Forget Windows 8: Give us Windows 7.8

A billion users don't have the right hardware to run Windows 8, even if they wanted to. Here's how Microsoft could give them the best of Win8

With Windows 8's public release tomorrow, Microsoft is poised to pull a belly flop of unprecedented proportions. After seeing the muddled mess that is Windows 8, an ever-increasing segment of the billion-plus Windows users worldwide will ask themselves, "What's next?" Most businesses have already decided they'll stick with Windows 7 -- once they complete the upgrades typically started just this year.

In Redmond, Microsoft is ignoring the public reaction to Windows 8, whose year-long public beta effort has shown us what we don't want. Instead, efforts are under way to bring us a Windows 9 festooned with more and prettier tiles, supersized Metro apps, deeper integration with social networks, the latest iPad app wannabes, support for traditional tablet and smartphone features, and four- and five-finger touch-and-swipe bells and whistles galore.

[ Woody Leonhard explains why Windows 8 is so bad, part 1 and part 2. | InfoWorld's deathmatch review: Windows 8 vs. OS X Mountain Lion. | Deploying Windows 8? Here's what you should know. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Microsoft needs to get real and bring us a better Windows 7 ASAP, even as it works on the more-Metro Windows 9 that's a good two or three years away. Call it Windows 7.8. The truth is that the new Windows 8 Desktop has some very cool features for those living in the "legacy" touch-insensitive, keyboard-and-mouse environment -- there's only a billion of us. Maybe Microsoft can make money by selling us an upgrade to what we already have: a Windows 7.8 that brings the key new Windows 8 Desktop features home to Windows 7.

Microsoft is doing the same thing with Windows Phone. When Windows Phone 8 is formally unveiled next week and the corresponding smartphones ship soon after, thousands of current Windows Phone 7.x users will be running obsolete hardware that can't be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. Microsoft is taking many of the key improvements in Windows Phone 8 and putting them in the Windows Phone 7.8 upgrade for "legacy" Windows Phone users. Although Windows 8, unlike Windows Phone 8, will work on on "legacy" hardware, it's still a good model -- especially because Windows 8 runs so awkwardly on "legacy" hardware.

The effort involved in porting the improvements in Windows 8's Desktop to a Windows 7.8 shouldn't be all that great: The Windows 8 Desktop itself has gone through minuscule changes, and grafting Win8 apps onto Win7 ought to be little more than a job for a room full of interns over spring break. OK, it'll take slightly more effort, but it certainly wouldn't be as difficult as creating the features all over again or even building a Metro equivalent to GarageBand or iPhoto.

Windows 7.8 seems like low-hanging fruit with the potential for a significant sales bump for Microsoft, which sorely needs to get people to start buying Windows again.

Here are the features that Windows 7.8 should have:

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