windows 8's various changes -- from the weird start environment to Metro to Windows RT, to the apparent push for Windows on tablets -- look at Windows 8 and simply ask, "WTF?"

In other words, why is Microsoft doing this to us? Why can't Windows 8 just be Windows, only better? That's all most of us want, anyway. Just Windows, but better.

Microsoft seems to have iPad envy, and the company looks like it's willing to sell all us desktop and notebook users down the river, just so it can have a nice tablet interface, even though most tablet users will still just buy an iPad.

So, the first major thing Microsoft has to do is make it clear that they understand that there's a future desktop and notebook market, and that they don't consider all of us who have to do real work with Windows 8 the ugly step-children of the beautiful people who use tablets and want a PLAYSKOOL interface so they can fling Angry Birds.

See also: Why Windows 8 matters for real work, and so will Windows 9

2. Rename the tablet version of Windows to "Windows for Tablets"

This is a corollary to #1 above. There's a version of Windows 8 being designed for OEMs who are building tablets on Arm processors (the most popular mobile processor). This is a fundamentally different Windows than most of us will run on our PCs, and it's not even available to the general public.

But Microsoft's early Windows 8 marketing has been problematic, because Microsoft hasn't made it clear that PC version is completely different from the tablet version. Even now, things aren't completely clear. Microsoft has been encouraging developers to move to RT as a development library, saying that it's the future of Windows applications.

But Windows 8 RT is just the version of Windows for Arm devices (yes, the name of the tablet product is "RT", not something -- you know -- like "tablet"). So it's not clear to developers that if they start coding RT applications, whether or not those applications will only run on Windows RT or Windows for PCs.

Clarity is essential here.

3. Build an install option to install Windows 8 in "classic" mode with a Start button

There is no doubt that the Metro interface has the potential to be pretty -- on small displays. But there's also no doubt that all the jumping back and forth into and out of Metro to simply launch desktop programs is completely untenable -- especially, again, for those of us doing real work.

Clearly, there are now two approaches to the Windows interface -- the old-style desktop and the optimized-for-tiny-displays Metro.

To avoid truly pissing off Microsoft's very loyal (and very busy) desktop user-base, they need to create an option for a "classic" interface install, including a Start button and the desktop as the primary environment.

4. Start promoting the "getting real work done" benefits of upgrading to Windows 8

As it turns out, other than the whole Metro nightmare, Windows 8 is a pretty slick desktop OS upgrade. It adds a ton of helpful new features that will make using Windows more productive.

These include being able to manage what items boot from the Task Manager, without having to MSCONFIG or hack a registry, faster booting, the ability to do a clean Windows reinstall without wiping your data or settings, the ability to sync your settings across PCs, and a lot more.

These individual feature tweaks are what will make us active users (you could also call us "recommenders") decide to upgrade to Windows 8.

Microsoft needs to go out of its way to explain these benefits, not just rely on us in the trade press to discover them and point them out as afterthoughts.

5. Remove artificial performance limitations from all Windows 8 versions

Windows 7 has a bunch of artificial performance limitations, designed to force customers to buy different packages just to get better performance from their computers. For example, Windows Home doesn't allow you to use all your RAM, if you have a boatload of RAM.

Another limitation: the IIS Web server artificially throttles down the number of simultaneous Web sessions, presumably to try to force server operators to buy Windows Server.

These artificial limitations do not encourage Windows upgrades, they simply annoy their customers. Any company that wants a fully powered server operating system will buy Windows Server, for example. But there's no good reason why Microsoft should be pushing people to things like Apache and Linux, when their own products work quite well.

The way to separate versions is by features, plain and simple. The Pro version of Windows 8, for example, will offer Active Directory domain management, a feature that's almost exclusively corporate. This makes sense, but artificial limitations don't.

Next: Stop self-limiting Windows »

« Previous: Overcoming Windows WTF

6. Make sure Windows Media Center runs on the non-Pro version of Windows 8

In a truly bizarre move, Microsoft announced that the Media Center version of Windows will only work on the much pricier Windows 8 Pro. Worse, most PCs that users might buy and want to put in their living rooms won't be running Windows 8 Pro, so in order to use the Media Center features, users would have to install or upgrade their entire OS.

