A new CEO, rumours of Windows 9 conning in 2015 and signs of change within Microsoft. David Crookes grabs his crystal ball he paint has barely dried on Windows 8, and already excitement is building for what Microsoft will do next. Almost as soon as 8.1 was released last October, people began to talk about what 8.2 would bring. Now the smart money is on Microsoft pushing aside the eighth iteration of its operating system, forgetting any 8.2 version it may have had planned and starting afresh with Windows 9.
It had been thought that 8.2 was being codenamed Threshold but sources within Microsoft suggest otherwise. Now it is believed to be the moniker pressed on Windows 9, a launch that analysts close to the company suggest will come at some point in 2015 (or maybe even sooner). That would make sense. Windows 8 has been seen as a disaster, having produced two interfaces within a single operating system that in both cases failed to reach anybody’s expectations.
For users, Windows 8 was a jump too far. Scrapping the Start button and going with the ugly Metro interface that was more suited for touch-screens, Windows 8 tried to redefine how people used Microsoft’s OS, but it lacked true innovation. It has alienated developers, and too few Windows 7 users have migrated over to it. The name is tainted. Nobody, it seems, really wants it.
Its market share is woeful at less than 10%, and if Vista was said to have been a terrible mistake, then the fact it had a higher adoption rate than Windows 8 in the early stages says much. To be fair, Microsoft needed to do something to reinvigorate its operating system in the face of a diversifying marketplace. But when a company caters for millions upon millions of users, it needs to tread that bit more carefully to avoid a backlash. And it didn’t.
Microsoft, in trying a one-size-fits-all approach to desktops, laptops, tablets and phones with Windows 8, at least understands that it faces competition from Android and ¡OS as much as OS X and Linux and that the portable operating systems are taking large bites of the apple. At the same time it will have come to understand that one size doesn’t always fit all. Windows 9, then, should be a more considered operating system that hopes to put all of its past woes behind it.
There is much riding on the outcome. Microsoft has a new CEO called Satya Nadella, and he will want to make his mark. Nadella will also be fully aware that the problems with Windows 8 will most likely have been a defining factor in the resignation of his predecessor, Steve Ballmer. Some pundits are going as far to say that Windows 9 is the last chance for Microsoft to salvage its future in the desktop and laptop market, which will heap the pressure on Nadella. Yet it’s hard to subscribe to such a notion given the huge PC userbase that, in a business sense at least, needs to be serviced, and Windows has done that for a few decades now. No, what’s needed here is thought. Another mistake and it will takes years to correct.
It’s important, then, that Microsoft gets Windows 9 right. When even stalwart Windows 8 backers such as blogger Paul Thurrott are questioning the wisdom behind 8.1, you sense Microsoft has a mountain to climb. “[I’m] now wondering whether Microsoft has simply fallen into an all-too-familiar trap of trying to please everyone and creating a product that is ultimately not ideal for anyone,” he wrote.
He said Windows 8.1 is “messy”. He said “Windows was designed by a committee” and counters that by saying the Mac feels “like it was designed by a single person”. “Windows 8 is not well designed,” he concluded. “Windows 8 is a disaster in every sense of the word.” To abandon Windows 8 and not flog it with a version 8.2, then, would seem to be a very sensible solution. It has been tainted. People don’t like it. Sometimes you need to cut your losses and move on. But what could possibly replace it?
More than one operating system, it would seem. Microsoft is believed to be adapting its approach, and ZDNet’s Mary Foley said Windows 9 will include a “wave of operating systems across Windows-based phones, devices and gaming consoles”. She painted a picture of three different platforms (Windows Phone, Windows and Xbox) having three different versions of the OS. One will be a traditional consumer version, another consumer-focused and a third an Enterprise SKU.
This will satisfy the desktop market, those people who want to keep things running in the way they have become accustomed to, using their mouse and keyboard rather than a touch-screen. It will be compatible with x86 hardware. It will also satisfy consumers; by mixing up traditional desktop apps with Metro ones, it will be geared up for more modern use. It will be compatible with ARM and x86 hardware, and people who want to use computers for video, photos and the odd document will be better served with this version, given the focus will be on touch-screen technology.
Company bosses will like the Enterprise version, because it will offer a serious interface rather than something that invites frivolity. It will include features such as device management and group policy control, and Microsoft may even make it available to business users only rather than put it on general sale.
“Microsoft clearly still wants a desktop operating system, so the best thing to do is develop a SKU of Windows that is purely targeted at the desktop user and offer the more modern Ul as an add-on,” said Richard Edwards, principle analyst in Enterprise IT at analyst company Ovum. “The capabilities are there as an OS and I wouldn’t take that away: I would give customers what they want and expect. Microsoft should develop the operating system for the new user interface, based around Windows RT. The challenge Microsoft has is related to digging itself out of a hole – a hole It has got itself into with Windows 8.”
