Windows 8's problem: It's the hardware

Windows 8's problem: It's the hardware

Summary: Microsoft's Windows 8 roll-out is taking a few hits from analysts and the press, but the larger worry is a hardware line-up that feels very 1.0.


Microsoft's Windows 8 sales appear to be slow out of the gate and what's really going on will surface on a bevy of tech earnings conference calls this month. Anecdotally, Windows 8 devices aren't screaming home run and my working theory remains that the biggest problem is hardware related.


After a few weeks of going to Best Buy, Staples and other retailers pushing Windows 8 it's hard to find real enthusiasm about the operating system. There's interest for sure. There are a lot of hardware choices too. But Windows 8 and the barrage of hardware feels very 1.0.

And that's a big problem when Windows 8 devices are often positioned near Apple products.

CNET's Shara's Tibken highlights the tug-of-war between Microsoft and its hardware partners over Windows RT and tablets. Hardware partners are miffed. Microsoft is a bit of a control freak. As a result, you have a hodge podge of hardware that doesn't quite scream "gotta have it." The short version of Tibken's story is this:

  • Microsoft freaked out hardware partners. 
  • Windows RT could be a stray judging from the dearth of support at CES. 
  • Microsoft is a hardware control freak. 
  • But it's unclear that anyone outside of Microsoft's Xbox unit knows jack about hardware.

In other words, Microsoft's Windows 8 screams 1.0.

Now I'm not going to hop on the Windows 8 is a failure bandwagon. Instead, I think Windows 8 is a second half 2013 story. That timeline isn't going to appeal to many tech writers given our short attention spans. But it's strange that Windows 8 is all about hardware and software integration yet both sides of the equation feel off to me.

More: Why you should be skeptical of Chitika's market-share reports | Price and 'lukewarm critical reviews' put a damper on Microsoft Surface | Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2) | What's behind the slump in PC sales? Can the industry turn around? | Can Best Buy's PC business survive?

Eight months from now I expect the following:

  1. Microsoft will roll out an update that will smooth out Windows 8. 
  2. Some hardware vendor will come up with a winning Windows 8 design. 
  3. Consumers will react positively to this device. 
  4. Microsoft will get enough app momentum.

Forrester Research also is expecting Windows 8 to pick up into 2014. In a report, Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels noted that:

  • PC demand excluding tablets will remain weak.
  • Apple will sell $7 billion worth of Macs and $11 billion in iPads to the corporate market in 2013.
  • Corporate spending on Windows 8 will remain flat in 2013. 
  • In 2014, increased PC demand and improved Windows 8 devices will deliver 8 percent growth, but that'll trail double-digit growth for Linux, Android, and Apple products.

Today, Microsoft is in a hardware pickle largely as expected. The Surface is promising, but 2.0 will be much better. Think Surface Pro with better battery life. The only Windows 8 hardware that seems to have a following is a touch screen laptop.

Jeff Nolan chronicled his Windows 8 experience and it's worth noting. First, Nolan is a real person---not a tech reviewer---and he also came from a Macbook. Nolan's experience prompted a long discussion about Windows 8 on the Enterprise Irregulars list.

The catch is Nolan liked Windows 8 and appears to recommend it, but has a few hardware issues. If you zoom out you realize that Microsoft and its ecosystem of partners all have the same hardware problems.

Topics: Windows 8, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs, Windows, Windows 8 in Business

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  • Unclear writing...

    Are you talking about Windows 8 running on a PC?

    Windows RT on a Tablet?

    Windows 8 Pro yet to be released?
    • A couple of things

      1. Most customers (not corporates) are wising up to the fact that a tablet costing $200 to $400 can do what a laptop costing $500 to $1000 can do for their regular use. Plus it is easier to carry around a tablet compared to a laptop. And most customers have a computer or two at home and are in no hurry to spend on a new one. A tablet is more fun and easy for them.
      2. What hardware are you blaming? It is MS that says any W7 hardware is sufficient for W8 with the result that there are low powered Celerons, Atoms and AMDs running W8 sluggishly. If it is external design you are talking about, there are no new designs out there for quite some time.

        If you run an SSD the performance is fine on the smaller processors. I carry an Atom netbook for providing remote support when I am not in my office. It runs Win8, SQLServer 2008 R2, some proprietary apps, regular work apps and Crossloop for providing remote support. Performance is perhaps better than an I-3 desktop with a 7200RPM drive.

        I do agree that Win8 runs well on most hardware made in the last 5-6 years and that does reduce the need to upgrade hardware.
        • Fail

          windows is good to give slow and then hangs, and then have to pay someone to reinstall it

          Surface presentation FAIL :

          Henrique Dourado
      • Interesting form factors...

        is what the author is referring to take advantage of the touch capabilities in the OS. You're right that a boring old windows computer isn't very interesting... but the OS MS made with some interesting new form factors could entice consumers to buy a new PC. MS was right in making this transition when they did. The touch hardware ecosystem still has a ways to go for MS' vision to come to fruition.
      • It is poorly written

        I'm guessing he means form factors, not performance, I've never heard that criticized.

