Why is Windows 8 taking so long?

I wrote previously about Windows 8 as Microsoft’s similarity to IBM’s OS/2. Then I read a Forbes article which nicely summaries why Windows 8 adoption is so slow. Reading the article took me back to something I wrote in 2012 about my move from a Nokia feature phone to a Nokia Lumia running Windows Phone.

What became clear to me when I moved to the Nokia Lumia interface was not just that I had to learn new things, but also had to unlearn old things. So when the Forbes article refers to the issue of  the new touch-centric ‘Modern’ (previously ‘Metro-style’) user interface, it’s not just the huge training to acquire new skills, but also the support burden needed to help people with the process of changing from old ways to new ways.

According to the article, to make proper use of the Windows 8 user interface, a computer needs to have a  touch input device. This may be true, but I’ve just seen someone give a presentation on a Windows 8 machine without using a touch interface, and look quite comfortable doing it. So I don’t think the lack of a touch interface should be as big a problem as the Forbes article makes out.

However, I agree when the article notes that Windows 8 is an “all or nothing upgrade”; unlike the upgrade from Windows XP, or even Windows 2000, to Windows 7. In other words, moving to Windows 8 is similar to the move from DOS to Windows, which was over 20 years ago.

I don’t recall hearing much in the early 1990s about the big issue of moving to the first Windows versions. I think that is probably because computers in the workplace were not as ubiquitous in those days; only a relatively few people had a PC on their desk. Also, people were happier to upgrade to Windows because DOS was not considered very user friendly. That also shows how familiar people have become to a standard user interface with Windows, and that Microsoft should have considered that.

The Windows 8 upgrade experience is a salutary reminder that the world of work has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Microsoft’s dominance of the desktop created for them one of the dilemma’s of an incumbent during discontinuous change (as described by the Disruptive Innovation theory). Namely, how do you change to a new disruptive environment but keep your current hold on the old environment. In years to come, we may see the Windows 8 introduction as one of the case studies of how an existing leader tried to cope with disruptive innovation.

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