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One year ago this week...
As beta programs go, Windows 8 seemed like a smashing success. The engineers and designers putting the new operating system together hit their deadlines like a finely tuned machine, and the code was ready to release to manufacturing one year ago this week, on August 1, 2012. Hardware partners had three full months to get their new PCs ready for what some hoped would be a big holiday season.
It didn't quite work out that way. The Windows 8 launch in New York City went well enough, but it was followed within days by two damaging events: Hurricane Sandy and the abrupt departure of Windows chief Steven Sinofsky.
Over the next few months it became clear that Windows 8 had arrived at a turning point in the PC industry, with consumers turning away from conventional PCs in favor of smaller tablets and mobile devices. In theory, the new operating system had anticipated this shift. In practice, it didn't quite work out that way.
What went wrong? Let's count the ways...
Miscalculation on desktop changes
You see that empty check box, highlighted in yellow? The option to bypass the Start screen and go straight to the desktop when signing in to Windows 8.1?
That option was in an early preview of Windows 8, but it was dropped for the final release.
It’s back in Windows 8.1, as Exhibit A in Microsoft’s “We’re listening to your feedback” campaign.
There was plenty of feedback during the beta process from people who wanted a desktop-centric version of Windows 8. Microsoft stubbornly (some would say arrogantly) ignored them.
And now, a year later, that option and a few other desktop-friendly changes are part of Windows 8.1. One can only wonder: what would the reaction to Windows 8 have been like if a traditional desktop configuration had been available, even as a well hidden option?
Bad bet on tablet sizes and shapes
It’s worth remembering that the initial design work for Windows 8 began in early 2009, a year before the iPad launched.
Microsoft’s vision started with the idea that a tablet is a PC without a keyboard. The inevitable by-product of that core design decision is a device built to work primarily in landscape mode. The trouble is, many of the things people want to do with a tablet, like read an ebook, are best done in portrait mode.
The mandatory 16:9 aspect ratio of Windows 8 was an obvious miss from Day 1, as was the lack of support for smaller devices. Windows 8 arrived to a market that had already digested the full-size iPad and was eagerly snapping up smaller devices. A year later, Windows 8.1 finally supports those devices, but that lost 12 months is the equivalent of stumbling out of the starting gate.
And even now, it looks like some of the people involved in planning Windows 8.1 haven't got the memo. When I went searching for pictures of the new 8.1-inch Acer Iconia W3-810 tablet, virtually every image I could find showed the device in landscape mode. I had to mock up the picture shown here using a stock photo and a screenshot from my own device.