Edwards is very much of the mind that Microsoft has missed the target with Windows 8. “Unfortunately, the reason for that Is the target itself is multiple and moving,” he argued., “Microsoft had tried to unify Its operating system targeting desktop and tablet when other vendors, most notably Apple and Google, are diversifying with separate offerings for desktop and mobile. Apple could have brought out a hybrid OS if It wanted to, but it clearly has a good sense of what customers actually want.”
However, Microsoft still talks about unifying. Job adverts discuss developers writing code for Windows Store apps that work on Windows Phone and vice versa. A one-size-fits-alI solution seems to have weighed down Windows 8, and it would likely do the same for Windows 9. At least with Windows 8.1, Microsoft listened, bringing back the Start button and making things easier for the millions who still spend significant time on a PC or laptop. It failed to address the core gripes of many users, but they were welcome steps.
Therefore, one of the first things Microsoft needs to do – and we hope it is doing this – is to abandon the idea of unification for the time being. Windows 8 was supposed to be the OS that brought everybody’s wants and desires under the same umbrella, a catch-all, service-all solution that has just not worked out. It’s hard to cater for business users, gamers, touch-screen and media consumers all at the same time, especially when they’re being serviced not just on desktops and laptops but on tablets too.
Differentiate From Windows 7
The next thing Microsoft must do is make Windows 9 unique. Edwards believes Windows 7 – which Is predominantly used in enterprise – will continue to be popular for a long time if Microsoft doesn’t differentiate Windows 9 from the much-loved 7. “Windows 7 is a old operating system and it doesn’t have any particular sort of touch capability unless they are added afterwards by the hardware manufacturer, but Windows 7 will be with us for many, many years and is not due to run
be able to remain within it for everything they need. Windows 9 shouldn’t have a situation where you open an image in desktop mode and call up Metro Preview.
This means, crucially, that there needs to be a strict desktop-only mode. Microsoft has, to risk boredom, taken a battering over Metro. Windows 8.1 let users boot straight to the desktop, and this needs to be the core of Windows 9 if Microsoft is going to gain the confidence of users again. Metro, for large numbers of users, is irrelevant, so it should be possible for those people to switch it off entirely and yet not lose any functionality that it may make available to users. Metro can continue to satisfy people who do not want to use their machines as a workhorse, but this should be done separately.
With the Windows 7 kind of desktop back in action, the next step would be to perform a U-turn, admit mistakes and bring back the Start menu so familiar to generations. It would seem to us that removing it was not on the same scale as a flippant redesign of something like Facebook, which attracts criticism for a few days and is then largely forgotten. Users still bemoan the lack of a traditional Start menu within Windows 8 and 8.1, so that has to go back in the mix.
There was strong talk that 8.2 would bring this, but we’re not sure whether 8.2 will ever see the light of day. More likely is that Microsoft will jump to 9 and we’ll see it implemented there. So what Windows 8 took away, Windows 9 will replace. New apps won’t need to be opened via the Start screen and the Modern Ul. Start screen apps will run on the Windows 9 desktop, most likely. It may do this via an app but it will do it nonetheless, sources indicate. Again, this would be welcome.
Advanced Display Scaling
With the desktop back to its former glory, Microsoft will hopefully address the issues Windows has with high-res devices. If you’re using a 1920 x 1080 HD display with Windows 8.1, the text can be hard to read. Internet Explorer has struggled to scale pages properly, the Start screen text labels can be tiny, and the news app would prompt a visit to the optician. Small, pixellated icons make Windows look terrible: it desperately needs to support Retina-quality displays in a far better way than it does currently.
Windows 9 also needs to work on notifications for desktop apps, ensuring that they’re more consistent. Currently, this is predominantly a feature of the Modern Ul but there’s no reason why desktop apps can’t benefit. A notification centre that is organised, intuitive and selective so that you’re not constantly bombarded would be a bonus. We would also like to see more work being done to make Windows less power hungry. We want laptops and tablets to last for longer than they do at the moment before we have to charge them up.
With a traditional-style Windows 9 desktop and another for tablets, Microsoft can then look to serve users of both properly.
Getting Microsoft’s app store right will be a key component of this. Developers tend to concentrate more on the app markets for Apple and Android because the Windows app store isn’t as lucrative for them. But much of that is because consumers are not always confident about what they may be getting. Some of the apps look iffy, but it’s hard to tell which ones are bad, because Microsoft does a terrible job of organising them. It needs to promote worthy apps better and have pro-active curation. And it also needs to target apps properly to different audiences.
The list of wants go beyond the operating system itself, though.
Our sister online site IT Pro suggests lowering the price for Windows 9 (even giving it away for free as an upgrade). And Edwards believes Microsoft should abandon the Windows name on some devices and produce two distinct products that could make the market far more clear cut. He said Google has been serviced well with Chrome and Android and that Apple has iOS and OS X. Consumers know one works on desktops and the other on laptops, and while ¡OS and OS X are moving closer together, there’s a still a stark distinction.