        The bottom line is Windows8 on a touch screen laptop is great, otherwise it's not compelling enough to change. Though when the flood of different form factors (like the ad for HP's AIO with the detachable monitor) it will change things.
      • I think you got it backwards...

        For the price of a Surface tablet, you can get a much more powerful, capable, and just as portable ultrabook for two thirds to half the price. When the Surface gets to $300-$400 max, they might be appealing; until then, there's no chance of widespread adoption given the ultrabook market options.
      • You forgot the other side of the equation

        How do you manage tablets such that Sally the Receptionist doesn't screw up the network settings or Jim in accounting actually installs security updates or Phil in It can log into any tablet without having to create an account on them?
        "can do for their regular use" - I'll assume you mean surf the net, the odd Email and such? Not everyone has that job. Developers, marketing, IT, ...
        Easy to lug around but don't forget the small screen.
        Low powered Celerons [they still exist?], Pentiums, Atoms and AMDs would be avoided by any [non-cheap skate] company. That said, you can reduce the sluggishness with extra memory and SSDs.
        Netbooks, Chromebooks and the like are dead. There is no restrictions on hardware now. The likes of Acer and others selling sluggish crap should be avoided. They're trying to dump old hardware.
        I'm running Win 7 Pro and Win 8 on a dual boot on my netbook and they function nicely with extra RAM and a SSD.
        • There are better alternatives.

          My doctor uses An Apple Macbook Air. It's got an ultra-sharp screen easily visible under fluorescent office lighting, great keyboard, and it's fast, fast, fast. It starts at $999.

          Chromebook is not dead by any means, are you familiar with the prices and specs. It now starts at $249,

          Your MS fascination is without merit.
          • Bad comparison

            The correct comparison is an iPad, and they are very different devices in nature.

            The Surface Pro looks to be a huge winner though, where the Surface lacks app support.
            Dean Swiatek
    • My Answer

      I believe he was taking about Windows 8 as a Microsoft profit center and he was talking about Windows 8 as a thing people use to get things done and companies use to sell computing devices. Regarding the latter, I think the non-exclusive focus was on the pc space.
    • Same thing I was wondering...

      Frankly, whichever he was talking about, I disagree with the title of the post entirely.

      The reason Windows 8 is failing is because it is far more limiting to people who need to get things done. It has nothing to do with hardware. I can have a dozen application windows open across three large displays and still have my "live tiles" aka widgets viewable along the edge of one display. How? I use Windows 7 and desktop widgets. Windows 8 Metro is ten steps behind this level of functionality, yet we're told that it's the future.

      I tried, but won't buy Windows 8. In fact, after trying Windows 8, I bought a couple of extra copies of Windows 7 to make sure I'd be able to use it on a couple future PCs I'll be building. Trying to get my daily work done with Windows 8 would be like trying to run a marathon wearing leg chains with 100lb iron balls attached. Constantly switching back and forth between the two GUIs in order to see info from my widgets would drive me crazy. Only being able to have two application windows open at once would just kill my workflow. Windows 8 is ten step backwards from Windows 7 in usability. Metro is a moron's user interface for people who can't handle more than two tasks at once. No 21st century desktop should be crippled by installing such a pathetic excuse for an OS as Windows 8.

      I spend a lot of time informing others about the numerous limitations of Windows 8 versus Windows 7 and most people I talk to have no interest in upgrading. Hardware is never even mentioned as a reason. Mostly, people think Windows 8 is uglier, more confusing, and less usable than Windows 7.
      • Self-fulfilling prophecy?

        Given that you spend so much time "informing others about the numerous limitations of Windows 8", is it really any surprise that your completely non-representative sampling is biased against it?

        What are these "numerous limitations" of which you speak? I'm very curious to hear them.

        Side note: my [teacher] sister was informed by her school's IT "pro" that teachers wouldn't have any use for Windows 8 on their PCs. Apparently it's not for the "mouse and keyboard" crowd. That kind of ignorance seems to be rampant among those who claim themselves to be "informed" and I don't get it. I have Windows 8 on touchscreen devices and on non-touchscreen devices and I like it on both. But then, I've actually used it and found that it does everything I need it to, so I'm sure my experience is somehow irrelevant in this "bash [company of choice] " culture that seems to be the hallmark of ZDNet's bloggers and commenters. Heck, if a MacBook Pro came with a touch screen, I would buy one, load Windows 8 on it, and be happy with a solid piece of hardware running a solid OS.
        Nunya Bidnez
        • ...