Ed Bott outlines some possible reasons why Microsoft is pushing this approach, and it has to do with paying licensing fees for DVD codecs.

But there are easy ways around this, up to and including charging a small fee for the DVD codec. After all, it doesn't make sense to limit such a critical hub function of home PCs just because Microsoft doesn't want to incur the cost of licensing a codec for an obsolete technology.

7. Stop self-limiting Windows

This brings me to another point. It seems that Windows 8 is being brutalized by Microsoft's product management, trying to get everything to fit "just so" in an Excel spreadsheet or a PowerPoint slide.

Home machines can't run media center. Desktop machines are forced into a non-desktop UI. A provided Web server can't really serve more than a few Web pages. And so on and so on and so on.

Look, Windows 8, without the artificial limitations, is one seriously kick-butt OS. But it's if it's going to be held back from showing what it can really do in the market it dominates because some brand managers are eying another market, they're going to wind up killing the golden goose.

Sure, it totally makes sense for Microsoft to go after the mobile, small computer, and tablet market, since that's where the growth is. But it doesn't make sense to self-limit an incredibly powerful OS just because there's some iPad-envy out there.

8. Give out a completely free, ultra-bare bones version to absorb all those XP users

There are a tremendous number of Windows XP users still out there. Many of them are running unsafe, virus-ridden, completely vulnerable systems, but aren't upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8 because they either don't know how, or don't want to pay for an update.

A lot of these people are senior citizens, so we have our most vulnerable populace stuck with the most vulnerable version of Windows.

Here's my suggestion: make a build of Windows 8 with almost all the features stripped out, except for an updated IE and the ability to install and launch applications. Remove all the games, all the media player applications, all the neat support applications like the Snipping Tool, most of the accessories, the Remote Desktop Connection, etc.

Remove all of it except what it takes to run a program and browse the Web. Then make this version free, with an easy to see and use Anytime Upgrade button.

First, this is probably the only way Microsoft will ever be able to finally be done with Windows XP. It's a way to strike a strong blow against cyberattackers who love running distributed denial of service attacks from vulnerable XP machines. It's also a way to get more people voluntarily using Windows 8.

As we all know from in-app purchases, once you've got something installed, you're far more likely to press that upgrade button than you are to undertake a massive installation project. So if Microsoft were to release Windows with a fremium model, they'd solve a whole bunch of problems at once.

Finally, it's not like Microsoft would lose any customers who'd otherwise buy Windows. Most people and OEMs wouldn't tolerate a Windows devoid of almost all features, so we'd all upgrade anyway. But I'll tell you what it would do. It'd give those Linux desktop folks a kick in the teeth, taking away their primary selling point of a free OS.

This strategy would not only finally bring an end to XP, not only brutalize the Linux market, but it'd also give Microsoft a nearly guaranteed stream of Anytime Upgrade revenue. Talk about a win-win-win strategy.

Can Windows 8 be saved?

So there you go, eight things Microsoft needs to do to save Windows 8. While there's undoubtedly tremendous growth in the world of tablets and other toy computers, the real world runs on real computers doing real work and those computers run Windows.

Microsoft needs to remember that as they introduce Windows 8 to the real world.

See also: Three ugly, middle-aged men argue about Windows 8

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Mobility, Software, Tablets, Windows


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Finally

    Finally some valid points. I agree completely with this article. Great to see an objective way of criticizing Windows 8.
    • I usually don't agree with Gewirtz ...

      ... (though I sort of respect his opinions!) but I think you are right - he made some good points.

      Addressing these things won't "save" Windows 8 because it doesn't need saving, but these would push it to a higher universal acceptance.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • Was wondering about the word "save" myself...

        since, the product hasn't been released yet, and therefore, it can't possibly be in trouble already.

        Perhaps better wording might be "easier to adopt" or "make more palatable" to the XP fanatics who don't see a need to "upgrade".

