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Windows 9, Microsoft and the innovation challenge.

said in my last post, it seems like it was a dud. Now that we are moving to Windows 9, over the next few weeks I will be taking a detailed look at what went wrong in Windows 8. I know we are looking at Windows 8.1 and 8.2 and Threshold.. blah blah, but we should call the Time of Death already, a post-mortem is due. Anyway, today I was thinking about the next version of Windows and it suddenly occurred to me that Microsoft may be in even more trouble than we thought when it comes to Windows. Here’s why: There are no clear requirements for a Windows 9. Now you may say “duh! Thats obvious genius! They haven’t started working on it yet” but that misses the larger point. You see, just for fun I was looking back at some of the articles I wrote about what would be cool to see in Windows 8. I called that category the Windows 8 wish list. If you read some of those articles now (some 4 years old), you see that Windows 8 wasn’t actually that bad as an attempt to revolutionize the traditional Operating System. Windows 8 is lighter, faster, more efficient, more secure and more contemporary than it’s predecessor Windows 7. Heck the OS even supported tablets. The main problem was – it just didn’t connect with the public. Microsoft did a shitty job of rolling it out and selling it and the general public wasn’t sold on the interface and the message. Don’t believe me? – “hey you reading this right now – tell me what Windows 8.1 RT stands for and how it’s different from Windows 8.1!”. I bet a lot of you still can’t tell me. Here’s the larger problem – In 2014, it’s not at all clear what the general public wants now and will want for Windows 9. Windows-9-Still-in-the-Pipeline-Despite-Windows-Blue-s-2013-Launch Even though I have been REALLY tough on Microsoft, the truth is they took a chance and made a very risky bet on the future of computing. That in technology circles is called innovation. The problem is, just because you innovate, it doesn’t mean that your product is attractive to your customers. The fact that something is novel or new doesn’t mean that it is automatically perceived as valuable or useful. So as we go forward to Windows 9, Microsoft is faced with several challenges that they have to overcome.

  1. First, Windows is too expensive. People simply don’t want to pay $120 for an Operating System. Don’t shoot the messenger. As time goes on, Redmond will find that they will need to adjust their pricing model to move closer to FREE than anything else.
  2. Second, there are serious questions about how much flexibility Microsoft will have in attempting to fix this mess. Steve Ballmer correctly said that this was the riskiest bet for the company. How do you create a brand new Windows 9 when it’s probably going to need to be built on the foundation of Windows 8/8.1? You don’t seriously think that Microsoft developers are 100% free to start with a blank piece of paper again? Too many apps, developers and customers to support.
  3. Third, how will Windows 9 be credible with businesses? What exactly can Microsoft put out there to make that happen? It’s the rock and hard place conundrum. If they make it stable like Windows 7 – BOOORING, if they make it radical like Windows 8 GAME OVER.
There are many more but you get the point. The sad truth may just be that we may be witnessing the end of an era – the end of the Windows franchise. Today, Windows seems more irrelevant to the average user than ever. The truth is there hasn’t been enough innovation from Microsoft to really capture the hearts and minds of consumers. In March of 2012, speaking about the then upcoming Windows 8 Release Candidate, I wrote this:
Based on discussions with a lot of my peers and fellow bloggers, there is a general suspicion that while Microsoft may be paying attention to the Micro feedback (colors, UI elements, charms, branding etc), they are less receptive to Macro feedback (separation of Metro etc). If true, that would be unfortunate. The Microsoft community has shown (with Windows Vista) that they don’t have to move to a new Operating System just because it is released. Without question, there is a substantial risk of a mass boycott of Windows 8 if the RC doesn’t address both the Macro and Micro changes necessary to make this thing fly. The boycott wouldn’t necessarily be a flamboyant, open rebellion, it would probably just come in the form of a quiet indifference.
Its 2014 and I think we are seeing the quiet indifference now. Look, here’s the bottom line:
  • There are no “things that were missed” in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
  • There’s no magic fix for Windows 9.
  • There’s no “one thing” that Microsoft can do to make us NEED this next release of Windows.
Microsoft needed to innovate and come up with something that we don’t know that we needed. Something we are grateful that they invented. They failed with Windows 8.x – You know why? – Because TRUE INNOVATION IS DIFFICULT. I mean VERY DIFFICULT. Useful innovation is VERY HARD. Microsoft gave it their best shot with Windows 8.x and came up short and now they have to go back to the drawing board and give it one more try. I believe they only have one more shot and if they fail, it’s probably the end of Windows as we know it. Now, let’s not get crazy. Microsoft is a large thriving company with a lot of business units and I am not saying it’s the end of Microsoft at all. Microsoft as a company will be fine for many years to come. What I am saying is that now for the first time, I can start to see the Windows division/business unit become irrelevant or even just a loss leader.  Anyway, that’s me – what say you? Do you agree that we may be seeing the beginning of the end of Windows? Share this and use the comments below.]]>

Written by Onuora Amobi

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