Duh: By Abandoning the PC, Microsoft Windows 8 Fails to Save the PC

From today's WSJ

The personal computer is in crisis, and getting little help from Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 software once seen as a possible savior.

Research firm IDC issued an alarming report Wednesday for PC makers such as Dell Inc.  and Hewlett-Packard Co.,  saying world-wide shipments of laptops and desktops fell 14% in the first quarter from a year earlier. That is the sharpest drop since IDC began tracking this data in 1994 and marks the fourth straight quarter of declines.

Gartner Inc., a rival research firm, estimated global shipments sank 11.2%, which it called the worst drop since the first quarter of 2001. Gartner blamed the rise of tablets and smartphones, which are sapping demand for personal computers.

Windows 8 was never, ever going to save the PC, because Windows 8 represents an abandonment of the traditional PC.  It is essentially a touchscreen tablet OS forced onto the desktop.  Like Windows Vista, it is an absolutely awful OS that our company has banned any employee from using on a company machine.  Fortunately, we can still buy a few Dell computers with Windows 7, and when that is no longer possible, I will go back to building our company machines and putting Windows 7 on myself, the same thing I did to survive the Vista nightmare  (hanging on to XP until Windows 7 came out).

Later in the article, the author recognizes that Windows 8 is killing the PC rather than saving it

But there is little sign that buyers are responding. In a surprisingly harsh assessment, IDC said Windows 8 hasn't only failed to spur more PC demand but has actually exacerbated the slowdown—confusing consumers with features that don't excel in a tablet mode and compromise the traditional PC experience.

Mr. Chou said not only has Windows 8 failed to attract consumers, but businesses are keeping their distance as well. Chief information officers at several companies echoed his opinion Wednesday.

Ricoh Americas Corp., which replaces about a third of its 17,000 PCs every three years and upgrades to the most current operating system available, said this year it is sticking with Windows 7, released in 2009. Tracey Rothenberger, the company's chief operating officer, said the benefits of switching to the new software aren't worth the effort of training employees to use it.

I am sympathetic to Microsoft's goals, if not their tactics.  Certainly market share in OS is shifting to handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and Microsoft has largely missed this market.  To stay relevant, they need to gain share in these markets -- and trying to gain a foothold by somehow leveraging their market share in desktops makes sense.  It would be great to have an OS for tablets that allowed more access to the file system and customization options, as a competitor to Apple's walled garden, though Google is way ahead in that particular niche.

But the imposition of tablet aesthetics, user interface, and apps framework on desktop PC's is just frustrating as hell for those of us who still like using a mouse and prefer our traditional desktop interface.  The training issue for employees is not a trivial one -- when Microsoft completely abandoned the menu structure and user interface of their Office products several years ago, we decided not to upgrade any of our PC's and, when necessary, to use the OpenOffice alternative, as much because it retains the old Office interface as for its being free.

I still use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint 2002 on this computer, because I have never really been happy with the new Office interface.  I use no other software even remotely that old.  I routinely upgrade everything I have.  I dutifully upgrade Quickbooks and Norton Security and a dozen other programs every year.  So to go a decade without upgrading shows how little I think of Microsoft's upgrade strategies.


  1. BGThree:

    I bought computers for myself and my dad just as W8 came out for the sole purpose of getting some of the last W7 computers before they were discontinued. I definitely won't buy a computer for 2 years now.

    Supposedly W8 made a lot of technical improvements over W7, but the front end interface is just horrible. I'm perplexed they don't just offer an update that gives you the option of using a pure W7 style interface instead of the stupid touchscreen crap.

    How can they possibly think tablets will completely take over the PC market? Are all the office workers in the world going to be using tablets instead of PC's?

  2. Solomon Foster:

    My parents bought a Windows 8 laptop, and even though I've had to do nothing more complicated than get solitaire set up and get them connected to a new wireless router, I despise that machine. Type the router password wrong, and it doesn't give you a prompt to try again; instead it opens up a wizard about internet connections. Most of the content of which appeared to actually be out on the web instead of on the local machine! Unbelievable that a major product in 2013 could be so stupid; an incredibly frustrating way to make something that should be as easy as pie painful to use.

  3. Joshua Vanderberg:

    Windows 8 with Start 8 from Stardock is actually pretty usable. It's not a perfect start menu replacement, but it allows you to use Windows 8 almost exactly like you would Windows 7.

