Will Windows 8 win by stealth?

Microsoft Pty Ltd

By Anthony Caruana
Thursday, 06 June, 2013

Will Windows 8 win by stealth?

Microsoft’s latest operating system has been subject to much derision, confusion and rejection. The new tiled interface has received the greatest criticism, but perhaps Microsoft’s game is to take a longer view.

Windows 8 is struggling to achieve even Windows Vista levels of market penetration and acceptance. Data from NetMarketShare suggests that Windows 8 use is lower than any of the last five versions of Apple’s OS X - it’s so small that the share is bundled into the generic “Other” category.

The situation is so bad that analyst firm IDC is pointing the finger at Windows 8 as the reason PC sales are falling. “At this point, unfortunately, it seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market but appears to have slowed the market,” said Bob O’Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays.

So is Windows 8 really an abject failure? Are the changes proposed in Windows 8.1 going to be enough? Or, as I suspect, is Windows 8 part of a much broader strategy?

The Windows 8 interface began its public life as the main UI for Windows Phone. The application tiles acted as both application launch icons and as a way of viewing content. As the data within an application changes  - and an application could be a program, a database or some other collection of data and code - the display on the tile changes.

Yesterday, HP announced a new application suite and services targeted at government departments and similar users. The HP Next Generation Information Worker (NGIW) solution is designed to unify information management systems with enterprise communication and collaboration tools to help government agencies drive better business performance and transform how they work.

Essentially, HP’s NGIW doesn’t deliver anything that’s never been done before. However, they argue that their packaging pulls together a number of solutions that traditionally could only be done by integrating products and services from several providers. What’s interesting is that it uses SharePoint as its foundation and the UI uses the Live Tile interface that provides both access to applications and a view of content.

Last year, Microsoft unveiled SQL Server 2012 and the ability to create and manage Hadoop clusters through Azure. The management interface employed Live Tiles as well.

These aren’t the first, only or last times we’ll see the interface formerly known as Metro appear in applications. What we find particularly interesting is that the user interface that has been so widely derided is now becoming quite common.

Windows 8 has, from a sales and market penetration point of view, not delivered. Users aren’t happy with the interface, with many - perhaps 80% according to some research - bypassing the Live Tiles and going straight to the desktop. Certainly, in our own use, we found the desktop a more familiar interface but on a two-head system, we liked being able to use both side by side for different tasks.

It’s clear that Microsoft has placed a lot of faith in the Live Tile interface. Now that it’s found its way into every layer of their product range - from phones to enterprise applications - and is being adopted by third parties, they will persist with it.

That persistence will, over time, lead to increased ubiquity. And with that, users will slowly, either voluntarily or as alternatives are discontinued, become accustomed to the new way of doing things. It’s that approach that will ensure that Windows 8 and its successors with the tile-based look and feel will persist as the dominant computing interface for the massive, installed base of Windows users.

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