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Coke? Windows 8 is Microsoft's 'Vista moment'. Again

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Now that Sinofsky's gone...

With Sinofsky out the door, it’s easier for Microsoft to move on. Sinofsky was the principle architect and chief steward of Windows 8. He ran the Windows Group with streamlined efficiency, absolute control and total secrecy.

Sources tell us that such was the degree of control exercised by Sinofsky that when members of Microsoft's Windows group met partners and there were other Microsofties present, the non-Windows groupers were ordered out of the room. Even PC partners knew little of Windows 8’s capabilities during development. Yet, they were expected to love Windows 8 so much they’d fight to the death in a bid to build beefier competing machines with no actual evidence they’d sell.

But the former Windows chief's problem - which ultimately became Microsoft and Windows 8's problem, was that he emphasised process over people. He built a version of Windows based on data and theory without actually understanding how people used Windows. It was no wonder people got confused and we have arrived at where we are today.

The Sinofsky way placed complete and total faith in telemetry data culled from how users interacted with Windows to build a "perfect" version of Windows that bore no resemblance to reality.

In his "Building Windows 8" blog, here, the former Windows Division president justified a complete reworking of the familiar Start menu. Its deletion was based on stats that showed 67 per cent of all searches in Windows 7 were to find launch programs, 22 per cent were for files and 9 per cent for items on the Control Panel. He saw the data and concluded overhauling the Start menu would somehow make things better.

All you had to do was educate people on the new user interface. He failed to realize removing it would leave people rudderless without their principal means of using Windows. It is little wonder that the re-worked Start menu is making a comeback in Windows Blue, aka Windows 8.1.

With Sinofsky still at the helm preaching telemetics, change would have been impossible. Interestingly, Reller emphasises pragmatism is the new word at Microsoft, saying the company is not being “stubborn" and is modifying Windows 8 based on the feedback. That's feedback from people, not data.

Sinofsky has been gone six months, though, so why speak now?

The reason is that the gap between what Microsoft wants and what’s happening in the real world on Windows 8 is growing ever wider. Reller reckoned 100 million Windows 8 licences have been sold in the six months since launch. The good news? That’s the same as Windows 7. The bad news? It’s the same as Windows 7.

Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrot does the numbers and they show two key things. First, average monthly licence sales have dropped by a whopping three million units in the last three months, to 13.3 million. By contrast, in the three months after launch, 16.7 million Win 8 licences were being sold every month. Thurrot attributes this effect to an initial three-month launch bump, during which cheapie temporary upgrade offers were taken up.

Those numbers aren't just users, they're tech channel firms

Also, Windows 8 wasn't supposed to simply match the numbers of Windows 7, it was supposed to address a bigger opportunity than just PCs: it was supposed to cover PCs, hybrid PCs and tablets and any other touchable Windows device.

Thurrot says: “This figure should be considered a minimum for Windows 8 to be successful. Arguably, it should be much higher, especially considering the growth rate in the tablet market in particular. 16.7 million per month, let alone 13.3 million, just isn’t cutting it."

But, there’s an even bigger problem: these numbers don’t even reflect what’s been sold. Microsoft’s "licences sold" numbers include copies of Windows sold to PC makers, so they tell us what the channel has been willing to buy or what volume customers have swallowed rather than what’s actually being deployed on new machines.

If you look at what's actually ending up in the hands of end users, then things are far worse: the first three months of 2013 was the worst quarter for sales of PCs since analyst IDC started tracking shipments in 1994. Sales fell twice what IDC expected to 13.9 per cent, and IDC blamed Windows 8.

Microsoft's Windows-powered RT and Pro tablets, meanwhile, have also flopped: just 900,000 RT and Pro tablets shipped in the first quarter, according to estimates. In total, 49.2 million devices sold globally in a market that grew 142.4 per cent.

"While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the user interface, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices. Microsoft will have to make some very tough decisions moving forward if it wants to help reinvigorate the PC market," IDC said.

PC sales are slumping, sales of Windows 8 are falling, and even Microsoft's own metrics provide little comfort if it sticks to its current course. With an update to Windows coming, the opportunity to give customers a way back to the classic features they love is fast approaching.

Change can only help repair sales of Windows. Repairing Microsoft's reputation so soon after its first "Vista moment" seven years ago, when another grand adventure into the future of computing also crashed? That's another matter. ®

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