Windows 9: Can Microsoft pull off another miracle?

Windows 9: Can Microsoft pull off another miracle?

Summary: ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener: Computer makers have already started looking past Windows 8, as witnessed at CES 2014. Microsoft has a lot to do to put Windows 9 back in the win column.

TOPICS: Microsoft

The executive frantically tapped several different keys on the svelte new laptop he was demonstrating, but nothing happened. The screen didn't change. He paused, started tapping furiously again. Still nothing.

"Wait just a second, let me go grab another machine," he said.

He sped into the other room and came back with an identical looker of the new laptop. With an exhale and a smile he launched back into his demo--the same spiel he'd given to countless journalists in his company's hospitality suite throughout the week at CES 2014.

He was back in the zone. And then, suddenly, it happened again. The screen totally froze. He was in a different part of the software but the same thing happened. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Nada.

The color drained from his face as he went into damage-control mode, speaking calmly and apologizing.

"It's Windows 8. What can you do?" I said and shrugged.

He said nothing. What could he say? His company had worked for over a year on product development on this, its next-generation flagship laptop. It was an extremely well-crafted device. Every edge was tapered beautifully. The new material on the cover looked and felt great. It was slimmer, faster, and ran longer on a single charge than any machine they'd ever made.

Unfortunately, it had an anchor weighing it down: Windows 8.

To be fair, I'm sure that machine made it through lots of demos at CES without Window 8 freezing up, so the fact that two machines froze up during a single demo was horribly unlucky. However, this machine's Windows 8 problems were a fitting symbol of the status of Windows 8 at CES 2014.

Windows 8 was everywhere and nowhere.

It powered lots of the latest PCs that were showcased across Central Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Intel had one of the largest, splashiest booths at the show and it sported gorgeous exhibits of the best PC hardware in the world in all kinds of different configurations, almost running Windows 8.

But, hardly any vendors were actually talking about Windows 8. Microsoft pulled out of CES a couple years ago, so it wasn't there to splash Windows 8 across the show. Intel focused totally on the hardware. HP's biggest news of the show was a line of Android-powered PCs. Lenovo also announced an Android-powered PC and with its Windows machines it put the emphasis on its own software add-ons such as camera gestures and voice control. Toshiba made a big deal about announcing its first Google Chromebook and LG got a lot of attention for its new line of Google Chromebase all-in-one PCs.

Tech Pro Research on this topic: The desktop diehard's guide to making Windows 8 work like Windows 7Microsoft's latest mobile platforms bring back more business-friendly featuresMicrosoft enterprise primer on Office 365: Past, present, and future | Microsoft enterprise primer on Windows Azure networking | Intel's Haswell architecture: A tech guide | BYOD Business Strategies - Adoption Plans, Deployment Options, IT Concerns, and Cost Savings |

The bottom line is that computer makers were already looking past Windows 8 at CES. Of course, Microsoft now being in the hardware business with the Surface likely played into the Windows malaise. Whatever the case, it puts a lot of pressure on Microsoft to right the ship with Windows 9. They need to give computer makers something to rally around and give computer buyers a reason to replace that four year old laptop that's running Windows 7. Users and businesses need something that offers tangible benefits.

Windows 8 isn't it. And, while Windows 8.1 is better, it's not the answer either. The combination of the two have just barely cracked 10% market share in 18 months since Windows 8 launched. By comparison, Windows 7 had about 30% market share at this point in its history and has continued to grow to the point that it now has almost 50% market share in the Windows ecosystem.

Long-time Windows enthusiasts will argue that this isn't much of a surprise because the last six versions of Windows have alternated between a successful version accepted by the public and an unsuccessful version rejected by it. The argument goes...

Windows 98 was a success.
Windows Millenium Edition (Me) was a failure.
Windows XP was a success.
Windows Vista was a failure.
Windows 7 was a success.
Windows 8 was a failure.
Windows 9 ... ?

