HP and Microsoft: The Romance Is Over

Microsoft desperately wants its retail partners to push Windows 8.

But Hewlett-Packard has other ideas: in a prominent section on its homepage, the manufacturer advertises laptops and desktops loaded with Windows 7. “Back by popular demand,” reads the accompanying text. “Customize a new HP PC with Windows 7 and save up to $150 instantly.”

(If that wasn’t enough to raise the collective blood pressure at Microsoft, another box on the homepage is dedicated to HP’s Android tablets. And there’s nary a mention of Windows 8, nor a glimpse of its colorful tile interface, until you click over to the ‘Laptops’ or ‘Desktops’ pages and scroll down.)

Although Microsoft has spent millions of dollars to promote Windows 8, the operating system has failed to excite customers and businesses. In December, analytics firm Net Applications estimated that Windows 8 held 6.66 percent of the OS market, trailing Windows 7 at 46.64 percent and the geriatric (but still widely used) Windows XP with 31.22 percent. Windows 8.1, an update meant to address a variety of user complaints with Windows 8, holds roughly 2.64 percent of the market—bringing the total for Microsoft’s latest operating system to a whooping 9.3 percent.

Why has the response to Windows 8 been so anemic? Perhaps it has to do with Microsoft’s decision to retool the traditional desktop interface, pairing it with a Start screen loaded with tiles linked to applications. This new Start screen was supposed to make Windows 8 a major player on tablets, but it mostly alienated users who preferred the “old school” desktop and features. Windows 8.1 corrected some of those user complaints, most notably with the ability to skip the Start screen in favor of booting directly to the desktop.

According to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows, a badly stung Microsoft is already hard at work on Windows 9 (codenamed “Threshold,” at least for the moment). “Threshold is more important than any specific updates,” he wrote. “Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment.” Development on the platform will supposedly begin in April.

HP also has no reason to promote Microsoft’s latest operating system, as it now sees the software giant as a rival (at least according to CEO Meg Whitman). Indeed, Microsoft’s decision in late 2012 to reposition itself as more of a “devices and services” company irritated its manufacturing partners, which will need to compete against any hardware that Microsoft decides to build in-house. In order to exploit burgeoning interest in tablets, HP has also produced a small portfolio of devices running Google Android, the most popular (by market-share) mobile operating system on the market; and in a sign that the romance with Microsoft is truly over, it’s even offered Chromebooks that run Google’s Chrome OS. These breakups, they sometimes get messy.


Image: HP