microsoft-surface-pro-windows-8-tbalet-0That’s the gripe. Windows 8 has pissed off a lot of people, making it perhaps the most divisive operating system it has ever released.

The chief gripe is the new desktop. You’re pretty much forced to use the “metro” desktop rather than the traditional icon-based desktop and start menu. People don’t like that.

Microsoft insists that Windows 8 is a big win, quoting the fact that they’ve sold over 100 million licences to it. Tami Reller, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, said:

We recently surpassed the 100 million licenses sold mark for Windows 8. This number includes Windows licenses that ship on a new tablet or PC, as well as upgrades to Windows 8. This is up from the 60 million license number we provided in January. We’ve also seen the number of certified devices for Windows 8 and Windows RT grow to 2,400 devices, and we’re seeing more and more touch devices in the mix.

The way I see it, though, that’s an incomplete picture. It isn’t as if end-users are choosing to use Windows 8 in droves. The fact is that the many PC OEMs out there are simply pre-installing it on most PCs, so it is pretty difficult to buy a PC without Windows 8.

Despite that, people calling Windows 8 a “failure” are obviously just looking for traffic based on controversy. Any OS which has been purchased 100 million times, despite the conditions of that sale, is obviously not a failure.

But, the reaction to Windows 8 does go right to the heart of a very large problem that Microsoft has – and has had for some time.

Microsoft is trying desperately to adjust to the world of mobile computing. They have the Microsoft Surface now, but contrary to Bill Gate’s insisting that people don’t like the iPad because of the lack of a keyboard, the numbers don’t lie. The iPad dominates while having no keyboard, and sales of Surface are at a MUCH lower level. Much of the computing world is now dominated by touch.

Microsoft is trying to move with the times, but they’re trying to also find ways to keep the old-school folks happy. As D.B. Grady, from The Week, said,

The company’s brilliant engineers must feel like velociraptors handcuffed to brontosauruses

Apple doesn’t have to deal with supporting years and years of old legacy code. Apple is one company that moves forward and doesn’t feel obligated to support everything it has ever released. It gets to a certain point where Apple will just say, “Hey, you want to use this? Buy a new Mac, will ya?” Plus, Apple has the marketing chops to convince it’s users of just how awesome it is. They’ve always been awesome at marketing.

Microsoft isn’t that awesome at marketing. They’re trying to move forward, and they’re trying to do it using one operating system that can fit everything. They did it without really listening to the needs and wants of their users (I highly doubt anybody actually was hoping they’d ditch the start menu). And, it backfired.

Microsoft can’t keep the enterprise crowd, who are historically VERY slow to change, happy while simultaneously plowing forward to compete with Apple in the mobile space.

These are two separate audiences, and Microsoft is trying to have it both ways. Only with Microsoft, for instance, does the most modern operating system they have still need to sport support for a floppy disk, or some old piece of crap software which was created in the early 90’s. Apple moves forward because they don’t have the enterprise baggage. Microsoft tries to move forward, but they’re tied at the ankles.

There’s only two ways out of this. OK, well three.

  1. Release some frankenstein mis-mash compromise between old-school and Modern UI, which I’m guessing is what they’re about to do with the “Blue” update. Paul Thurrott called it an “apology” release, and that’s probably fairly close to accurate.
  2. Do a fork and maintain separate incarnations of Windows for different audiences. Surely to be a nightmare for Microsoft.
  3. Suddenly get good at marketing, and use really solid marketing to draw enterprise over. SHOW them how this will be a boon to productivity. Totally embrace the “new” Windows and convince enterprise to come along for the ride.

For now, I’m betting they’ll continue to have problems, though. Microsoft is a criss-crossing company in conflict with itself right now.

Case in point, Microsoft Office is still in full-on traditional desktop mode. Whereas Windows is trying to embrace the Apple model with the walled-off “Windows Store” and the Modern UI, MS Office is still a traditional desktop app. Word is, however, that may change with something code-named “Gemini”.

Microsoft has a challenge ahead of it, through. Nobody said change is easy.

What do you think? Do you think Windows 8 is a failure? Chime in below in the comments.