So, this line of thinking goes that Microsoft will naturally gets things back on track with Windows 9. However, that's far from a sure thing. To get there, Microsoft will likely have to backtrack on forcing the tiled Modern UI on users in such a draconian way--in much the same way that Microsoft had to backtrack on Trusted Computing in Vista because it popped up security warnings so often that users eventually just tuned them out and clicked "Okay" every time.

In both cases, Microsoft overcompensated for major challenges that Windows was facing. For Vista, it was dealing with the massive security problems that had led earlier versions of Windows to become a repeated target for high-profile viruses and malware during the early 2000s. For Windows 8, it was dealing with the threat that tablets like the iPad were eating the bottom out of the PC market.

Microsoft failed the average user in both cases by not coming up with a solution that was easy enough to navigate. Both Vista and Windows 8 confused and frustrated too many users. IT departments recognized it right away, and as a result, small businesses and enterprises opted out.

While Windows 8 has a small legion of fans, the adoption numbers show that mainstream Windows users as well as businesses have rejected it. We regularly hear stories from ZDNet and TechRepublic readers that add context to that story.

We hear from consultants who tell us they have been extremely busy for the past 18 months because so many small businesses have bought Windows 8 machines and asked them to come in and install Windows 7 over the top. We hear from enterprise IT leaders who say they have no plans to put any of their employee machines on Windows 8 because there's no added value for the average desktop or laptop user. We hear from long-time Windows fans who eagerly bought a hybrid machine like the Microsoft Surface or the Dell XPS 11 or the Lenovo Yoga and have been more frustrated than empowered by the experience of going back and forth between the tablet and computer modes.

In fact, one of the executives we met at CES worked for a partner of one of the computer giants. He repeated a similar story. Recently bought a new hybrid machine. Was really excited about it. However, he admitted that switching back and forth between the tablet and laptop modes was a lot less intuitive than he expected. He was disappointed. And now, he's stuck with the machine.

These are the converted. These are people already pre-disposed to sticking around the Windows ecosystem, and too many of them are having a hard time buying in. These are the people Microsoft has to satisfy with Windows 9.

In streamlining, simplifying, and cleaning up Windows Vista and turning it into Windows 7, Microsoft did a remarkable job. We shouldn't underestimate that. But, we should also recognize it as a brilliantly-executed strategic retreat.

In Windows 9, Microsoft will likely need to make another retreat. It will need to renew some of its focus on the standard desktop and laptop users that remain its core user base. It will need to focus on the things it can do to make their work easier, faster, and more productive. Yes, that will likely mean integrating multi-touch, camera gestures, and voice recognition in smart ways. But, Microsoft has to do it without forcing new interface concepts on users in places where it doesn't necessarily add anything, and sometimes even forces extra complexity.

That's a big task. It's a bigger task than what the company had to do between Vista and Windows 7, and that was a miraculous turnaround. Don't underestimate Microsoft in this, but don't underestimate the size of the task, either.

ZDNet's Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. As a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and the US.

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  • One-sided and negative...

    Another one-sided and negative article on Windows 8. It's exhausting.

    You quote a few anonymous people who don't like Windows 8. Fine. There are plenty of people out there (primarily desktop users) who were frustrated.

    But what about the people using Windows 8 on a tablet or touchscreen device? I've yet to hear one person who actually owns one say that Windows 8 isn't great on a tablet.

    Either way, that doesn't change the fact that Microsoft has to rejigger Windows 8.2/Windows 9 to play nicer with the 1.2 billion desktop users. And, yes, I agree that they should've done that from the beginning... but, hey, at least they took a chance. They simply pushed things further than consumers were willing to go... yet.

    Even so, to call Windows 8 a complete failure when it's already on more devices in one year than all the Macs in the world is a bit slanted. It's only a disappointment by Microsoft standards.
    • Okay, I'll be the first then...

      I have a beautiful Toshiba Satellite laptop with a gorgeous 1080p touchscreen. I love the laptop itself, but Windows 8.1 has been a pain in the ass.

      The Metro UI is okay with the touchscreen, sure, but there are plenty of other underlying problems I've been having with Windows 8.1 since I've gotten it. Actually, I ran into a good amount of trouble with this laptop just in the past couple days.

