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Windows 8 compatibility

There was a time when the phrase ‘Windows Compatible’ would keep software developers awake at night while they slavishly adapted and jimmied their ageing applications – applications is what we used to call apps, ask your grandparents – so that they didn’t crash every eight seconds on Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system.

The last big platform shift happened in August 1995 when Microsoft shipped the now legendary Windows 95. While there had been iterations of Windows prior to Windows 95, they had been mostly wheezy attempts amounting to no more than experimentation with graphical user interface concepts. And so no serious software business worth its weight in take-out pizza could bring itself to cast aside its MS-DOS codebases and start over again just for Windows.

That all changed with Windows 95 which over the course of 2-3 years killed off the MS-DOS generation – such was the Microsoft world we all lived in.

The world in 1995

  • In 1995 there were around 39.5 million people online which is roughly equivalent to less than 4% of the user population of Facebook.
  • There were around 20 million cell phones in use; that’s fewer than the total number of Android and iPhone devices activated in the last two weeks.
  • Back in ’95 there were around 5,000 commercial software applications compared to more than a billion million apps sitting inside the Apple and Google app stores today.

Looking at these numbers it’s clear that this isn’t as much about Windows compatibility as it is about the fundamental relevance of Windows going forwards, and how it’s now Microsoft execs and engineers being kept awake at night, fighting to ensure Microsoft remains compatible with the rest of the world.

However, while Microsoft certainly isn’t about to overrun by the Angry Birds generation any time soon – in spite of the views of an endless stream of pundits on the news this week  – it does recognise the importance and urgency with which it needs to reconstitute itself.

And make no mistake, while Microsoft has been utterly outsmarted on mobile by Apple & Google, it’s no rabbit in the headlights and saw this all coming a long time ago. In fact, you could see this as far back as ten years ago when Microsoft launched its .net play together with its accompanying Software + Services mantra.

It was certainly obvious to me at the time that this was always a temporary, transitional play in the face of a growing threat that Google might be building its own operating system and the need to drag Microsoft’s on premise developer community to the web while ensuring they didn’t instantly abandon the Windows desktop app world (and its then valuable associated revenues) in the process.

“I’ve long since held the view that .net is Microsoft’s play for absolute survival – never mind sustaining its dominance – in the face of the tech real estate shift from Windows PC desktop apps, the territory in which they are numero uno, to the Web where they are very notably not numero uno.” - Gary Turner, April 2004.

That decade long transition came to an end in March 2010 when Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer ceremoniously declared the Software + Services dog and pony show over in his famed ‘We’re all in the cloud” speech – up to this point you couldn’t hold a conversation with a Microsoft employee who didn’t utter the phrase ‘Software + Services’ every fifteen seconds.

In Ballmer’s 2010 cloud speech ‘Software + Services’ never garnered a single utterance.

And so with it’s ‘All in’ commitment to the cloud and with Windows 8 now here, Microsoft is now embarking on a new phase of its journey, one where the once faint prospect of worthy competition is now very real and where a generation of cloud apps is now coming into full bloom.

So, over to you – has Microsoft done enough in the last ten years to ensure its on-going compatibility with the modern world?

 

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5 comments

nick beaugeard
27 October 2012 #

Hi folks.

Quick correction, more than a million apps in the app stores, not a billion, I wonder how many are actually useful, though?

Michael ‘MC’ Carter
27 October 2012 #

“Warning Will Robinson. Long TLDR comment coming … ” :)

Gary I think Microsoft will fail with Windows 8 for a variety of reasons including those stated by Computerworld and Gartner here: http://blogs.computerworld.com/windows/21063/windows-will-fail-enterprise-warns-gartner

Long applauded for their Fast Follower strategy on everything from the GUI to the browser, Microsoft has kept the Follower aspect and long ago dropped the Fast aspect. Obviously that’s an inherent challenge with maintaining the innovation flame in a large organisation, especially after the thought leader/visonary leaves. They have floundered under Ballmer. He’s Operations. Not ‘Visions’. (Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ has come good commentary on the reasons for that.)

We all know desktop operating systems are becoming irrelevant. MS Office is becoming irrelevant; the concept of “documents” is shifting to “collaboration platfiorms”, for example — the thought of someone sending someone a Word (or even PDF) if it’s a discussion or engagement just makes no sense (and creates version control issues for starters), when Google Docs, for example, with its threaded commenting system is just so effective and efficient, plus right there on the same screen there is click to live chat, plus a click to call or video conference, etc.

The most innovative thing I have seen Microsoft do in recent times is what they are doing with Lync, their unified messaging and collaboration platform (http://lync.microsoft.com/en-us/Pages/Lync-2013-Preview.aspx). Again, they are trailing Google there, but their entrenched position with MS Office gives them the perfect transition with upgrades, if they don’t stumble.