    If Microsoft is smart, they are reading a Windows 8 version that basically disables all of the tablet crap for desktops. They should release it soon.

  4. Steve:

    Oh man, I couldn't imagine going back to Office 2003. The ribbon took me a few days (at most) to get used to, and I'd be devastated if I lost the much improved version of Pivot Tables included with Excel 2007. Excel 2007+ can handle much more complicated formulas & larger data sets (including linked spreadsheets) much better than older versions. That's something I take advantage of regularly, but I assume is a smaller niche.

    Also, Word's formatting tools are far superior in 2007+ versions, once you get used to them - programme in your default (corporate/blog/etc) styles and format your document in a matter of a few clicks. It takes a small time investment up front, but pays dividends later on...

    I completely agree with you about Windows 8... had to install a start menu programme in the first hour!

  5. Dan Sherman:

    Haven't had any problems with the transition from 7 to 8. Just takes a bit of getting used to, that's all.

  6. marque2:

    four points here.

    1st Microsoft tried this in reverse for many years they had Win-CE and variants (Win 7 mobile, etc) which tried to make tablets - then called PDA's look exactly like your desktop. It failed miserably because no-one wanted a tablet that looks and works like a desktop computer. so now they try it in reverse and fail again.

    2: The idea that you can touch a screen is really good for tablets, but if I am on a laptop or computer, it takes much less effort to just use the mouse or mouse pad than to always point and click. In fact using my desktop at work, I would get quite the workout always leaning forward to press something on the screen. It just isn't right for a computer environment.

    3: Those hybrid tablets with Win 8, Surface, Surface Pro, etc. They seem like overpriced tablets or grossly neutered laptops. If I really want a keyboard, why wouldn't I just buy a standard laptop instead? Laptops are pretty skinny and light any more anyway.

    4: Part of the problem with the Metro Interface, is that folks don't mind using a tablet style Os on a tablet, because we use it as a toy. If a contact gets lost or a game no longer works, no big deal, you can add it, or download the game again. Press around wantonly and discover things - its just fun. But when I am at work doing presentations, and coding and whatnot, I don't want to have a play interface when I am doing serious stuff. I think a lot of people see the toy interface and go into a panic that if they press some wrong button the presentation will be lost. People don't want to play and discover on the serious computer.

  7. Rick C:

    All you people who think win 8 is a pit of fail should consider that the goal here is to unify windows and windows phone. PC sales are failing? who cares if tablets/pads and phones replace 'em, and Microsoft manages to get a big share of that.

    As for all the touchscreen hate, geez, get over it. You don't have to use the start screen hardly at all: just pin shortcuts onto your desktop or start menu.

    More seriously, yes, there are lots of things that are suboptimal; that happens to all OSes.
    Solomon Foster, if you mistyped the password and Windows won't connect, don't bother running the troubleshooter, just try to connect again.

  8. john mcginnis:

    What the likes of Dell and M$ have not realized is that there are essentially to markets, neither of which is defined by technology but usage. The first is the producer user (programmer, writer, digital artist, number cruncher). This type of user needs the facility of a full keyboard, mouse, digipad and large monitor to function well. They also need as much CPU power as they can have at a reasonable cost. The second is the consumer user (ebook reader, tv/media viewer, email reader) where display is the thing and inputs are usually menu driven affairs.

    The two camps are mutually exclusive. You are never going to write War and Peace on a smartphone or tablet. Though you can view a video in comfort with a PC most users prefer the couch for that, or being mobile, on the plane or train to pass the time. I believe one of the keys to Apple's success with the iPhone and iPad is that they recognized the difference in the two markets and catered to the consumer. To this day Apple does not tout their iPad as a big number cruncher. They pitch the visual/social aspects. No horsepower required.

  9. MingoV:

    Apple beat Microsoft to the stupidity of putting a toy operating system into computers. OS X 10.7 (Lion) and 10.8 (Mountain Lion) use as many iOS (iPhone and iPad) features as possible in the believe that iToy users will buy a Mac. However, this scheme fails because the computer has a radically different interface: large monitor, full-sized real keyboard, mouse or trackball, and no touch screen. Apple's Lions also eliminated support for older applications. Not surprisingly, millions of users are sticking with OS X 10.6.

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    "PC sales are failing? who cares if tablets/pads and phones replace 'em, and Microsoft manages to get a big share of that."
    I see no signs that this is happening, so complete fail all the way around.

