How to fix Windows or Pretend To

And once again I am at the laptop writing about the future of Windows.

To be honest I always hate returning to the topic because for me it isn’t about any one issue or fix, but about the nuances and shifts that I think are necessary to move Microsoft forward on the client side. Its about understanding what the shift in consumer habits really mean. It’s even about understanding the reality of the Windows user base versus the needs of the platform to remain viable.

And trying to condense all that information down into something coherent and understandable and readable has been hard.

And so, with apologies, here I go……

Windows as it exists right now is in a transition. People didn’t flock to Windows 8 or to the new Windows tablets in the way Microsoft thought. The progress Microsoft has made has been slow and steady much like the Tortoise. I am not going to try to debate the merits of Windows 8 or bitch about developers, tech reviewers, and fanboys (that has been done to death). What I want to talk about is what needs to happen going forward.

Right now the people I think running the conversation about Windows’ future are power users, developers, and influential tech writers. They all have great insight into what makes Microsoft and Windows tick, but they aren’t concerned with the consumer side of the OS. For the last three years the arguments have been around mainly the desktop as a productivity platform and how useless Metro was for power users. But no one talked about where Windows needed to go to be competitive in the consumer space. And this has led to lopsided thinking about the course of Windows.

Windows as an operating system did grow because of the enterprise but it doesn’t just sit there. It sits in peoples homes in the same way an iPad, a Mac, and a phone do. People do the most trivial things with them, and they buy Windows PCs in stores that don’t discriminate between consumer or enterprise. However Windows is seen by and large as an enterprise OS. And this is an issue.

In my opinion Microsoft’s consumer woes can be broken down like this: mindshare, positioning, and perception.

Windows is a commodity, and commodities are invisible. When was the last time you noticed a PC? PCs are commonplace. Seeing someone use a Windows machine is not big news. Now try that again and imagine a Mac. The fact that Macs are rare (I’m not writing this is Seattle or San Fran) they have an air about them. As a brand Windows is still stuck back with Windows XP. Windows 7 sold well but it didn’t stop the downturn in PC sales. In the time between XP and 7 Apple surged forward and positioned itself as something the rest of the world could use. It also emerged as brand people strived for. The glowing logo as status symbol. Windows doesn’t have that cachet. Windows is a necessity, not a want. 

So how do you fix Windows?

First it begins with putting legacy and compatibility into perspective. Legacy and compatibility are the cornerstones of Windows’s business but they won’t move the OS into the future. People misunderstand the importance of these things to regular consumers. If the majority of users live in a browser, being able to run the command prompt or PowerShell is a non issue. Having the ability to use software you invest in is beautiful but that only goes so far.

The second issue is (honestly) the Interface. Let me be blunt, no one outside of a few message boards, Twitter, Reddit, and Google Plus gives a shit about Aero, Longhorn, or Windows 7. And to go further no one gives a damn if apps meet Metro guidelines. I like Metro (or the UI formerly known as Metro), but it is a start and not an end. I think Metro can be built upon to create a better interface and a better experience for Windows users if we can get it away from purists.

The reality is a lot of what we consider “Metro” needs to evolve. Microsoft needs to steal things out of iOS, Android, and anything else that’s remotely interesting. Computers are a lot like cars; people are not looking for a lot of things but the stuff they are looking for is important. Beyond looks is experience. With Windows 8, we got a partly new Windows. Once you hit the desktop, it was Windows 7. Yes I know it broke your work flow, it made you go to the dirty Start screen (go download Star8). The bigger problem was the desktop needed to be modernized and it needed to feel like it was a part of the OS. For new users the key should be mastery; make it so using Windows doesn’t scare them. For Power users make it easier to access the buttons. And for all make those experiences delightful. Every part of the OS should be designed so you don’t mind use it for longer than two minutes.

Lastly, Microsoft needs to give Windows a new value and a new purpose. Windows needs to break away from its image as complex and virus laden. It needs to stop being seen as unapproachable. It needs to be more than just functional. I’m not saying Windows should not be about productivity, but it needs to be seen as something that feels different. That is not a small order, the OS is used by billions. But its necessary. Now some of this Microsoft is already doing. The biggest benefit of creating Windows 8 was it force them to make it mobile and thus agile. With more and more of Microsoft’s services going cross platform, the focus on Windows needs to shift. Now some of this means “dumbing down” the OS. Some of this means adding features found on other systems, but the goal is to make a “new” Windows.  

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