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.

Is Windows 8 to Microsoft like OS/2 was to IBM?

Back in 2007 I wrote a blog that asked “Is Microsoft like ‘old’ IBM?” That was in the days when the mighty Redmond software factory seemed unable to do wrong. At the end of the blog, I asked:

I wonder how long Microsoft’s good times will last?

I thought it would last much longer than it has. Microsoft is now looking distinctly less mighty and infallible than it used to, that is because it missed the new markets of smartphone operating systems and tablets until they were well established by other companies.

Now I am beginning to wonder whether Microsoft is tracing the same steps with Windows 8 as IBM did in the 1980s when it released the OS/2 operating system?

Remember, IBM brought out OS/2 to try and win back its PC operating system market share from the growing Windows operating system. By that time, IBM had also lost its dominance of the PC hardware market, and it tried to counter that by introducing the PS/2. Both these initiatives followed the tried-and-trusted IBM approach to dominate a market with its own proprietary products.

What do I see now? Microsoft losing the Windows-based PC hardware platform to tablets and smartphones running Android or iOS, and struggling to become significant in the smartphone operating system. What does Microsoft do? Bring out Windows 8 as a touch–oriented operating system, to run on PCs, tablets, and smartphones.

Some people are already writing off Windows 8 as a failure; and a respectable tech journalist has commented:

… consumers don’t appear to be warming to Windows 8 …

Recent statistics paint a stark picture of the health of the PC industry: in April, analyst firm Gartner said that 79,2m PCs were shipped in the first quarter of 2013, an 11,2% decline over the same quarter in 2012 and the first time the number had fallen below 80m since the second quarter of 2009.

The same journalist observed:

 The problem Microsoft faces is far deeper than a simple change in the formula of its software. The entire structure of the computer industry has changed.

Doesn’t that sound like the situation IBM faced in the 1980s and 1990s when the computing paradigm changed from mainframes to PCs?

As I also wrote at the time:

IBM went from being a great tech-oriented company to one run by bean counters; the more I deal as a partner with Microsoft the more I feel that way about them as well.

I believe that still to be true. However, they obviously do have some good techies as the recent Xbox One announcement has shown.

IBM managed to change its fortunes under the leadership of Lou Gerstner. I hope Microsoft do the same.

Upgraded to Windows Phone 7.8

I have just upgraded my Nokia Lumia to the Windows Phone 7.8 (that’s the brand name, the software version is 7.10.8862.114)

Microsoft has improved the user experience with features like additional background colours, and the ability to resize the tiles. They also seem to have improved the resolution on the screen so content looks clearer.

There’s a blog here that provides more details.

27Dinner strategising

At the geek 27Dinner event, we got the opportunity to see a demo model of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab – one of the tablet devices that will take on the Apple iPad.

It has a nice look and feel, and runs on the Android operating system which, to me, means a more open platform. To get more information and comparisons, see these TechRadar and Engadget articles, and CNN’s analysis of Sumsung vs. Apple.

Seeing the Galaxy Tab led to a discussion at my table about open vs. proprietary tablets – in other words, others vs the Apple iPad. Apple has history of bringing out proprietary devices and getting huge kudos and attention, together with early profits, only to be overtaken by a device with similar capabilities that runs on an industry-standard platform. The first case was the original Apple computer which was overtaken by the PC, the second one was the graphical user interface on the Macintosh which was surpassed by Windows. Will the same happen with the iPad?

During the dinner, we heard the news that Microsoft would hand over its Windows Live Spaces blog platform to WordPress.com. When we tried to figure out how what the upside was for Microsoft,  Doug Vining of the FutureWorld think tank, commented that perhaps Microsoft would now develop a means for WordPress.org to be run better on the Windows platform (currently the preferred platform is Apache on Linux), this would provide pull-through for sales of more Windows platforms.

That led to a discussion on why companies should be prepared to cannibalise their own products in order to take advantage of new technology innovations and developments. Specifically, we wondered should Microsoft make Windows free, or almost free? The reasoning behind this is that the general device world (mobile + tablets + Netbooks + PCs) is an area in which Microsoft is losing its marketshare rapidly. The only way for Microsoft to get back into the game would be to make its operating system cheaply and easily available to device makers and so provide a viable alternative to Android and Linux. Making Windows free or very cheap would obviously affect Microsoft’s bottom-line in the short-term, but this would likely make Windows a standard and Microsoft could continue to get revenue from the Office product line. In a world where the personal device (tablet or phone) will become the de facto computing hardware, rather than a Windows-based laptop, Microsoft needs a basis on which to ensure ongoing revenue.

The reason many companies fail to adapt to technology change after dominating an area (e.g., IBM and computing, Sony and the Walkman) is that they believe that they have control. As Doug pointed out, in the 21st century, control is an illusion. Companies that institute IT standards for controlling Internet and social media access believe they can control how their staff access the Internet, forgetting that employess will use their mobile phones. In the brand arena, companies that think they control their brands are mistaken; it is the public that determines how the brand is communicated. For countries, a number have learned that it is practically impossible and hugely expensive to try and control their currencies.

A few of the points Doug raised I have blogged about already when commenting on Don Dodge’s new platform post. The concept of making Windows free is radical, however. It would require a lot of courage and commitment from Microsoft, as well as a major organisational change project. Do you think Microsoft needs to do it, or has the capacity to accept such a proposition? On the issue of devices, could Apple’s proprietary stance lose out to the other tablet manufacturers using Android? Lastly, will businesses ever be able to accept that they do not have control, but should rather focus on trust?

Evaluating desktop search

As a result of a problem with a previous desktop search, I have been testing out some desktop search applications available. My PC runs Windows XP so I didn’t include the Vista search. The three I tested were:

Of the three applications, the Windows search has the best user interface in my view. It searches file/email titles and contents, and search results are quick. My major problem with it were the search applications that run on the PC. There were several times when two programs – searchprotocol and searchfilterhost – took over the CPU and memory of my PC, rendering it inoperable for 15 minutes and longer. After a particularly bad experience when I could hardly use my PC for a day, I deleted Windows desktop search, and that’s when I started looking at other solutions.

I was made aware of Copernic via a comment on Twitter. The user interface was reasonable, but the free version I downloaded only searched file/email titles, not contents. After a short experiment, I deleted Copernic.

I turned to Google’s desktop search after another comment on Twitter. The user interface is browser oriented, which while not the best for me, it is acceptable. It searches file/email titles as well as contents. From a performance persepctive, the Google desktop search programs run surreptiously and don’t consume CPU or memory. The only problem is that Google have not made it easy to change the location of the search index. However, I found the following article on how to change the index location.

After a few weeks, I am still happy with the Google Desktop Search. I am interested in testing other applications if anyone wants to send me the information.

Time wasting XP utilities

I am one of those people who have resisted the move from Windows XP to Vista. But I have one major issue with XP: there are two operating system utilities – svchost.exe and wuauclt.exe – which run everytime I boot up the PC. The problem is that they take a lot of CPU, memory and disk I/O resouces, which means I usually have to wait over five minutes after I switch on the PC before I can start using any of the applications. Wuauclt.exe is a major time waster as it can scan 200+ megabytes of diskspace and slows down every other application.

If anyone knows how to pause or stop these utilities from running, please let me know.

Aborted Windows XP SP3

I have been getting messages from Windows Update that I should install the Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) on my PC. When I tried to install it from the SP3 CD, I got a message that it couldn’t be loaded because a previous fix – KB925877 – needed to be removed. Straightforward? But when I tried to uninstall that KB, the system listed a very long list of programs that would be affected. So I have abandoned XP SP3 for a while.