Windows 8 and the Question of Success

Is Windows 8 a success? The operating system has been available to the general public for only about three months, and some expect an up tick in sales of the operating system once Microsoft comes out with its beefier Surface tablet featuring Windows 8 Pro. Even so, some are saying the OS has not been successful.

Whether or not you consider Windows 8 to be a market success may depend, in part, on your definition of success. At the very least, there seem to be a few indications that Microsoft is just a touch ashamed of its Windows 8-based Surface tablet’s sales. The company refuses to reveal how many Surface units it has sold, which strikes a number of observers as highly unusual – and leaves them guessing.

It’s not just Surface sales that seem potentially disappointing, however. Other machines carrying the Windows 8 operating system fail to inspire, or so it appears. Acer president Jim Wong observed that “Windows 8 itself is still not successful…The whole market didn’t come back to growth after the Windows 8 launch, that’s a simple way to judge if it is successful or not.”

But is it, in fact, a fair way to judge success? While some users will buy the latest and greatest operating system as soon as it comes out, along with the hardware to match, I think many if not most of us stick with what we have for as long as we can. Indeed, last month Windows 8 ran less than two percent of the computers in use – but its predecessor, Windows 7, ran on 45 percent of them. As others have pointed out, Microsoft is often its own biggest rival.

Perhaps hardware companies need to look at themselves for not making their offerings compelling enough. Indeed, at the time Microsoft unveiled its Surface tablet, many said that software giant was trying to send exactly that message to its hardware partners. In other words, if Microsoft could make an interesting computing device, surely manufacturers, for whom this is their bread and butter, could do even better!

Certainly some have tried. Now one can find Windows 8 on a variety of form factors. But we need to look at the reason for this to better understand Acer’s – and possibly other hardware manufacturers’ – discontent with Windows 8.

Windows 8 development started in 2009. In April of 2010, Apple released its first iPad. This touch tablet form factor proved extremely popular – which is not too surprising if you think about it, since e-readers like the Amazon Kindle paved the way in 2007. The touch tablet wasn’t a guaranteed success, mind you; this form factor had failed multiple times. But with Apple’s success, Microsoft clearly needed to create an operating system that would work well on touch tablets, and apparently wanted to avoid creating different flavors of operating systems optimized for too many different device form factors. Hence Windows 8.

But what about those hardware manufacturers? Unlike Microsoft, they didn’t read the writing on the wall. They figured they could continue to churn out the same kinds of desktops and laptops because, by gosh, that’s what they’ve always done. They didn’t realize that Apple’s big splash with its iPad signaled the beginning of a structural change in the market, much as its iPod and iPhone signaled a change in what many users were willing to accept from music players and smartphones, respectively.

And what was the result of this? Larry Dignan notes that “Acer hasn’t quite nailed the tablet market and remains PC centric…one can conclude that Acer is still hoping for Microsoft Windows home runs to keep its business humming. Instead, Acer – like many PC makers – missed the curve.” Which leaves one to ask the inevitable question: how much of Windows 8’s success – or lack thereof – can be credited to Microsoft, and how much to the hardware manufacturers whose product comes with it preinstalled? That’s a good question, and sadly, there is no simple answer. But if the industry truly is facing a structural change in which PCs will fade in importance and tablets will begin to dominate, perhaps hardware makers should retool. After all, Windows 8 runs on desktops, laptops, tablets, hybrids, and everything in between.