  11. Brad Warbiany:

    You guys are all missing the point.

    I bought a Surface Pro...

    ...now I know how to dance!

  12. jon:

    I like W8. Once you learn the shortcut keys to turn it off and other short cuts its actually pretty nice. Of course, if you don't know the shortcut keys it is pretty worthless. I do agree the blockiness is ugly and the borders are too big (all of which I changed). I don't use the app side at all so I can't comment on that. For me it is pretty much like W7 with the option of having apps - which I don't use since it is a laptop.

  13. jon:

    Once touch screens are common for laptops/desktops I think we'll see a hybrid where part of the time you use your mouse and sometimes you touch the screen. It isn't all or nothing.

  14. mesaeconoguy:



    Another dismal economic indicator – anybody who thinks we’re on course for 3% GDP this year is drunk and on drugs.

    Paging Paul Krughole….

  15. herdgadfly:

    You might be surprised by the number of Microsoft Office users who have installed the free UBIT add-in that inserts a menu tab which permits running Office 7 and 10 (and I suppose 13) with the 2003 interface. I have all the power and none of the confusion of the stupid ribbon.

  16. norse:

    According to the same IDC article, Apple sales fell 7% in the same tie period... are a lot of folks running Win8 on their macbooks?

  17. Matthew Slyfield:

    Irrelevant. If the purpose of MS Win 8 was to take over the smartphone & tablet market, there is no reason why MS couldn't increase their relative market share even while the total market for smartphones and tablets was shrinking. I don't have a link for it, but from what I have read, MS's market share in those markets has not increased significantly since the release of Win8 and may even have dropped.

  18. mesaeconoguy:

    Whoa, cowboy.

    The total PC market is shrinking (if the above holds), not smartphones & tablets. That’s

    I think you meant PCs, but either way, if that crashes, and Obama doesn’t announce a massive EBT iPhone/Android/WinFone stimulus, not sure how the math works there.

    That’s the point; if MS market share, in a shrinking market, shrinks, then they shrink by definition.

  19. mesaeconoguy:

    And one of their recent "upgrades" is causing major havoc with switching between windows. Complete crap product.

    But FB crashes regularly on my iPhone, so they're not immune either.

  20. Matthew Slyfield:

    Not the point. I wasn't suggesting that the smartphone/tablet market was currently shrinking. However, even if it was, if MS had a competitive product they should still be able to increase relative market share. That that isn't happening is a indication that WIN 8 is a flop even in those markets.

  21. mesaeconoguy:

    Oh, never mind.

    We agree on far too much otherwise, so have at it...

  22. Matthew Slyfield:

    Haven't you heard about the thin client crap going around the IT industry. There are experts who think we will almost but not quite completely go back to dumb terminals.

  23. Matthew Slyfield:

    That may be an FB problem not an IOS problem.

  24. mesaeconoguy:

    I took down the update yesterday, and so far it's functioning well.

    iOS is unstable in certain apps, though. It's not what it used to be.

  25. mesaeconoguy:

    So I was on this conference call with A Major Market Data Vendor (ThomsonReuters) today, troubleshooting response problems for the new app vs. the thick client (in WinXP, yes, in 2013).

    The tech ops people were astounded when I sorted for CPU use, then clicked on the problem areas of the (web-based) app.

  26. marque2:

    text experts have been talking about Thin clients since 1996 Larry Ellison first proposed it. it's certainly not something new.

  27. marque2:

    the Facebook app has never crashed on my android phone.

  28. Matthew Slyfield:

    Did I claim it was new? I don't recall saying anything of the sort.

  29. Matthew Slyfield:

    This surprises me not at all.

  30. Matthew Slyfield:

    And you know it uses exactly the same code base on both OSs how exactly?

  31. mesaeconoguy:

    The solution is likely to go back to larger, dumb terminals.

  32. Eris Guy:

    "Apple beat Microsoft to the stupidity of putting a toy operating system into computers.”

    I know. It’s terrible. Apple introduced windowing operating systems to the masses and now even *nix boxes have windowing systems. Real computer intellectuals use the command line and edit configuration files with emacs.

  33. marque2:

    Some Os's just make it more difficult to code. If they did it right there would be a common logic module and hooks to the vagueries of the various Os's. Almost no-one writes code from scratch any more

  34. marque2:

    I think he means that MS is not keeping up in the tablet/phone arena relative to competitors. Looking at market stats there isn't as Mich uptake as hoped. Their flagship Nokia Lumina 920 works OK bit is a bit old fashioned and clunky.maybe of the flagship were more modern MS RT would do better.

