Pitiful Windows 8 adoption only part of Microsoft's worries

Windows 8 continues to underwhelm in Web usage, but 'Blue' could triumph if it cleared up Microsoft's Windows branding

Net Applications' numbers for March are live, and they show continued dismal performance for Windows 8. No surprise there -- in March, Windows 8 accounted for a whopping 3.17 percent of Web usage worldwide, up from February's 2.67 percent. By contrast, Windows 7 stood at 44.73 percent and Windows XP was at 38.73 percent. That has to hurt.

At the current rate, Windows 8 will overtake XP in Web usage in about a millenium.

(Keep in mind that Net Applications does not measure market share, count the number of installed PCs, or provide any insight into activations -- all of which would be much more insightful. Instead, it measures the number of times a specific OS hits its monitored websites, then gooses the numbers to try to compensate for gross underrepresentation in many of the world's largest markets.)

The Net Applications numbers don't surprise me. What has me gulping for air are two hot Win8 "analyses" currently running in the blog echo chamber. They're both related to "Blue," the next version of Windows. I've been using the leaked version of "Blue" quite a bit, and as far as I can tell, the people who are contributing to these two rumo -- uh, analyses don't have a blue clue what they're talking about.

First comes the Digitimes claim: "Microsoft will no longer launch products under its Windows RT line and will instead merge the product line into the software giant's next-generation Windows, code-named Blue, according to sources from the upstream supply chain." While Taipei-based Digitimes has a less-than-stellar reputation for muddling prognostications, sometimes the publication catches early tidbits that turn out to be true.

This time the blogosphere has gone wild, with hundreds of sites now talking about "merging" Windows RT into Blue. I guess I'll give Digitimes the benefit of the doubt, but something must have got lost in translation. How can Microsoft "merge" Windows RT into Windows 8.1 (or Win8 SP1 or whatever it may be called)? That doesn't make sense. I see how you could merge Microsoft Bob into Windows 95. You could merge Clippy and Office 97. But "merging" Windows RT and Windows 8 of any flavor is like merging an apple pie with a 787. They're on completely different platforms, with the visible part of Windows RT being almost entirely a functional subset of Windows 8. What's there to merge?

If the Digitimes rumor had said that Microsoft was going to throw Windows RT to the dogs, I'd believe that -- in spite of Microsoft VP Michael Angiulo's statements last week to Cnet about Microsoft's entrenched commitment to Windows RT: "It was a ton of work for us and we didn't do the work and endure the disruption for any reason other than the fact that there's a strategy there that just gets stronger over time." Methinks he doth protest too much.

Intel's hardware is catching up with ARM in several key dimensions. Angiulo mentioned ARM's superior 3G/4G capabilities -- battery life while on connected standby -- but that hardly seems like a good reason to sell a completely incompatible, utterly confusing competitor to your own product. If Microsoft doesn't decide to drop Windows RT, its hardware competit -- er, partners may well make that decision for the company.

The second analysis currently hot in the blosphere observes that Windows Blue somehow proves Microsoft is going to get rid of Windows 8's legacy desktop in short order. That assertion's so utterly baseless it defies description. Windows 8's chief selling point -- now and for the next decade, at least -- is its compatibility with Windows 7 desktop programs. Microsoft isn't dumb enough to dump Win8's sole redeeming feature. The legacy desktop's safe. Microsoft won't improve it by even a tiny bit, but the Softies aren't tossing the old cash cow away.

That Computerworld article, which is light on facts and long on reactions, raises one interesting question though: Will Microsoft try to re-re(-re-re)-brand Windows and its components, in sync with the delivery of Blue? There have always been powerful reasons for giving stand-alone Metro a different name than "Windows RT." We don't even have a good synonym for "Metro." It's gotten to the point where the term "Windows" is applied to anything and everything. For many people, the word "Windows" conjures up something evil, fetid, and well past its prime.

Microsoft can't abandon the term "Windows" -- at least, as it applies to the legacy desktop. But it has to do something about the horrific consumer confusion over the term "Windows RT." I, for one, would appreciate some clarity on the name for the new, modern, full-screen, fast and fluid, Windows Store app side of Windows 8.

Perhaps somebody at Microsoft, just for once, can give us some branding that illuminates, not obfuscates. That would be the ultimate triumph of Blue.

This story, "Pitiful Windows 8 adoption only part of Microsoft's worries," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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