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Perspective: If Windows 8 = Vista, what's Microsoft's next move?

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 29, 2014
Microsoft, Vista and the bastard child problem

Learning Vista's lesson
Ballmer's admission that Vista was his greatest regret confirmed what everyone had already known: Microsoft put Vista in its rear-view as quickly as it could, returning to numbers rather than names, and getting a nice bonus to boot. The word "Windows," and thus the brand, was repetitively used by the media, since using "7" for shorthand just didn't work as it had for "Vista" or "XP."

There's talk now that Microsoft will hurry along Windows 9 to put Windows 8 behind it, a logical conclusion assuming the company does see the latter as a failure. Not that it would ever admit as much, just as it never owned up to the Vista fiasco,. It simply pressed on to the next OS, hoping that one that would be accepted. Which it was.

Microsoft sounds like it will take a similar tack with Windows 8's successor: a tweak here, a fix there, but no overhaul. Much of the chatter has focused on a re-emphasis of the desktop by, for instance, restoring a Start menu and making it possible to run "Metro" apps in sizable windows on that desktop. That may not be enough, but it's probably all it can do with the time available.

Microsoft has committed to a faster release cadence, compressing the timeline it had for Windows 7 — which could be the genesis of an April 2015 launch of Windows 9 instead of in October —but it may simply not have the resources to do more, or with Windows 8 panned, feel it can wait.

Some have argued that Microsoft cannot rescue Windows' reputation by small steps, as it did with Windows 7. Steve Wildstrom, who writes on Techpinions, summarized the dilemma when he pointed out that while the duality of Windows 8 was the biggest barrier for customers, "It would be a major shock if Microsoft announces that Windows 9 will change the fundamental dual nature of Windows."

The difference in Microsoft's situation, as Wildstrom noted, is the technology landscape. Although customers simply waited out Vista because there was no choice for a general computing OS -- other than a heretical shift to OS X, which only a few took -- today Windows is on the defensive, not the automatic choice of consumers who increasingly choose Android and iOS for PC substitutes.

Enterprises don't have that luxury — they're too committed to Microsoft's powerful business software to think of leaving Windows — but they can do what they did before. Wait.

David Smith, a Gartner analyst who follows Microsoft, thinks that's exactly what they will do. "We don't see much interest in Windows 8 in the enterprise, but there's nothing else either," Smith said in a recent interview, even as he cited evidence of increased acceptance of Apple's iOS and OS X. "[Migration] cycles are long in the enterprise, and their next Windows is not going to be 8, and if Microsoft continues its course, as it appears it will, it's not going to be 9 either."


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