What The New CEO Says
Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella didn’t mention Windows 9 in his email to employees on his first day in the job, but he did indicate the future direction of the company.
He said: “I believe over the next decade computing will become even more ubiquitous and intelligence will become ambient. The coevolution of software and new hardware form factors will intermediate and digitise many of the things we do and experience in business, life and our world. This will be made possible by an ever-growing network of connected devices, incredible computing capacity from the cloud, insights from big data and intelligence from machine learning.”
We say: Cloud computing is going to form a larger part of Microsoft’s strategy. Expect to see greater use of One Drive. But that’s only part of it. Nadella was executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group and he played a major role in moving many of Microsoft’s services to cloud computing and infrastructure. He will want to make Windows management tools available to all platforms. We can expect to see smaller, rapid releases from Microsoft at some stage.
He said: “This is a software-powered world.”
We say: Xbox, Surface and Nokia purchase aside, Microsoft will continue to plough resources into software. It doesn’t necessarily want to become like Apple and Google and control both hardware and software. It wants to deliver software-based products to people no matter how they want to access it.
He said: “In our early history, our mission was about the PC on every desk and home, a goal we have mostly achieved in the developed world. Today we’re focused on a broader range of devices. While the deal is not yet complete, we will welcome to our family Nokia devices and services and the new mobile capabilities they bring us. As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world and do new things.”
We say: Microsoft’s focus is moving away from desktops.
It has met the challenge it set itself, and while it will try to retain the desktop userbase, it knows the number of users may dwindle, particularly at home, so it will continue to look elsewhere. Operating systems need to adapt, and Microsoft will look back at its strengths to see what it can do in the future. It’s about reimagining now, not reinvention. Nadella’s reference to Nokia discusses capabilities; with many manufacturers making Android phones, Microsoft needs a manufacturer to push the boat out in order for Microsoft to make Windows Phone a success.
He said: “We are the only ones who can harness the power of software and deliver it through devices and services that truly empower every individual and every organisation. We are the only company with history and continued focus in building platforms and ecosystems that create broad opportunity.”
We say: Microsoft has, for a couple of years, been trying to move away from an image of selling packaged software to one that is focused on devices and services. Ballmer often spoke of “devices and services” too. Here Nadella reiterates that stance.
“Microsoft Is insistent on using the Windows description for every operating system It has even though that isn’t always the best case,” said Edwards. “Hindsight is a great thing, and if I was put in charge of Microsoft for a few days and could turn the clock back a couple of years, I would have put out a new operating system for touch devices and called it something like Microsoft Surface. I would then have created an operating system which perhaps under the hood may have been shared code base. But from a user interface perspective, I would have called it something different.”
It has not been easy for Microsoft. It wants to offer something new for a world that is changing. At the same time, people are asking for Windows XP to be updated because they love It so much. Edwards said technology ambivalent users want an easy life. They don’t want two or three things rolled into one, yet Microsoft has been giving them a traditional-modern hybrid – a dual-personallty in which It wants to be all things to all men (and women).
“Unfortunately for Microsoft, the technology ambivalent user matters the most,” said Edwards. “These people are not ‘geeks’ or into tech like so many of us are. They want an easy-to-use set of tools to get the job done. Windows 8 was too confusing for them.
“Between now and release of the next Windows, there is an opportunity to work on the success Microsoft is having with Windows Phone. If it can extend the capability and success It is having there with low-powered tablet devices, it will get them out of the mess of the desktop end. Then it can concentrate on making Windows 9 something very much geared up for desktop users, without the confusing fuss.”
In time, Microsoft may well get into a swifter cycle of updates, maybe following the lead of Apple with annual revisions. It would be harder for Microsoft to give its OS away for free (Apple controls the hardware as well as the software, but Microsoft replies on Windows for income to a large degree), but by getting the operating systems right for the different markets it wants to target, Microsoft is able to get the ball rolling.
Windows 7 46.64%
Windows XP 31.22%
Windows 8 6.66%
Windows Vista 3.57%
Windows 8.1 2.64%
Mac OS X 10.9 2.42%
Mac OS X 10.8 1.85%
Mac OS X 10.6 1.53%
Mac OS X 10.7 0.34%
Mac OS X 10.5 0.32%
Windows NT 0.09%
Mac OS X 10.4 0.08%
Windows 2000 0.03%
Mac OS X (no version reported) 0.01%
Windows 98 0.00%
FreeBSD 0.00% It can’t effectively roll out regular updates based on Windows 8 because it’s so disliked. That would be a terrible basis on which to start. So Windows 9 racks up the pressure because it should form the basis of things to come. Microsoft has to be applauded for being bold enough to rip up its own rule book with the introduction of Windows 8 and 8.1, but it should also be given a standing ovation for admitting to mistakes and rectifying them. We can’t wait to see what the result will be.