  35. perlhaqr:

    Yeah. The Gnome project is trying to impose that same crap on the Linux world through Gnome 3.

  36. marque2:

    The PC industry fell 14% if Apple only fell 7% that means it is that much worse in the MS Windows world.

  37. marque2:

    Apple is a Unix box, though they completely abandoned the X window system on most Unixes and POSIXes since it was/is pretty archaic, for a modern window server.

  38. marque2:

    You made it sound like a new thing. Just pointing out experts have been talking about this for years. The closest this has come is with Google Chrome.

    Google set up the Nexus 4 phone to live in the cloud as well, but with only 5 gigs of data download, I am not going to stream all my movies from the cloud on the phone. If I am close to my wifi server, I may as well watch the streaming video on a computer or my TV instead.

  39. ErikTheRed:

    If you buy "business-class" machines online then you should have no trouble getting older versions of Windows - I was able to continue to buy XP until Windows 7 came out. Anything you purchase retail, though, is almost always going to have the latest OS.

  40. ErikTheRed:

    I went Mac recently and won't look back (well, for awhile anyway). If I need to run certain Windows apps, then I just run them in a virtual machine. Apple is far from perfect, but they're considerably less frigtarded than Microsoft (and the more popular Linux desktop teams who seem to be copying the stupid - *cough* Gnome and Ubuntu *cough*).

    Tablets and smartphones are cool and are certainly displacing PCs in many areas where the tradeoff of a smaller screen and touch interface are outweighed by far better portability. For many users, especially at home and school, this is awesome. But there are some things that simply work better with a giant screen (or three) and a keyboard and mouse. Touchscreens have nowhere near the precision of a mouse (about two orders of magnitude less, touchpads about one order of magnitude less), and won't until we evolve microscopic points on the end of our fingers several thousand years from now. The user interface on a PC should be different, for perfectly practical productivity-centered reasons. It's a different device that performs a large superset of tasks that tablets and smartphones can't handle well at all.

    Apple, who tends to be the smartest (although certainly imperfect) about user interfaces is keeping a separate UI for their PCs / laptops and handheld devices. Probably because they're about the only company that still gives half a crap about the actual usability of their devices.

  41. irandom:

    I need to point out for the non-Linux types that you can install a variety of GUI's, but the default on Ubuntu is Unity that frustrates even the most tech savvy.

  42. Matthew Slyfield:

    anyone who thinks touch screens will EVER become common for normal desktops hasn't thought through the ergonomics.

  43. MingoV:

    Thin clients are used a lot in hospitals. They use a zillion PCs linked to a server, but they don't need much power (Outlook, Word, and a shell to interact with the hospital information system).

  44. ErikTheRed:

    Yes, and I messed around with newer versions of KDE and some others, but ultimately it comes down to the point that my computer is a tool, not a hobby. I had moved to Linux nearly a decade ago because I wanted more stability and I actually got that for some time. Somehow the "change for change's sake" disease infected the more popular desktop environment teams and I found myself spending too much time screwing around with the OS and not actually getting things done. What finally kicked me over the edge was the MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display, which just created an irresistibly huge leap forward in what I could get done on a laptop. A year later I have four Macs, and I spend all of my time doing stuff I want to do rather than fiddling with different distros and desktops.

  45. marque2:

    I have seen think clients before. I think in most cases, they are actually quite thick, but used in a thin way. Much like I can use my computer - size of a book, but a full install of win 7 and 320 gig drive, as an Internet only portal, or as a full computer. You would be hard pressed to see if it were thick or thin, except by how you saw me use it.

  46. obloodyhell:

    No, the real solution is to shoot Microsoft product managers in the head.

    Actually, this has been the real solution to a lot of problems for about two decades....

  47. obloodyhell:

    REAL computer intellectuals use TECO, and know what their name does when typed in as a command...


  48. mesocyclone:

    And Ubuntu has dumbed down their UI to uselessness.

  49. mesocyclone:

    I got my first Apple with Mountain Lion. I have been frequently disappointed that the UI is less friendly than Windows XP. I like the underlying good hardware and solid OS. But this UI has been a disappointment after all the hype.

  50. mesocyclone:

    Some very old, tired brain cells of mine just fired up, went YIKES, and fired back down.