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Windows 8 : Mis-step or Masterstroke?

Windows 8 is getting patchy reviews on account of:

  • And Microsoft just reportedly shitcanned the Windows dev team's representative on earth, Steven Sinofsky.

It's easy to draw interesting conclusions, not all of which are straightforward.

  1. Windows 8 is a strategic mis-step of Windows Vista proportions.
  2. Windows 8 is a strategic masterstroke.

Let's give Microsoft some credit and take scenario 2.

It's only 3 years since Windows 7 heroically arrived to clean up the mess that was Windows Vista. Windows 7 has been regarded as a success, but Vista wasn't exactly a hard act to follow. It's also worth noting that since Windows 7 shipped, we've gotten all gooey-eyed about touch interfaces. Something Microsoft couldn't ignore when planning its long term Windows roadmap, and how it plans to compete with Apple & Google.

So, enter stage left much earlier than a regular Windows replacement cycle would imply (and since when did operating systems ever ship early?) Windows 8 which for my argument to stack up is really just a big Windows 7 Service Pack or, approximately Windows 7 Touch Edition. (The UI is the only thing people are talking about, I might have missed if Windows 8 had anything else material that was new over Windows 7, but even if it does the UI change is obscuring it.)

Most corporates and public sector Windows customers have probably just finished refreshing Windows XP deployments to Windows 7 and are therefore probably likely to skip a generation and wait for Windows 9. So, what better way to begin the transition to Touch and tablet devices than with a big point release of Windows 7 where you road-test and begin to habituate users to a different Windows experience.

If they'd badged Windows 8 as Windows 7 Touch Edition then they'd have missed the opportunity to drive PC hardware refreshes (as hardware really drives sales of Windows) which helps Microsoft and PC manufacturer sales, and the Surface hardware would have looked weirdly out on a limb all of its own without its desktop sibling wearing a matching pair of pyjamas.

So, by the time they've ironed out all the wrinkles on undemanding consumer users for whom Windows 8's Metro UI is probably just about bearable, they can go for a big push on Windows 9, the real next new generation of Windows and the second iteration of some of their touch conventions in time for a business refresh cycle around 2015.

If that's the case, Microsoft's Windows 8 product marketing strategy is either utter genius or utter insanity.

Note : I was at Microsoft until 2009, but not in the Windows business and I haven't spoken with anyone at Microsoft in arriving at this supposition. I've been hypothesizing on here about Microsoft for eons.

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