Microsoft are betting the farm on the tablet in a business context — however, IF their Touch Cover and Type Cover accessories for their Surface tablet give a good typing experience (to then turn the Surface into a hybrid tablet/laptop) then they could be onto a winner there. I’m guessing that will take 3+ years to get traction anyway, as businesses gradually replace their hardware. Maybe the Surface (combined with cloud apps) will be the start of the Bring Your Own Device era really taking hold, at least on the SME end of town.

With the Surface’s keyboard covers, at least Microsoft are not entirely discounting the efficiency of the mighty keyboard and the social awkwardness (i.e. speaking aloud to one’s self) of voice recognition in a commercial environment. I don’t think the tablet will ever be a replacement for the laptop, even if only from an ergonomic (neck angle!) perspective. A tablet (without a keyboard) is an auxiliary device, not a core productivity device.

MS are obviously out to prove naysayers like me wrong. I lack faith in their UI design ability. On a weekly basis, in different contexts, I use Mac and Windows and Google Apps. Every time I use Microsoft interfaces, I feel like I am traveling back in time (including Office 365!). Not intuitive. Too many clicks, etc. No elegance or simplicity. Sharepoint’s UI has always been, and continues to be, complex and clunky. (And they have acquired Yammer, whose UI design abilities are just as poor, imho!) The Windows 8 approach to changing ‘right-click’ to now instead display a bar across the bottom of the screen, again screams of poor UI design — “Let’s make the user have to move back and forth all over the screen, shall we?”

The Windows 8 interface will be a poor user experience on a desktop, and I’m betting they won’t nail it on the tablet. (I will be delighted to be proven wrong on this front. I *want* them to be a fantastic competitor. That’s good for all of us.)

Apart from Lync (which I’m convinced will go extremely well — I think once businesses use it (or the Google equivalent) they will wonder what they did without a presence-aware collaboration platform), I think the Surface is all they have going for them on the innovation front. Microsoft’s foray now into manufacturing hardware (with the Surface tablet) is a massive roll of the dice (not to mention shift in business model — following Apple’s “OS + hardware + app ecosystem” model), and if the Surface takes off, then their ship will start to turn around.

It’s a massive ship though, with a very large and slow turning circle.

Rod Drury
29 October 2012 #
Nigel
29 October 2012 #

Gary Turner – Love your quote from 2004!

But I think many of the computer people who post here overestimate the advancement of a huge number of computer users.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I persuaded my accountant to move from MS-DOS and Lotus 123 to Windows/Excel just over a year ago! (OK, this is not normal…!) I know nobody who uses Google Docs who didn’t get there via a file shared by me. Dropbox is getting some traction, because it’s easier than emailing files around a small office. In my industry sending a PDF rather than an Excel document is considered high-tech, and .docx and .xlsx files are unreliable as a large majority use software too old to open them and never bothered installing the patches!

My retired parents use Office 2000 – reinstalled on to Windows 7, and not working very well! They don’t see why they should pay for more modern software – and SAAS is no good as their broadband is too slow – and they live an hour from London in prime commuter-belt. I could go on.

Windows 8 will be the default purchase for all these people – because they will always need a typewriter replacement that can also do things online, and whilst Dell pre-install Windows that’s what they will buy.

Gary Turner
29 October 2012 #

@Michael – Gold star for writing a comment longer than the post it’s commenting on. Good insights about the possible opportunity of delivering a great keyboard experience, I hadn’t got that before you mentioned it. Tablets so far are great for consumption but Microsoft’s core enterprise audience probably need to be able to do more than just checking in on Twitter. Could be an interesting positioning play.

@Nigel – I think you’re right in that there is an constituency for whom a classic Windows form factor is fine. I think it’s interesting to note that we have thus far avoided thinking of devices like the iPad as being PCs, and to the extent that their form factor is so different then that makes sense. However, you have to wonder how many people now use iPads as their principal device at home, displacing their old PCs. In that sense, we should probably redefine what we mean by PC in which case the situation is much riskier for Microsoft than just adoption of Windows 8.

I imagine they calculated that since most Windows users have just recently upgraded to Windows 7 (which is only three years old) having avoided or had unpleasant experiences with Windows VIsta, and those Windows 7 PCs are going to be fine for a while, at least another five years.

So, in that sense and for as long as Microsoft keeps Windows 7 in active maintenance, Windows 8 represents the first time Microsoft has two concurrent operating systems in market, in effect even if it’s only selling Windows 8 today.

I don’t think they need the Windows 7 community to upgrade (unless they really want to, e.g. not the traditional users), but they do need to win some new users on Windows 8 who have different set of expectations.

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