Windows 8: Microsoft's New Coke moment

The latest operating systems numbers are in, and Windows 8's failure is clearer than ever. Can Microsoft, like Coca-Cola before it, bring victory out of a defeated product launch?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Everyone knows that New Coke was a total disaster for Coca-Cola. Except, of course, that isn't actually what happened. Yes, New Coke, like Windows 8 for Microsoft, was a total market failure, but that wasn't the end of the Coca-Cola story, and Windows 8 may not be the end of Microsoft's Windows tale.

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Numbers don't lie: Windows 8 is the New Coke of operating systems..

In Coke's case, the company realized quickly how badly they'd blundered and brought back old Coke as Classic Coke. And, this is the part everyone outside of the soft-drink business forgets, Coca-Cola actually immediately came back stronger than ever. Decades later, the Cola wars are history and Coca-Cola is the winner.

How did Coke do it? They gave people what they wanted: The original "taste." As Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Roberto Goizueta said in 1995, "The most significant result of 'New Coke' by far was that it sent an incredibly powerful signal... a signal that we really were ready to do whatever was necessary to build value for the owners of our business."

I've suggested Microsoft do the equivalent by bringing back the Aero interface and dumping the Metro interface. Does Ballmer have the guts to admit he made a mistake and give users what they clearly want? We don't know. 

Microsoft knows they need to do something. After all, in our recent ZDNet debate, we weren't arguing if Windows 8 was a failure — it is — but whether Windows 8 could be saved.

How bad are Windows 8 sales? In April 2013's Net Applications numbers, Windows 8 barely crept up to 3.82-percent. That still leaves Windows 8 behind Microsoft's last operating system flop, Vista, after seven months in the market. Windows on tablets fared even worse with touch-screen-based Windows 8 devices and Windows RT devices coming in at 0.02-percent and 0.00-percent each. The last was not a typo. The Surface RT is now in the running for worst Microsoft launch ever.

While it's too late for Windows 8, Blue might give us back our Start button and an Aero-like interface. Or, it might not. We just don't know. All we really know, as Mary Jo Foley pointed out, is that Blue is far more than just Windows 8.1.

Perhaps Microsoft's real Windows revival plan is to wean us off of the traditional desktop PC entirely and replace it with Windows as a service (WaaS): Mohoro. Then, the question stops being, "Can a new version of Windows keep the desktop?" and becomes, "Are you willing to rent Windows on the cloud?"

Me? I'm still sticking with Windows 7, and yes, XP, when I need Windows. Maybe Blue will prove to be Microsoft's Classic Coke moment. For now, I just know that Windows 8 is as "tasty" as the long dead New Coke.

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