Windows 8 failure is just in Microsoft’s Culture

2 minute read

“The reason this happened is that while Sinofsky had the maniacal power and force of will of a Steve Jobs, he lacked Jobs’ best gift: An innate understanding of good design. Windows 8 is not well-designed. It’s a mess. But Windows 8 is a bigger problem than that. Windows 8 is a disaster in every sense of the word.”
— Paul Thurrott (2013) What the heck is Happening to Windows?

I disagree. Windows 8 was a step in the correct direction, it just didn’t make enough steps forward. The issue with 8.1 update 1 is that instead of going ahead with that vision and fixing the issues, it’s making a step back, and reverting from these.

And I’m sure that the reason for “not enough steps forward” is precisely the company culture of Microsoft. It’s not easy to go away in just one Windows version from a company that never cared about design and focused entirely on maintaining the status-quo.

So, they got a guy – Steven Sinofsky – good enough to move forward, and instead of buying into him to push the new Microsoft through, they stepped back and removed him in 2012.

Yes, you can call Windows 8 a disaster. But here’s the difference: Mac OS X took from beta (2000) to 10.4 (2005) to be a viable OS. Five years and five versions.

Yet, Paul’s article tones are apocalyptic, naming Windows 8 “madness” and “destroyed the most successful software franchise of all times”. While the second might be true, the first isn’t. It was the right step, but with a strategy poorly thought out.

This isn’t entirely surprising. Changing entirely a company culture takes years, and way more power than Sinofsky had. The old culture always fights back. But it was also clear that Windows 8 couldn’t ever, in any way, deliver a change in one shot. It’s simply impossible even if they had the whole company aligned. They should have understood that’s a process that takes years, and plan for that.

Microsoft management should have understood that, and even if sure they didn’t have the 5 years OS X had to get there in the current market, it was also short-sighted to hope that a single Windows version could fix a gap of years of design and development. Sinofsky should have had enough time to do multiple releases and let Windows 8’s vision to reach its maturity.

In this perspective, that’s exactly what I think Sinofsky tried to do with the “dual interface” approach. Windows 8 wasn’t meant to be with two interface (as Windows 8 RE shown): the desktop view is the equivalent of Blue Box in OS X 10.0. A way to bridge developers and people to the new world.

Windows 8.1 update 1 is bad news, because it seems to signal that Microsoft is fine in keeping the current legacy Windows to make money as long as it can be stretched, and then make Windows disappear, instead of reaching the new ground Windows 8 went for.

I really hope I’ve been reading Windows 8.1 update 1 in the wrong way.