Microsoft sounds like it will take a similar tack with Windows 8's successor: a tweak here, a fix there, but no overhaul. Much of the chatter has focused on a re-emphasis of the desktop by, for instance, restoring a Start menu and making it possible to run "Metro" apps in sizable windows on that desktop. That may not be enough, but it's probably all it can do with the time available.
Microsoft has committed to a faster release cadence, compressing the timeline it had for Windows 7 -- which could be the genesis of an April 2015 launch of Windows 9 instead of in October -- but it may simply not have the resources to do more, or with Windows 8 panned, feel it can wait.
Some have argued that Microsoft cannot rescue Windows' reputation by small steps, as it did with Windows 7. Steve Wildstrom, who writes on Techpinions, summarized the dilemma when he pointed out that while the duality of Windows 8 was the biggest barrier for customers, "It would be a major shock if Microsoft announces that Windows 9 will change the fundamental dual nature of Windows."
The difference in Microsoft's situation, as Wildstrom noted, is the technology landscape. Although customers simply waited out Vista because there was no choice for a general computing OS -- other than a heretical shift to OS X, which only a few took -- today Windows is on the defensive, not the automatic choice of consumers who increasingly choose Android and iOS for PC substitutes.
Enterprises don't have that luxury -- they're too committed to Microsoft's powerful business software to think of leaving Windows -- but they can do what they did before. Wait.
David Smith, a Gartner analyst who follows Microsoft, thinks that's exactly what they will do. "We don't see much interest in Windows 8 in the enterprise, but there's nothing else either," Smith said in a recent interview, even as he cited evidence of increased acceptance of Apple's iOS and OS X. "[Migration] cycles are long in the enterprise, and their next Windows is not going to be 8, and if Microsoft continues its course, as it appears it will, it's not going to be 9 either."
Corporations can theoretically wait out Microsoft until January 2020, when the company will pull the support plug for Windows 7, but in practical terms they would have to move earlier, perhaps by 2017, to have time for a sensible migration. Or if they're fortunate, Microsoft will offer them something less like Windows 8 and more like Windows 7 as a replacement.
"Microsoft's strength in the enterprise is Windows 7, and it's here to stay for a long time," said Smith.
Rock, meet hard place
The solution to Vista was straight-forward: Backtrack on those elements that raised the most ire -- UAC, for example -- and wait while hardware, both the PC and peripherals, caught up.
That does not seem possible this time. With Windows 8 yoked to the Metro-Classic Desktop two-horsed cart, Microsoft faces unpleasant choices no matter what it does. Every move points to additional delays in stressing mobile.
If it salves the wounds some customers say have been inflicted on the desktop, it weakens the radical strategy behind Windows 8, which was to force touch, force Metro, on every customer in the hope that they would see the benefits, then take to new touch-enabled PCs, and -- if Microsoft was lucky -- gravitate to its tablets as demand pushed developers into quickly creating a massive app market.