Is Windows 8 Failing?

The Windows 8 Start screen.

Is Windows 8 failing?

That depends on how you define success. If Windows 8’s new, touch-friendly design was meant to immediately change the mobile-device landscape, then the operating system failed: Surface, the tablet designed and built by Microsoft as a flagship product and iPad competitor, sold roughly 1 million units in its first few months of release (or so suggest the analysts). That’s not really enough to move the needle when it comes to market-share—and if the past few years have proven anything, tech companies need to make an early splash if they want longer-term traction for their products in a competitive marketplace.

If Windows 8 was meant to maintain Windows’ share of the “traditional” operating system market, well… there’s also some trouble in that department. According to Net Applications, Windows 8 ran on 2.67 percent of desktops in February—well behind Windows 7 at 44.55 percent, Windows XP at 38.99 percent, and Windows Vista at 5.17 percent. Of course, one can argue that Windows 8 is only a few months old and has some time to catch up to its older siblings; but Windows 7, its popular predecessor, enjoyed a 9 percent market-share by the same early point in its lifecycle (again, according to Net Applications).

Windows 7 did have some notable advantages. For starters, Microsoft released it in October 2009, eight years after Windows XP; businesses and consumers were in the mood for a radical OS refresh, especially since Windows Vista—released in 2007—had failed to impress many people. Millions used the Windows 7 release as an excuse to purchase a new PC, which benefitted the industry as a whole.

When Windows 7 hit the market, the tablet revolution hadn’t yet kicked off: the PC was still the center of the computing world. When Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s iPad a few months later, though, the game changed: suddenly everyone wanted a touch-screen powered by a lightweight OS and capable of running all sorts of cool apps.

If that wasn’t enough, the PC market began to erode. According to research firm Gartner, worldwide PC shipments totaled 90.3 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012, a notable drop of 4.9 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. “Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by ‘cannibalizing’ PC sales, but by causing PC users to shift consumption to tablets rather than replacing older PCs,” Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner, wrote at the time.

Microsoft has clearly known for some time that it needed to break into the mobile-device market in a big way, and positioned Windows 8 as the answer to that conundrum: with its revamped Start screen of big, colorful tiles linked to applications, the new operating system was built to play well on both tablets and regular PCs. Windows 8 also features an app store and interoperability with a number of cloud features, including SkyDrive.

Microsoft did throw its considerable marketing weight behind Windows 8’s October launch, and the operating system has managed to sell millions of copies. But there are signs—in the general decline of the PC market, in Surface’s failure to prove a blockbuster hit in the months following its release, in Windows 8’s inability (at least in the eyes of analysts) to match Windows 7’s impact—that suggest the system could have a long way to go before it reigns supreme.


Image: Microsoft