“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” — Steve Jobs
And maybe even after you show it to them. The reactions to the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows 8 are decidedly mixed but on balance they tip to the negative side. The complaints are myriad:
- “Where’s the Start button?”
- “Too radical”
- “It’s incomplete”
- “It’s slow”
- “The apps don’t work well”
- “Key apps are missing”
- “Hard to use”
- “It’s dual purpose, they should have chosen desktop or Metro”
I wonder if people are missing the point. Microsoft is faced with a situation it’s encountered before.
- A new UI paradigm
- Huge media and industry hype
- A threat to Microsoft’s market share
Windows 8 is just Microsoft’s response to these factors. For sure it’s a new direction for them but it’s also the opening salvo towards a destination and we’re just starting down that road. Let’s take a step back a few years to the late 70’s.
The personal computer industry was filled with variety and there was no clear winner. The market was dominated by Radio Shack’s TRS-80 which enjoyed over 50% of the market.  The early 80’s saw a number of competitors like Commodore, Kaypro and Osborn join the fray and together take about 50% of the market. In fact, in 1983-1984, the Commodore 64 held sway with about 40% of the market while the Apple II had about 10%. 
The common factor for all of these machines was the command line interface. However, the market was beginning to solidify around DOS, the operating system developed by Microsoft and licensed to multiple computer companies. But something ground-breaking was to happen in 1984 with the introduction of the Apple Macintosh.
The Mac was this amazing new piece of hardware with this interesting new concept, a GUI, a graphical user interface. Gone was the command line. Instead there were “windows” and “folders” and the use of a pointing device, a “mouse.” Fueled by Steve Jobs’ hard driving motivational energy, based on the “snow white design language”  and launched by the famous ‘1984’ television commercial aired during the Super Bowl , this small computer gained immediate popularity.
So, in 1984 there was also 1) a new UI paradigm, 2) huge media and industry hype and 3) a threat to Microsoft’s market share. Microsoft responded by developing and launching Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985. In fact, Windows wasn’t a new operating system at all but rather an “operating environment” that extended DOS. In effect, you ended up with this dual-headed system. Sound familiar? In this case, your PC booted into DOS and at the command line, you typed in “WIN”.
There were new UI concepts like drop-down menus, scroll bars, icons and dialog boxes. Windows 1.0 shipped with several new “apps”, Paint, Writer, Notepad and Calculator. But Windows 1.0 was nothing more than an initial foray into some new concepts. The UI was very rigid and hard to get used to. You couldn’t overlap windows, control the screen layout or use keyboard shortcuts. And it was slow and cumbersome. Again, sound familiar?
And, to extend the parallel even further, major respected publications like the New York Times questioned the value of the concept altogether as they opined on Christmas day, 1984, “Windows were a great idea until you compared them with the old-fashioned, uncomputerized desk, at which point it became obvious that they were simply too complicated to be dealt with efficiently. They made life more difficult, not easier, and they will continue to do so until a video display the size of a desktop can make visible a number of complete documents, each in its own window.” 
Yes, Windows 8 is cumbersome at times. Yes, there are some missing pieces and changes will need to be made. Yes, there’s much to learn. But it’s not the final say in how we’ll use Microsoft-based PCs. It’s only the opening statement in a direction the PC (and tablet) is heading. Windows 8 is a reaction to iOS and Android based on the events of the last few years and is really history repeating itself. Will it be successful? Yes. Microsoft has a user base of over a billion users of Windows already. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Windows 9 or 10 is not the widely accepted solution of a billion computer users.
So, complain and vent, yes. And by all means, push Microsoft to improve. That in fact is critical. But see Windows 8 for what it is, a precursor for the future, a likely future, a good future in fact. Microsoft has made a big bet, and in my estimation, a paradigm-shifting bet that will have the impact and adoption of Windows 95.
Reblogged this on Trace of Love.
While I appreciate the contextual foundation for your argument, it may be reaching too far to be practical. The premise suggests that innovation has a direct correlation to market success. If that were true, Xerox would be remembered for developing the first mouse. Instead, Apple repackaged it as a part of the Apple McIntosh and achieved market success with it. In much the same way, I would suggest that Microsoft were ahead of the curve with touch computing and tablets but they were not able to achieve market success with it because they didn’t anticipate the impact that it would have on consumer demand. If you doubt the validity of this statement, take a trip to Redmond and take a look at the Surface 1.0. Even by today’s standards, it is breathtaking. A multi-touch tabletop computing experience that was released to the public 3 or 4 years ago. I can only imagine how long the development cycle was. I have no doubt that this served as a point of inspiration for many including Steve Jobs. Windows XP convertible tablets have been in the wild for 8+ years now running XP Tablet Edition but they were largely based on the use of a stylus. This doesn’t mean that the iPad was inspired by Microsoft but it does prove that innovation is a part of an industry mind share. Market success is a different matter altogether. Sometimes you release a product with all the right packaging and sometimes you don’t. Every manufacture has been on one side of the curve or the other. More recently, the Microsoft Research Division contributed to the industry mind share with the Kinect but it was also packaged for the Xbox. By extension, it has been a huge market success and a game changer. Windows 8 isn’t a stretch for the industry or Microsoft but in terms of perception, its a huge shift for the public. Despite what the opening quote from the, “infallible” Steve Jobs would suggest, it isn’t merely the result of reactionary focus group development. It is a driven paradigm shift for Microsoft and the world. The story for Windows 8, as a destination, is not preordained to be nothing more than precursor for Windows 9. If it were, my wife and daughter wouldn’t fight over who gets to use the Surface RT. Nor would it be running as a server hypervisor in my lab with HyperV. Windows 8 will be part of a larger story in much the same way that other innovative products have. Every individual contribution inspires others. Success is the result of innovation and inspiration.
Thanks Scott. Agree with your comments. This post was meant to subdue some of the overreaction about Windows 8. I do believe it’s a significant innovation and paradigm creation on its own. But I also think some complaints are miscast and that Windows 8 will likely evolve and improve dramatically in the next version just as the initial Windows did.