Whither Microsoft?

John Hempton, in a blog post from a few days, pretty accurately captures why I am so apprehensive about Windows 8.  Now, in big picture terms I understand why Microsoft is striking out for innovation in the OS space.  When you’re on top, there’s nowhere to go but down.  And while many businesses would shrug their shoulders and go, “Okay, let’s basically just settle down to being a utility and pay out some dividends.”, that doesn’t really work in software. Microsoft still needs the top developers to work on keeping Office up to date, they need top security people securing their software, they need top-flight designers for every release.  And guess what? Those people don’t want to go work for a utility.

However, unfortunately mixing up Windows is probably not the best idea.  Nor is it really a good idea to be doing this in Office either, of course.  And for that matter, Microsoft has proven its ability to take innovative new market-disrupting ideas like Bing and loses just tons of money on it.  Back to the core point, Windows.  People know Windows.  People don’t really like Windows so much, but they’re used to it.  Half of the current Windows user are still using Windows XP, no less than 11 years old.  And Windows 7 (let’s not talk about Vista) is actually pretty good, and makes minimal UI changes to the core Windows experience.

Windows 8 has a somewhat confusing-sounding twin-UI system of tablet and desktop UIs, which doesn’t really seem to serve a core business purpose.  Fact is that Microsoft mostly serves an enterprise market, in which tablets don’t comprise a particularly significant share.  Nor does it really seem plausible that tablets will become the core enterprise platform anytime soon, since you really need a keyboard in order to do significant amounts of work given the limitations of soft keyboards.  The idea of totally mucking up the interface in order to accommodate the needs of tablet customers seems…boneheaded.

Though let’s all keep in mind, Microsoft has overcome tougher things before so let’s try and keep some perspective on it.


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