Windows 8 Ignores Computing Culture

Jul 08

There has been a lot of press surrounding the release of Windows 8. Good and bad press are expected when a new product, especially one that deviates significantly from an established norm, is released to market. In the case of Windows 8, the amount of negative press may have taken Microsoft a bit by surprise.

In May, the Wall Street Journal published an article highlighting the disconnect between Microsoft’s vision of computing and users expectations. Two notable disconnects include the developing gap in computing use cases and what appears to be a design by committee failure.

Culture of Computing

The culture of computing has evolved rapidly over the last three decades. This evolution had been spurred by both computing power and the cost for that computing power. As computing power increased, so did the quality of the graphics, audio and a broad range of uses that weren’t possible before. These include processing large amounts of data in applications such as spreadsheets and databases.

The cost of that computing power has also come down significantly, which has created a consumer market where there was previously a majority business market. As high end computing made it into the hands of the consumer, the typical business use cases were replaced with entertainment and hobby use cases. Rather than spreadsheets, consumers wanted to listen to music and watch video. The ends to which that computing power was applied began to change significantly.

The growing interconnectedness of the Internet meant that much of the computing power previously required on a personal computer was being moved onto servers, which allowed consumers to do more of what they wanted with less computing power and less specific computing know how.

During much of this evolution, Microsoft’s focus on the desktop operating system maintained its focus on original business use cases and did very little with the emerging consumer use cases. Meanwhile, visionaries like Steve Jobs saw that most consumer use cases could be accommodated with very little computing power and a smaller screen. Along came the iPhone and iPad.

A major shortcoming related to Microsoft’s design of Windows 8 is that it failed to recognize that the smartphone and tablet computing market serve a different set of use cases than the more business-centric use cases. When the came to the market with an operating system that no longer met the business uses cases well and also fell short of meeting the consumer use cases well, it is natural to expect confusion. That’s exactly what they got.

Design by Committee

One way to explain an operating system like Windows 8, that doesn’t deliver well to either the business or consumer market, is that it was designed by committee. Rather than having a single visionary who understands the market, they have dozens of groups and management with decades of seniority. In the end, everything important made it in to the software in an orderly and prioritized way.

The problem with “everything important” is that very few users need “everything”. A smartphone user needs a very different set of tools than a desktop user. The applications that run on each platform require different computing resources, which further invalidates an approach that attempts to standardize.

Death of an Operating System

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the introduction of Windows 8 has pushed many consumers and businesses to reevaluate their technology stack and the types of devices that best accommodate their core use cases. While Windows 8 may find it’s footing in future releases, it’s likely that it has surrendered some long held ground as the standard business desktop software.

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