Tech Industry

Windows 8 fear and uncertainty kicks in

Is Windows 8 really the makings of a fiasco? True or not, get ready to hear this more and more as the Windows 8 general release approaches.

Surface: one salient symbol of Microsoft's future. Is the company courting disaster?
Surface: one salient symbol of Microsoft's future. Is the company courting disaster? Microsoft

Windows 8 FUD is starting to hit the fan.

That would be fear, uncertainty, and doubt. As in, "I think that Windows 8 is kind of a catastrophe for everybody in the PC space."

That was said yesterday by Gabe Newell, a former Microsoft employee and managing director of Valve Software, which makes games such as Half-Life and created the Steam gaming platform for Windows and Apple's OS X.

Newell's company is now moving Steam to Linux. Thus the comment, "we're trying to make sure that Linux thrives" from Newell (in the same story linked above) before his Windows 8 critique.

You could almost mistake all of the fuss for the fall presidential election, not the general release of Windows 8. "Windows 8 is treason! Linux will win the future!" (or substitute Android or OS X for Linux).

That said, Microsoft is in a hard place.

One, PC makers are no doubt reconsidering -- either casually or seriously -- their commitment to Windows because of the Microsoft-branded Surface tablet due to arrive around the same time as Windows 8 (more on that below).

Two, there is a growing chorus of critics that despise the Metro interface. (I'm not one of them.)

Three, Metro and the Windows Store -- that is, the way users will install apps -- could make Windows less open, as IDC analyst Jay Chou pointed out to me today.

And Microsoft didn't help matters when it stated in its annual report filed today with Securities and Exchange Commission that "our Surface devices will compete with products made by our OEM partners, which may affect their commitment to our platform."

No way around it, that's a prickly statement when it's coming directly from Microsoft.

So, will the FUD stick? It will probably get worse as we get closer to the general release. When Microsoft takes a hard turn to a new operating system, pundits pounce and users revolt (just read some of the comments attached to the Building Windows 8 blogs).

What makes it different this time is the Surface factor and Microsoft's need, apparently, to adopt Apple's and Google's mobile strategies, as Venkatesh Rao writes in a Forbes blog.

Ironically, in some respects, Google "is winning using Microsoft's original winning...strategy" (by using an open OS layer of the stack, commodity hardware), he writes. "Google is out-Microsofting Microsoft."

But is all of this an unmitigated catastrophe?

If users and PC makers both flee in droves, it could get pretty hairy for Microsoft.

"Long term, PC makers know they need to find viable alternative to Microsoft, either via Google Android or the open Linux community. Neither [of those] alternatives have done much for OEMs, but as Android's experience improves and its ecosystem grows, it is a real threat," said Pat Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights.

Somewhere between the status quo and catastrophe lies the more likely scenario, I think. Some PC vendors will begin to focus more on other platforms and some users (like they're doing already) will jump to Android or Apple.

Maybe I'm in the minority but I hardy see it as a disaster. I'm looking forward to Windows 8 and Surface products: it's a novel way to straddle the PC (which hundreds of millions of people still want and use) and the tablet.

Let the FUD fly but it's what Microsoft needs to do.

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