      To put it short, I was working on a piece of music, and I'd been working an hour and a half or so on it. I had then finally finished, saved my work, then shut the laptop and went to my friend's house. After talking to him about random stuff, I decided to show him the song I had just made on my computer. I took the laptop out, and......... the song file had been reverted back to an older, incomplete version. Keep in mind I *know for a fact* that I had been saving my progress as I went along. Windows 8 just messed it up somehow. It HAD to have been Windows 8. I had never seen a problem like this ever on any other operating system, and I've used the same software to make music for about 10 years. Explain that one to me.

      So then after that whole thing with the song happened, I figured maybe running checkdisk would help fix the problem. I ran it several times, and every time, it just got stuck at 10%. I have no idea...

      Other than that, I've also had a number of problems with flash websites crashing. I noticed that certain browsers work better than others at certain websites for me. YouTube seems to function better in IE than it does in FireFox (which crashes YouTube every so often). Certain website elements and buttons won't function in IE, but WILL function in Google Chrome. Some news article websites such as this won't log me in correctly with one web browser, but it works better in another browser...

      I'm also an avid Ubuntu user, and I have NEVER seen any of these issues under Ubuntu. I admit, Linux has its own faults, but for me, Windows 8 just annoys me way more. On my desktop computer, my surround sound card won't even function correctly; it only outputs sound through the two front speakers, and not the other 4. Yes, I've already tried checking for new drivers, etc. That didn't help.

      So, I'm sorry, but I'm a Windows 8 touchscreen user, and I still hate it...

      However, I have some hope for Windows 9, especially with the retirement of Steve Ballmer and the recent staff changes at Microsoft, and the latest rumors that have been buzzing around about Windows 9. I really hope Microsoft can turn their act around and make a better operating system, not because I like Microsoft, but because I know that Windows is everywhere, and wherever I go, I'm going to be forced to endure the next Windows version eventually.
      • Hardware issue?

        Sounds like you could have hardware problems if you insist that it isn't a user problem.
      • To be fair..

        if chkdisk is failing every time at 10% then it would seem you almost certainly have a harddisk problem, which of course could also be the root cause of many other problems too...
        Likely not the fault of Win8 in this case.
        I would suggest you run some decent hard drive diagnostic utility on it such as Hard Disk Tune and see what, if any errors it throws up before you waste any more time (and lose more data) on this one.....
        The Central Scrutinizer
    • RE: One-sided and negative...

      Of course that's because MS is trying to force it down our throats on all platforms instead of sticking to what the OS was clearing intended for use. Which was phones and tablets.
  • Windows 10, maybe

    I won't hold my breath 9 will be better. Keeping 7 till 2020. The jump on the shark, aka 8, will be a long ride.
    D.J. 43
    • hmm..

      when all other OSes are following the standard WIMP design, I still cannot see why MS seemed to 'just use a mobile phone interface for a screen 10 to 20 time larger???

      To newcomers its nice and simple, just click your lovely large buttons...

      more experienced users (I don't mean the people who know the 'deep inside' stuff, just people who have used win7 for a long time for general email & MSoffice stuff.. the treatment of files on the desktop is somewhat limited - seems like a mobile phone way of organization... ???
  • I Disagree

    I've been a user of Windows 8 since the preview days and its always has been very stable. I use it on a desktop PC at work, (mostly in the desktop mode using Office), on a Dell XPS12 hybrid when on the road (in both desktop when conducting business & Metro when not) and a Dell Latitude 10 tablet for mostly non-work at home. Windows 8.1 on all these devices (not to mention my Windows Phone) gives me one user experience on all my devices. I find absolutely no issue or awkwardness of using Windows 8.1 on my desktop PC with mouse and keyboard, I love the versatility of my hybrid and have no problems switching between laptop & tablet mode as mentioned in the article; as a matter of fact, I love that versatility, its fast and fluid. Windows 8.1 is obviously great in Metro mode on my tablet.

    I wish you guys writing all these negative articles about Windows 8 on based on hearsay would invest a little time and use Windows 8 full time on varied devices for a while so you could see how nice it actually is. Then we may get some accurate reporting.

