Having spent a considerable amount of time with a variety of Windows 8 builds on a broad array of hardware platforms, and I'm now almost certain that a Windows 8 flop is inevitable. Whether it flops as hard as Windows Vista did remains to be seen, but I can't see Microsoft's forthcoming operating system being as well-received -- or as well-loved -- as the aging Windows XP or the incumbent Windows 7.
What does this mean for Linux? Nothing.
I've already looked in some depth at what's wrong with Windows 8 in an earlier post. I summed up my experiences with Microsoft's freshest operating system with a single word: awful. The new operating system contains too many unnecessary and seemingly arbitrary changes that do nothing to improve the user experience.
The most glaring and irritating of these superfluous changes is the Metro user interface, a bolt-on aimed at tablet users that has gone on to infect the entire operating system. The Metro user interface in Windows 8 wasn't born out of a need or demand; it was born out of a desire on Microsoft's part to exert its will on the PC industry and decide to shape it in a direction -- touch and tablets -- that allows it to compete against, and remain relevant in the face of, Apple's iPad.
The Windows 8 Metro user interface feels to me like something out of the mind of a child asked to draw a futuristic car. They'd give you the general car shape and then bolt on something like wings or rockets, and so rather than ending up with something new and practical, you end up sticking on the refrigerator door a Frankenstein's monster of cobbled together parts that are clumsy and impractical.
Microsoft might repeatedly use the phrase "fast and fluid" to describe Windows 8, but to me it's "clumsy and impractical".
After a decade of attempting to carve out a market for Windows-powered tablets, there's still no proven market for these devices, and yet Microsoft is willing to bet the success of Windows 8 on being able to make tablets work when the majority of users will be interacting with the new operating system on traditional desktop and notebook systems.
I'm not alone in thinking this way either. Off-the-record discussions I've had with my contacts inside some of the world's largest hardware OEMs suggest that there's an incredible amount of apprehension over how Windows 8 will be received, and what effect this will have on their bottom line.
Traditionally, a Windows launch has been harvest time for the hardware OEMs, a time when they can sell PCs in greater volume and with more ease than usual. However, the way that Windows Vista flopped demonstrated to the OEMs that the harvest could fail, and fail big. The OEMs feel that Microsoft is gambling with Windows 8, and that the gamble won't pay off. Not only that, but analysts are already cutting the target prices on Dell and HP, and Windows 8 is still a few months away.
ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols believes that the gamble that Microsoft is taking with Windows 8, along with the way the company has upset hardware partners by wading into the hardware business, will encourage hardware vendors to take a look at Linux as it looks to boost razor thin margins.
"Heck," writes Vaughan-Nichols, "thanks to [Microsoft CEO] Ballmer's desktop and partner mis-steps maybe we finally will see a year of the Linux desktop after all!"
As much as I'd like to see Linux rise from the depths of obscurity to give Microsoft and Windows a serious run for its money, it's just not going to happen -- at least not any time soon.
There are just too many factors working against Linux for it to gain any serious traction on desktop or notebook platforms. For that matter, given the poor reception that Android has received on tablet devices, that platform may not be suited to Linux either.
The reason comes down to a single issue -- compatibility.
When people buy a Windows license, they're not just buying the right to use operating system on a specific piece of hardware, they're also buying a warm and fuzzy feeling of security that most of the hardware and software they ran on the old operating system will continue to work on the new operating system.
People -- consumers and enterprise users alike -- love the idea of compatibility because it's a handy insurance policy against nasty surprises down the line. We live in a world where the bulk of the software and hardware around us is designed for Windows, and that gives it an enormous advantage when it comes to being able to offer the comfort of compatibility.
When people think about compatibility, they're actually thinking about it from two perspectives. First, there's backward-compatibility with existing hardware and software. Traditionally, when people talk about compatibility, this is what they mean.
Put simply, they want the new stuff to work with the old stuff because it reduces on costs and keeps the learning curve shallow. However, there's another form of compatibility that I call future-compatibility.
This is a comfort that people draw from the notion that their new system will be compatible with whatever they want to do in the future, be that install fresh software onto it, or plug in some new hardware.
Windows fulfills both of these criteria. Not only there's a good chance that a new version of Windows will be compatible with any existing hardware and software investment, but that it will work with whatever will be bought in the future, as long as there's a Windows logo on the box.
And let's face it; most things have that Windows logo on the box somewhere.
This is where Linux fall flat on its face. While it's quite easy to get a Linux distro such as Ubuntu or Mint working on a desktop or notebook, it doesn't offer the same compatibility guarantees that a Windows installation does.
When it comes to backward-compatibility, unless you're lucky enough that your old Windows software will under an application like Wine on Linux, then you're completely out of luck and will need to seek out replacements. As far as hardware goes, it's very much luck of the draw as to whether you'll find Linux drivers or not.
One thing's for sure: you'll have to do a lot of legwork to find out.
Future-compatibility is also far from guaranteed. Linux might have been around for a couple of decades, but as far as the majority of hardware vendors are concerned, it doesn't exist. You're going to have to research any future purchases. And if you think that the hardware market for Linux is a deserted wasteland, the software market is like being on the moon.
You can forget about most commercial software such as image editing, video editing and games ever running on the operating system, and you're mostly confined to whatever exists in the free and open source arena.
I like Linux, in fact I like it a lot, but I also recognize that it's not for everyone. It's great for those who understand that it's not Windows, and who know better than to expect it to work like Windows, but these people are in the minority. It's also great for people like Vaughan-Nichols' 80-year old mother-in-law who isn't going to want to run the latest Adobe Photoshop application or Call of Duty game on the system. These people are also in a minority.
While some people have managed to jump ship and migrate to Apple's OS X, as far as most are concerned, Windows is the secret sauce that makes a PC a PC.
If Windows 8 is going to flop, and Linux isn't going to take its place, what's going to happen? Simple. Exactly what happened when Windows Vista flopped --- the older operating system will take up the slack.
Enterprise will continue to demand Windows 7, because to roll out Windows 8 ‘properly' the costs will rocket due to mass purchase of touch-enabled hardware and additional user interface training while the OEMs will sell Windows 7 PCs alongside Windows 8 systems because they will find it almost impossible to present the benefits of Windows 8 on desktop systems. Microsoft will once again find itself in a position where it has to offer longer-term support for the older operating system.
If Windows 8 flops, I think that we can safely say that Windows 9 will look significantly different to Windows 8, and Microsoft will more than likely switch back to the ‘traditional' Windows interface in an attempt to distances itself from the entire fiasco.
Image source: ZDNet.