The Windows 8 tragedy: How Microsoft can avoid disaster

Microsoft's Windows 8 adaptation to 'consumerization' world assures it will stay in the past -- unless it makes these changes

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What Microsoft needs to do to save Windows 8
Microsoft is way late to the new world of mobile, touch-savvy, hetereogeneous devices, so it's clearly trying to force users to adapt in one fell swoop. That's why you must go through Metro to get to Windows 7 in Windows 8. But Microsoft's clumsy approach is likely to create a backlash against such adaptation. Worse for Microsoft, it could open people's eyes to the new world and lead them to Apple's and, for mobile devices, Google's more intuitive, mature user experiences.

Remember: With Vista, Microsoft made the world realize that life goes on just fine if you skip a new Windows version. With Metro, Microsoft has endorsed the vision that Apple created for the post-PC world, and that means the Apple option is as valid as Microsoft's version of it. Microsoft only wins in the new world order if it does at least as good as Apple; it can't afford more "every other version sucks" execution -- especially not in its transitional product for the new world.

Here's what Microsoft needs to do:

Separate Metro from Windows 7. Metro is the future of Window, and Windows 7 is the final version of the legacy Windows. Microsoft should offer Windows 7 Plus and Windows 8 Metro as two distinct products, even if they come in the same box or download as "Windows 8."

Companies with homegrown apps, as well as a subset of users that work with Excel's extensive macros or run core ERP apps, will need Windows 7 for years to come -- so keep selling Windows 7 for such legacy applications, legacy PCs, and legacy purposes. Microsoft claims the Windows 7 environment in Windows 8 has had its code size reduced and its performance optimized. If that's true, great -- make it an automatic update for current Windows 7 users, as well as part of Windows Plus. Ditto with other enhancements to Windows 7, such as its improved system utilities and support for iCloud-like fabric computing via Windows Live.

Windows 8 should be smart enough to make Windows 7 the default OS for nontouch computers and devices. I can see training users on Metro by making Metro available as an app in Windows 7, sort of like Microsoft once tried for its widgets -- and as Apple does in Mac OS X for its widgets. But Metro should not be the gate through which traditional PCs get to Windows 7, and Windows 7 should keep its Start menu; it's too useful to die.

On tablets, Metro should be the default OS, and Windows 7 should remain hard to access. Windows 7 is a last-resort legacy environment for those apps you must use but haven't been modernized -- similar to working with a VDI client on an iPad to access legacy apps. It's the tablet where Metro makes the most sense and where Microsoft should be training users on the "new world" OS that Metro is.

As for touch laptops and PCs, give users the ability to set the default gate. Chances are most of their work will be traditional Windows duties, so they'll want the regular Windows 7 by default. In Windows 7 jobs, they won't be using the touchscreen -- nor should they. But if they want to switch to Metro for its touch-savvy apps, let them.

In my recommended approaches, the OS that makes the most sense for the current device is what users experience first and foremost. And the "other" OS is not in the way.

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