    For what its worth, my place of business has upgraded over half the desktop PCs to Windows 8.1 and the users of those machines are happier for it. After a day of getting used to the new interface, it was back to work as usual.
    • I Disagree

      This whole discussion is like what is better: a rotten orange or a rotten apple? Many people are claiming that the people who are criticizing Windows 8.x haven't relly used it long enough. I would say that everybody who would have used Mac OS X or a modern Linux distro for at least 3 months would never return to Windows. Making the switch is always difficult and confusing but after that you get rewarded with a PC experience Windows users can only dream about (if their imagination reaches so far).
      • Apple experience

        What do you think. Windows users never used osx. I use windows 8 and osx and happen to like win 8 better. What glorious experience are you talking about. I like the fact that I can switch to tablet mode with a stylus I might add. What does osx do that makes it that much better. I use almost every OS and I don't see the awesome experience apple fanboys talk about. I just choose not to waste my time caring what OS other people are using.
        • yeah..

          tablet user... people working in offices and SOHO vastly outnumber you.... :)
      • the point...

        .. is that mac OS and linux use a graphical interface very similar to win 7 and older... the reason not to go back to windows, is MacOS is far better managed, and Linux does not need the massive resources windows needs!!!
  • crashes or not

    Well, like it or not, crashes or not, 90% of the pcs are gonna keep using windows from ms, it this way, it is "crash-proof" and "cash-proof." brilliant miscrosoft!
  • The article is well-written.

    Why not bring back Aero Glass from Windows 7 and have it as an option in Windows 9 for those who prefer the aesthetics of Windows 7? I really cannot stand that plain-looking titlebars of Windows 8 in desktop mode and I don't want to have to install third party applications just to get that look of Aero Glass back. I don't consider them to be a battery drainer at all.

    It's one of those reasons why I've been Windows-free since last November. I don't see the need to have windows anymore.
    Grayson Peddie
    • Microsoft knew their users loved Aero Glass

      Which is why they did not include it in Windows 8/Metro. They wanted to force users onto using metro so badly that the decision was made to downplay the desktop. Make it look flat and boring. If users saw they could get the same Win7 Aero UI on Windows 8 computers then it will be even easier for them to ignore Metro. Well that didn't work so well, they just pissed off long time Win users and not many users cared about Metro.
      • This is the first time in history...

        That a prominent UI was left out in the latest version of Windows. Every other Windows prior to that users had the option of reverting the UI back to the previous version. This is what happens when a company is constantly working from a position of fear!
        • Why are you two getting two flags?

          These two flags must be coming from Windows 8 fanboys for sure.
          Grayson Peddie
        • Even Windows 95 had Program Manager for those who wanted it

          I wonder what Microsoft was thinking. Program Manager was available for Windows 95 users. XP, Vista, and 7 users could return to the classic Windows 95 version of the Start Menu if they wanted. Active Desktop could be disabled in 98 and 2000. For the first time, MS didn't provide a "legacy" path in the latest version. I too believe they should have included the Aero interface and an optional start button/menu, even if it wasn't enabled by default. Desktop users should be able to hide Metro completely without having to use third party hacks to do so.

          The people who made the decisions need to be fired. Everybody knew this would happen since Windows 8 was in beta. I can't believe anybody is surprised that Windows 8 has been such a flop.
      • Not just long-time users are pissed

        They didn't just piss of long-time users, many customers and family members that have just a year of experience using Windows prior to 8 hate the changes.
    • @Grayson


      FWIW, we decided to embark upon what we subsequently dubbed "total defenestration" back in May 2007 and joined the Pengiunistas instead. This was largely as a result of the Vista fiasco, along with nearly two previous decades tolerating flaky MS products that never really delivered what they promised.

      Today, our systems run Debian-based distros, with fabulous KDE 4 pulling the strings, wherever we need a silky-smooth and super-configurable GUI. Kinda makes Win 8 look and feel very shabby, dumbed-down and toy-like, IMO.

      Never looked back.