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The Open Source Column – The Windows status quo

Has Windows 8 been designed to hold people back rather than push them forward?, wonders Simon

I’ve worked out why Microsoft made Windows 8. Well, one of the reasons anyway. Aside from the fact that it’s got designs on the tablet and mobile market, and that it’s gleefully chasing the tail of wherever Apple chooses to lead, the introduction of Windows 8 already seems to be having some of a side effect: it’s making Windows 7 more popular.

I’m not going to be the first to notice that the new interface that Microsoft has introduced for Windows 8 has little place on a desktop PC. Clearly designed for a touch-screen device, its pride of place in a desktop environment is a real oddity. Likewise, the two tiers of applications. What the desktop PC has been crying out for, after all, has been ‘apps’ rather than programs. Smaller pieces of code, basically, with price tags that you apparently barely notice.

A browse across the chatter-rooms of the internet suggests that Windows 8 has not gone down well with desktop users. And it’s very much in Microsoft’s interests that it doesn’t. We’re not back in the era of Windows Vista here, where a bloated operating system inadvertently led to the prolonged life of Windows XP (still the most popular version of Windows to date). Instead, this was surely built into the business plan. People don’t want Windows 8? Grand, let them have Windows 7 and the status quo will remain unchanged.

After all, it’s not really in Microsoft’s interests at the moment to allow hardware to evolve. Since it won its dominance of the desktop PC with the release of Windows 95, it’s struggled to score a new victory since. The Xbox is doing well, certainly, although it’s a loss leader on the whole for the firm. But in internet technologies, telephony, tablet computers, even netbooks, Microsoft has been slow to react. Sure, it may have won a sizeable, even dominant market share, but it was brute force rather than ingenuity that won it that.

Right now, Microsoft is looking at a future where it’s less relevant. From those of us on the open source side of the fence, it’s looking more likely that we’ll get a straight swap: Microsoft for Apple. But it’s surprising that a firm as well resourced as Microsoft still struggles to wrap its head around the mobile market. To be fair, while stuck with inherent Windows problems, Windows 8 works well on mobile devices and it’s there where it’s attracted praise. But this is the product that Microsoft needed three years ago rather than now. The others have eaten up – and doesn’t this sound familiar? – too much market share for anyone else to convincingly break through.

Therefore, for Microsoft to keep the money pouring in, it needs a groundswell of people still beholden to the desktop PC, to the pre- Windows 8 way of doing things, and to expensive Office software. And I suspect Windows 8 has been designed, in part, to ensure some of that remains the case. There’s simply too much to lose for the firm otherwise…