        Then, there is that other part about "brutalize the Linux market". How can an unnoticeable market be "brutalized", and what would MS gain from it? "Freemium" would not bring in any money, and the Linux fanatics will continue using it, no matter what tactics Microsoft or David dream up. Furthermore, there's a pretty good chance that, Linux users also have Windows in their machine or on another machine. So, there wouldn't be a big "pure Linux user" market to attack.
      • Oh, it does need saving

        If it keeps this piece of crap Metro UI without the option of me using my desktop with a true desktop environment, I will continue to use Win7 until its support is gone. At that time, if Win9 continues with the same crap, I will move full-time to ANY other OS that offers a true desktop and not the MS Start Screen.

        When you add to that all of the computers I support for friends, family and neighbors who pretty much always take my recommendations to heart, that is a lot of machines that won't see Win8. All upgrades will stop at Win7 until MS removes the head from the ass.

        Forcing a touch-focused UI on desktop machines (and laptops) that do not support touch is a foolish move and it will do nothing for their revenue stream as tens of thousands (at least) of us will not be buying.
      • No Doubt? Definitally?

        I don't exactly agree with the writer here either, and here is why. First of all opinions are defended as fact, when I feel that overall they are unsubstantiated. Like when talking about switching between Metro and the Desktop, no doubt that is a problem right? For those wanting to do real work? I haven't had a problem yet, and I usually am using many monitors, sometimes as many as 5. Still, I hit the start button, type a program, and we're off, just like windows 8. I also like some of the new previously unavailable options in the start menu. I realize that while the new tiled start menu is different, and a little big, it is kinda nice that it is smarter. People may like it better if they have a choice, maybe the will, but it won't be as advanced and I don't think this needs saving.

        I'm sure the assumption will be that I am speaking as a fanboy, and if you want to assume that go ahead. The truth is I use Windows, OS X and various Linux Distros regularly, and they each have a place in my heart. However the main version I have been using of Windows lately has been Win8, and it is a pretty slick OS. If it's weakest point is the Metro UI, which is what many of the points are saying then I think it is pretty solid. An aside, with editing we could chop that 8 down to a much lower number and cut out a lot of repetition, just sayin.
    • Agreed

      I am doing real work in windows, from VB, ASP, COM+, .Net, Web service, SQL Server, IIS. I am not going to use Windows 8 in my working machine.
      • sorry

        But your comment means nothing. I do much more than what you state and I do it on a Win 8 CP. I also might add highly productive with it as well.

        Either you haven't really used it, or are not able to make some rudimentry changes.
      • Real work on Windows 8

        [I am required to state I do work for Microsoft, the thoughts here are my own and not an official response on behalf of Microsoft]

        You first have to run it on the metal for more than a few hours. I am not talking about installing it in a VM and kicking the tires to see what is different. Just run it and use it for a week. A LOT of the stuff you are afraid of you will find is 100% not true. Installing and tapping around on the Start screen and desktop is not an experience.

        I do not see the Start screen in Windows 8 after I enter desktop mode unless I go there on purpose. The reason is because there are not enough demos, news apps and games in the consumer preview to consume large parts of my work day. During the day I am using desktop applications and NONE of them force me to go to the Start screen.

        I get all the great features of Windows 8 in my desktop where I do real work! Visual Studio development, Office, internal web based applications, and other line of business applications required to do my job.

        @FADS_z your point here is you are saying somebody else told me that the experience is terrible and I would have to do all of these crazy things that get in the way of my work. My recommendation is go install it on bare metal (not a VM). Use the OS for a week and get your own experience then report back.

  • points

    1 - It looks different when you 1st use it, but its hardly confusing.

    2 - What a stupid idea.... So what you are saying is when somebody releases an Arm laptop, somebody in a shop will read the OS sold with it and think "this isnt a tablet, why would a buy a machine with a tablet OS". Its not an OS for tablets, its an OS for arm processors......

