The one thing that could save Windows 8

Microsoft could make one big move to salvage Windows 8. Whether it will have the courage to do it remains a question.

Jason Hiner
Jason Hiner VP & Editor in Chief of ZDNET
Jason Hiner is Vice President and Editor in Chief of ZDNET. He was formerly Senior Editorial Director of CNET Advice and Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic.
3 min read

Microsoft Windows 8 has confused users and disappointed the PC industry. Windows Chief Marketing Officer Tami Reller all but admitted it last week. She also foreshadowed that help is on the way in Windows Blue. She confirmed that this Windows 8 update -- which will soon get a prosaic product name like "Windows 8.1" -- will be previewed for users this summer and will go live in the fall.

While it's rumored that the Blue update will reinstate the much-missed Start menu and allow users to boot into the Desktop mode, it's highly unlikely Microsoft will do the one thing that would best fix Windows 8: separate the desktop and tablet versions. That would require a surgery equivalent of separating conjoined twins, but it would have a powerful effect on both Microsoft's upstart tablet business and its traditional desktop base.

We'll talk more about why that would be such a great idea in a moment, but first let's take a quick look at the reality of where Windows 8 stands right now.

Reller tried to put a brave face on the Windows 8 debacle by reporting that Microsoft has sold 100 million licenses of the new operating system since its launch last October. That's a big number and it sounds impressive until you put it in perspective.

According to Gartner, the declining PC market for Q4 2012 plus Q1 2013 still added up to 170 million PCs sold worldwide. Windows holds a dominant position with about 90 percent market share. That means about 150 million of those 170 million PCs were running Windows. If Microsoft's numbers are correct, then two-thirds of the Windows PC purchased were running Windows 8.

Again, that sounds fairly impressive until you consider how much Microsoft and its hardware partners push Windows 8 on all new PCs. It's almost impossible to buy a consumer PC without Windows 8. So, you may rightfully ask if that means that it's the enterprise that has rejected Windows 8. That's certainly a big part of the story.

Gartner pegs the global PC market as 47 percent consumer and 53 percent business. So, if we assume virtually 100 percent of the consumer PCs sold were running Windows 8 then that would be 71 million (47 percent of 150 million). That would leave 29 million Windows 8 machines sold to the enterprise. Essentially, only one-third of the Windows PCs sold to businesses have been running Windows 8 since its launch last October.

That's fairly consistent with a recent TechRepublic poll of 4,000 IT professionals in which 15 percent of respondents said they have deployed Windows 8 or plan to deploy it in the future. The lower percentage in the TechRepublic poll probably points to the fact that there are some organizations that have bought PCs with Windows 8 on them, but wiped them clean and installed Windows 7, based on their enterprise licensing options.

Why has the enterprise turned against Windows 8? The bottom line is that the radical user interface change is too confusing and not productive enough. Even many of the IT leaders and companies who are inclined to like Windows and support Microsoft are frustrated with Windows 8.

In the comments to the TechRepublic poll mentioned above, user PeterM42, an IT consultant in Great Britain, summed up the attitude that pervaded many of the Windows 8 naysayers when he wrote, "Windows 8 on the desktop will not take off until the Metro 'toy' interface becomes an option as provided by the superb 'Classic Shell' software (or gets ditched altogether). Corporates [sic] do not want to pay the MASSIVE bill for retraining users to use something, which basically is rubbish."

Read more of "The one big fix that could save Windows 8" at ZDNet.