Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 has failed and Windows 9 is coming, maybe as soon as October (though no release date has been announced).
The operating system has struggled for nearly two years to find an audience, despite a huge marketing push. Microsoft even dropped support for its still popular, albeit over-a-decade-old, Windows XP OS in order to get people to make the switch.
Nonetheless, Windows 8 and 8.1 had only a combined 13.37% market share for desktop computers as of August, according to NetMarketShare. That puts it well below not just immediate predecessor Windows 7, but still far behind XP. That's bad news: Microsoft has essentially told people that using XP will leave them vulnerable to viruses, and users are willing to risk it rather than upgrade to Windows 8.
The chart below shows the breakdown of market share for each operating system as of August.
|Operating System||Market Share|
|Mac OS X 10.9||4.24%|
The good news for Microsoft is that it has been down this road before and has recovered. Windows Vista, the successor to XP, was also a flop, but that failure paved the way for Windows 7's success. Windows 9, if it fixes the things people disliked about Windows 8, should similarly succeed.
There was no real need for Windows 7 users to upgrade
Windows 8 offered a completely different interface that included dropping the start menu, which was previously a focal point for navigation. It also defaulted to what was once known as the "Metro" interface -- the screen with all the tiles that sort of looked like Microsoft's take on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad interface. It was a radical departure that scared off some users.
Even if you found Windows 8 intriguing, but already had Windows 7, which the numbers above show the majority of Windows users still do, there was no real reason to switch. For business users, a key portion of the Windows market, Windows 7 wasn't broken, so why fix it with an OS that comes with a significant learning curve?
By the time Windows 9 is released, 7 will still be relatively young, but it will be two years older and one model further down the line. That alone would not be enough to persuade people and companies to switch, but if Microsoft makes the product a little more familiar it will eliminate some of the training concerns and spur adoption.
Microsoft has listened to the complaints about 8
Windows 8 was ahead of its time. It was built to work on touchscreen devices, but most desktop and laptop computers still lack that functionality. Using Windows 8 in the Metro mode on a nontouch screen is a challenge, with many functions being less than intuitive.
These comments from Amazon.com's review section sum up the general tone of the complaints.
"I am still in disbelief that Microsoft thought 'tiles' and 'swiping' was a good idea on a desktop," wrote Dave.
"What makes Windows 8 such a disaster? Simple -- it's an interface designed for a smartphone, not for a PC," according to Badger25.
"It is totally non user friendly, extremely difficult and frustrating. I feel like Microsoft was striving to impress us with their self-perceived intelligence and they delivered a product that is time consuming, quirky and makes the most simple task difficult," wrote Sally.
Starting with the Windows 8.1 update, Microsoft began repairing some of the damage done by Windows 8, including having nontouch computers start on the desktop interface. With Windows 9, the company will return the start menu and integrate the apps offered on the Metro screen to that mode. The company even showed off screenshots at a developers conference earlier this year to make clear that the next version will be much closer to what Windows users are comfortable with, PCWorld reported.
The new design melds the familiar with the new, which should pacify people who don't like change while also enhancing the value of the new features and apps.
We saw this pattern before with Vista
Windows 8, much like Vista, was in a tough spot from the moment it launched. It was meant to replace a product most users were perfectly happy with. Trying to do that and be radically different is a recipe for failure.
It's much like the reason Conan O'Brien failed in replacing Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. He was a different flavor of comedian pushing out something familiar. Jimmy Fallon, though younger than Leno, is much closer in tone, and he benefits simply from not being O'Brien.
Windows 9 will be helped by not being Windows 8.
This is a different Microsoft
I worked at Microsoft during the Windows 8 launch on the Windows 8 finance and news apps. Though I was certainly not privy to high-level discussions, it was clear the company still had the outdated idea that it could dictate what consumers would want. The idea that a touch-friendly interface was important was paramount, and less thought appeared to be given to the many millions of users who would not have that capability.
It seemed that under former CEO Steve Ballmer there was a rigidity of thinking born out of the fact that for many years Microsoft essentially had a monopoly on the operating system market.
Now, under CEO Satya Nadella, we seem to be getting a Microsoft more in tune to the idea that it's not just competing to stop customers from buying an Apple computer, it's operating in a world in which it must convince people to not choose tablets, phones, or alternative computing devices. Nadella has shown a willingness to give the people what they want -- like bringing Office to iPad -- and there is no reason to believe he won't do the same with Windows 9.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. He sort of likes Windows 8. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com and Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.