Opinion: Can Windows 8 Tempt an Upgrade?

Microsoft Windows logoMicrosoft is under pressure. Home users of Windows XP and Windows 7 number in the millions, as do corporate Windows XP desktops (“seats” in corporate-speak), despite the cessation date of XP support. Most home users probably don’t even know that.

The home and small business consumer will use whatever is shipped on the next round of PC’s and laptops they buy; if it comes with the hardware, it’s not an upgrade. What about everyone else? After three years, it’s a roughly fifty-fifty split of market share between XP and 7 (don’t quote me), mostly through bundled copies of windows 7 on new machines. Now Windows 8 has to make that breakthrough.
Ignoring the Windows Vista disaster, Windows 7 arrived just in time for a recession. For most people, they only ‘just’ bought it, persuading them into an upgrade is these financially challenged times is going to take something special. That doesn’t mean a $50 to $70, or higher, upgrade price for Windows 8. Not when Premium vendor Apple pushed the last OS-X out the door to the Mac faithful at $35. OS-X is not a profit centre for Apple the way Windows is for Microsoft.

For the ‘enterprise,’ boldly not going where they went before,’ because the re-training and deployment costs comprehensively trump any benefits the corporates might see for the average user, there is no compelling reason yet for the Board to sign the cheque to make the switch.

The technology watchers may be impressed with the overall direction Microsoft is taking with Windows 8 and it’s many changes, but there are few “wow” moments so far to make it compelling.

The Metro user interface for phones and touch-screen tablets  will appeal to many users, hopefully making the PC easier for the elderly, young smart-phone hipsters and just the technologically challenged. Metro is easier to use, more attractive, and simpler for the average Joe who uses a handful of applications regularly; Facebook, Twitter, Internet Explorer, an email client.

That isn’t what the corporates looking for in an OS. Drop out of Metro back to a standard Windows 7 desktop, which you have to in order to use Microsoft Office, it doesn’t look a lot different.

So for those who aren’t sold on the new Metro UI, what does Windows have to offer, when Windows 7 offers a more stable, faster, and more capable interface than XP or Vista?

Windows 8 has a much faster boot time through the use of the hibernation kernel, has more cloud integration through Azure, and is a faster overall experience than seen in Windows 7, dramatically so over Vista and XP. On paper, this should appeal on every class of device from small, low powered netbooks and tablets upwards.

I’m running the Windows 8 Preview on old hardware and virtual machines; it’s good, it really is. Metro aside, that is, since I have no use for it and no compelling Metro apps. The down-side of IE-10 Metro, it’s a touch-screen app for phones and tablets, if Metro has limited appeal on non-touch devices, where does that leave millions of potential up-graders?

Corporates are looking for hard facts regarding deployment tools, maintenance tools and the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of Windows 8 – which has to approach the working lifetime of XP, or the deal’s off. Throw in legacy application compatibility (hypervisor and virtualisation not withstanding), end-user training, new security models and the bell-curve of investment to make the change; if I’m a corporate board member, I know what I’m going to do with that decision: defer.

So the next challenge for Microsoft is the big marketing push to convince us all that Windows 8 is the place to be. This from a company that hasn’t really delivered decent marketing for a while; it’s just not a marketing company, though Lord knows with it’s size, budget and maturity, it should be.

The “I’m a PC” (response: “so what?”) campaign raised eyebrows more than sales. Setting up a computer shop in someone’s house is just bizarre. The Bing search campaign was creepy and bizarre. “Life Without Walls” is meaningless. I don’t understand how Microsoft doesn’t understand marketing, even after two impressive iPad campaigns showed the way.

2012 is going to be a fascinating year. AJS

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