After spending the past two years in damage control mode over Windows 8, Microsoft will officially begin a new era for its OS on Tuesday, when it's expected to unveil a preview of Windows' next major version during an event focused on enterprise customers.
After the success of Windows 7, Microsoft misread the market with Windows 8 and botched the product's user interface, leaving a trail of many unhappy customers, especially in the consumer market.
Among businesses, Microsoft encountered much resistance to upgrade, as many CIOs clung to the very stable Windows 7, and took a pass on Windows 8 and its subsequent revisions, afraid that the UI, optimized for touch-screen tablets, would confuse their users, lead them to revolt and affect productivity.
So it's not a surprise that the first look of the next generation of the OS -- referred to unofficially as Windows Threshold and Windows 9 -- will be directed specifically at businesses.
"With Windows 8, Microsoft was aiming at having a product with a good touch-first experience for consumers, and Microsoft didn't think about what would happen with enterprises," Al Gillen, an IDC analyst, said.
At the end of 2013, there were almost 715 million copies of Windows installed in businesses worldwide, and more than half -- 361.2 million -- were Windows 7, according to IDC. About 224 million were Windows XP, and almost 40 million were Windows Vista. Little over 16 million were Windows 8.
"Windows 8 was obviously not for enterprise use. It didn't give information workers an experience that let them be efficient at work. So Microsoft has to make sure that Windows 9 is good for that very important enterprise segment," Gillen said. Windows 8 fared better in the consumer market with 117.2 million copies at the end of 2013, although there it also trailed Windows 7, which had 322 million, according to IDC.
There are a number of areas which Microsoft must get right with Windows 9 in order to attract CIOs and IT managers.
The most obvious one is the user interface. When Windows 8 first came out in October 2012, many users were shell shocked not only by the radically different touch interface, called Modern, but also by the alternate traditional desktop, which was included to run legacy Windows 7 applications but lacked key familiar features like the Start button and menu. Users also complained that the process of toggling between the Modern interface and the traditional desktop was clunky and erratic.
The issue centered on Microsoft's decision to make Windows 8 an OS that could be used with both touch screens and with mice and keyboards. Microsoft took a different route from Apple, which has iOS for iPhones and iPads, and MacOS for its laptops and desktop computers, and from Google, whose ChromeOS runs on Chromebook laptops and desktops, and whose Android is designed for tablets and smartphones.
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