    3 - Agree

    4 - I am actually more productive using windows 8 as my OS with Metro, there is just a learning curve, most people who put the effort in also report the same.

    5 - Large topic, agree to some, not to others (like IIS)

    6 - I'm sure they could afford to raise the price ??2-3 to pay for the patent, isnt DVD FRAND? cant be that expensive?

    8 - So you want to send updates to old people? Who havent updated because they dont know how, but they are going to know what to do with this disk you send them?
    • No, he's right

      1. Metro is not usable for real work. It's a nasty interface to try and do enterprise applications in. Just because you were able to work around it doesn't mean it's good. 2. If I have a learning curve anyway, why not use something else.
      • well

        I use plenty of Enterpirse Applications, and design in them build them and all sorts, and it seems to work fine for me. but again it doesnt sound like you have tried to do it.
      • Metro

        It is funny that metro is de-evolutinary in productivity and simolicity! Metrl will be extremely distracting for high school students. I can only imagine seeing them playing with the metro interface for hours, wasting precious school time. Microsoft is an ignorant foll for not looking at windows 8 from a instutional stand point. Windows 8 is obviously not designed for the learning environment and the work environment.
        Pollo Pazzo
      • @wired chicken

        Metro is a user interface. Its for navigation. As for distraction, I don't need metro to do that. I can run games and programs without installation and other windows without permission.
      • How?

        How is it not usable for work? Give me an example, because I can think of many reasons why it would be MORE beneficial to businesses than a x86 desktop.

        The calendar app, for example, can give me my schedule at a glance, social apps can give me updates, at a glance. Businesses could side load network monitors, help desk apps, etc. And guess what, all you would need is ONE app, ONE app and you can have all that on a phone, tablet, or desktop without the need to port that code to a different platform. You can't do that with iOS/OS X, or Android/Chrome.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • StartMenu7

        StartMenu7 eliminates the need for metro
      • Why is Metro unsuitable to real work?

        Simple: no Windows. Despite its name, Metro/RT programs, er, apps, don't support Windows. I have maybe one or two programs in Windows I'm occasionally tempted to run fullscreen, on one of my two monitors. But only sometimes. Most of the time, I do real work, with Windows. Lots of them. Removing that will dramatically curtail productivity. Unfathomably so. Totally unacceptable for Real Work.
    • He's right

      Why is it that programmers and technologist never listen to users when they complain about something in their app? Many people are saying that they're having problems with the interface. If I was the designer, I would listen to them instead of forcing my "super" design down their throat.
      • People said the same thing about

        DOS when we moved to Windows 95. Any time there is a major interface change people will make statements exactly like you made.

        It's unrealistic to expect Microsoft to a) never change the interface and b) support an old interface indefinitely.

        And again, an organized Metro start screen combined with search isn't a work around to the old start menu, it's superior to it. Trust me, I'd have zero issue telling you if that wasn't the case. My wife, my 6 year old daughter have had zero issue getting used to it on the laptop at home.

        You have to take bold new steps if you want to move an OS forward. Listening to what users want is almost a certain way to end up with "This is how we've always done it" syndrome.
        • weak on history

          By the time Windows 95 came out, Windows 3.1 had been out and gaining huge traction for 3 years. It didn't hurt that Office and it's main constituent parts, Word and Excel (PPT was 2nd or 3rd place back then), were beginning to become market leaders. By the time W95 came out, it was welcomed because it was a clear improvement. <b>AND IT CAME WITH PROGRAM MANAGER AND FILE MANAGER SO USERS COULD CONTINUE USING THE SAME UI IF THEY WANTED TO.</b>

          Maybe it's no longer reasonable to expect MSFT never to change the UI, but that's not how they behaved in the past. In the past they provided choice. Now, apparently, they don't. Clearly there are some people who don't want choice and prefer to be led by others. So Windows 8 is perfect for masochists.
      • @ liquidlearner

        Your argument is SO bogus. Moving from DOS to Win 95 was an improvement. Moving to Metro is NOT. Aren't you people sick of having your new Metro screen look like it screen resolution is 640x480?