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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Vista was so bad that more than 210,000 people signed InfoWorld's successful petition to keep XP alive. Thanks to Vista, Windows XP remains the primary desktop OS into its 11th year of existence, whereas Vista never had more than 20 percent of the market, even though nonenterprise buyers had no choice but to have it preinstalled on new PCs. Also thanks to Vista, we've all learned we don't need to install a new version of Windows just because Microsoft has one. Users and IT agonized about not adopting Vista -- I hear no agony this time in either camp about skipping Windows 8.

Worse, Microsoft has enough of a clue in its Windows 8 efforts to fool itself that it's doing the right thing. Vista was a disaster, and they knew that privately within Microsoft. When the marketing campaign couldn't hide the stink, Microsoft fired the culprits and Steve Sinofsky came in to clean up the mess, giving us Windows 7. The same pattern seems to be finally occurring in the mobile space, after the Windows Mobile 6, Kin, Windows Phone 7, and Windows Phone 7.5 failures: The new hope is Windows Phone 8 "Apollo," ostensibly led by Sinofsky's people.

That makes it easier to deny the problems, because there's just enough success to hang on to. Although Windows fans such as InfoWorld's Bruzzese and ZDnet's Mary Jo Foley are plaintively warning Microsoft about the train wreck coming, some Microsoft fanboys such as Paul Thurrott have told their readers to basically suck it up and adapt. Certainly, change requires adaptation, but why should anyone adapt to a mess? The last time Microsoft gave us a confusing OS, people adapted -- to Mac OS X. Now they'll adapt to iOS and Android as well. Users don't have to choose Windows, and if Microsoft is going to make us all relearn how to work with a PC, we can now decide to spend that effort on an item of our choosing. Adaptation should be worth the effort.

Users have seen the iPhone and the iPad, and they've realized there were other ways to compute. The growth in computing is now all in iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, not in traditional PCs. Mac sales are also growing, and you know a fundamental change has occurred when you see consultants from old-guard IT consultancies such as CSC using MacBook Airs at conferences. It's as if users discovered California cuisine after a steady diet of Wonder bread and peanut butter.

Where Windows 8 has gone wrong is that Microsoft correctly realized that the traditional PC paradigm of mass-produced boxes that make users adapt to them is dying, but is mishandling its shift to the new paradigm. The market now truly knows better -- that wasn't necessarily the case during the Vista debacle.

I've said several times that Windows 8 has a shot at bringing Microsoft into the new world, providing a strong alternative to the Mac OS X/iOS juggernaut. I meant it. But Windows 8's current form and trajectory will blow that shot, and time is running out.

This article, "The Windows 8 tragedy: How Microsoft can avoid disaster," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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