          You obviously didn't read his whole comment, otherwise you would know what the limitations were. He listed them out clearly and concisely.
          Robert Aldridge
      • Agree

        I agree. I upgraded (not an accurate term for this software) from Windows 7 to 8 because my wife needed it for school. Windows 7 was working with no problems. All I have had from windows 8 are problems and no productivity. Explorer never works and crashes over and over. Firefox works occasionally. Chrome would not install. the majority of Windows updates do not load and this never happened with windows 7. Making it worse are all the updates required and I kept hoping an update would help but is never does. I can't navigate that ridiculous app thing. Apps were invented by APPle so why copy them? None of the included apps have I been able to get to work. Who would ever think that making users learn a new interface would be a good thing? I hate windows 8 and and I want my Windows 7 back.
        Jeffrey Penfield
        • how did you upgrade?

          how did you "upgrade"? my best guess would be some epicfail during upgrade process..
          Hans Henrik Bergan
  • I Am Just Waiting For The Asus...

    Windows 8 Pro Tablet. For many companies this should fit a niche area very well. One area among many is for Ad meetings. As the first Tablet with real computing ability, many docs can be revieved and changed and/or refined on this tablet/computer which has not been possible until the win8 pro was created.
    • It's been possible a while.

      Firstly it has been possible to create/review/edit/share documents on tablets pretty much since Apple created the original iPad. I even run Project Management software on an iPad (if you want a business use case for an iPad here it is).

      Windows 8's problem isn't hardware. It is a lack of applications that show off the unique aspects of the OS. They will come, but they're not here yet. For business customers modern-UI is still nothing more interesting than a technology demo - there is nothing compelling that runs on it. If you accept this then Windows 8 becomes (largely) "desktop", which is a little nicer than the one in Windows 7, and the whole OS is a little snappier. This does not make for a compelling upgrade story.

      The problem isn't hardware.

      Microsoft's "Surface" isn't really a tablet at all. It needs a keyboard/trackpad to run Office (the "killer application" for PCs). Have you ever seen Microsoft show Surface sans keyboard? No, because Windows 8 isn't fully touch enabled. It's a hybrid OS, and needs a convertible laptop (or a conventional laptop).

      Let's not completely ding Windows 8 here, it's faster than Windows 7, the desktop is nicer (cleaner, less cluttered) and modern-UI promises to bring a new style of application to Windows. But what this isn't - an iPad.

      Windows 8 "feels" like a PC, for both good and bad. You still manage filesystems, run Anti-Virus, remember where things are stored, manage resources - all computer things, that you don't do on an iPad.

      The iPad didn't just add multitouch, it took away most of the computer "stuff". There is no file browser (or visible filesystem at all - it's there, but the user can't see it) and no resource management (you don't quit applications on an iPad, the system manages system resources). For a pure "business tool" these things are attractive. But there are times when you want a more traditional "computer". I have both "fire-breathing multi-processor" systems and an iPad, each has its place. When I run the Project Management software on the iPad and iOS corrals (almost) all the resources to run it, I never think; "hmm, that isn't very business-like", quite the reverse in fact.

      Do I think Windows 8 will be a success? I'm sure of it. If you can get over the modern-UI "start-screen" then you have a faster, cleaner Windows 7. This is before anyone creates any compelling applications for modern-UI, and I'm sure those applications are coming. But iPad-killer? No, Windows still feels like a completely different animal. To be honest, this is exactly as it should be, even as someone who uses an iPad, I don't want all computers to work like that, I'm happy that some do - but I still need some that don't. YMMV
      • They are Coming

        Jeremychappell sounds like every Windows fan. Obviously a geek at heart. "There aren't many apps right now for Surface, but they are coming!" MSFT has been in the tablet business for over 10 years. Their first efforts were so dismal nobody even knows they made them.

        MSFT has had over a decade to get their ship in order. Apple didn't come out with iPad last year. MSFT has had ample time to get devs on board and line up their ducks. Don't tell me the apps are coming. That's exactly what every MSFT fan is saying.

        How is Modern UI a cleaner interface? Every reasonable person who has reviewed Win8 has agreed the look is more cluttered. Turn on Win8 and then turn on a computer running Win7. Whose screen looks more cluttered out the box?

        Win 7's home screen is clear with only Recycle Bin. Win 8's screen is cluttered up the wazoo, very busy with all matters of Live Tiles filled with moving pictures and information. It's information overload for some as it's designed to offer a lot of information at a glance. It is a phone OS after all, thrown onto the desktop and seeing a lot of essential information at a glance is exactly what you need on your phone, but not necessarily on the desktop.

        Lastly, you do quit apps on the iPad. You double click the home button and then press and hold one of those icons until they start shaking. Then you press "X" to close them.
        • X out of an app? That's too funny

          Hopefully no one does that to an app they actually like!

          X-ing out of a wriggling app deletes it from your devices. Although I suppose that does indeed close it!

          Too funny