Windows 8 – Who moved my desktop?

After I graduated from college, I briefly sold Volkswagens. As I’ve pondered the metamorphosis of Windows from a desktop-focused to a tablet-focused operating system, I keep reliving an experience with a specific customer during that time.

This customer came in, and when engaged, said – perhaps unsurprisingly, “I want to buy a car”. I asked him what kind of car he was looking for. He replied, “either a VW Cabrio or a Toyota pickup”.

I’d heard customers thinking of a Miata or a Cabrio (both being convertibles), or even comparing a Jetta and Passat, since they weren’t sure how much room they needed without trying the two differently sized sedans. But a convertible and a pickup truck?

Inquiring deeper, I was able to learn why he was contemplating them. He regularly needed to haul loads to a worksite, but really wanted a convertible. Really it was coming down to the vehicle he needed (the pickup) vs. the vehicle he wanted (the convertible). Eventually, we took a test drive, and while he enjoyed that, he gradually came to the realization that he needed the pickup, and for now, the Cabrio made no sense, and went on his way.

When I look at Windows 8 today, I see an operating system that is trying so hard to be a tablet operating system that, in some ways, it has compromised it’s integrity as a desktop operating system (whereas Windows 7 was a very good desktop operating system that offered very limited value for tablet-based computing).

I worry that in the melee of transforming Windows to be so tablet-centric OS, Microsoft may in fact convince people that an iPad is all that they need to get their job done. Confused? Follow this scenario:

  1. Consumer wants to get new computer, goes to store (physical or online).
  2. Consumer sees the spectrum of Windows tablets, and sees (I believe) a reduction in the selection of “desktop” PCs.
  3. Consumer takes heed of how tablet-focused the ecosystem is now, and decides, “well, if a Windows tablet would suffice for me, I’d bet an iPad will too”
  4. Consumer walks out of the store (or browses to and buys an iPad.
Very likely, that customer will face some modicum of regret, if they expected a 1:1 experience with any previous PC they’ve had, but for some consumers who predominantly use their Windows PC for Web access or e-mail, it is enough. But at the same time, if the iPad doesn’t suffice for them, I personally believe that the fact that OS X is, in many ways, an easier experience than Windows 8 when no direct touch is available (only a mouse or trackpad). So customers deterred from buying a Windows system due to Windows 8 not meshing with their expectations could in fact opt for an iPad, if not a Mac.

In essence, by going “whole tablet” with Windows 8, Microsoft is in some ways pointing out the iPad to consumers that might not have felt it viable before.  I’m concerned as well that in addition to the likely broad selection of devices, the range of prices, and the potential for confusion that Windows RT could inject into the consumer purchasing scenario vis-à-vis Windows 8  (“Vista Capable” ring any bells?), that consumers could well be accidentally swayed to opt instead for an iPad or a Mac in order to avoid trying to sort out which make, model, version, and specs are right for them.


  1. I’m sure in product marketing there’s a term for this phenomenon where by changing a product, you might cause your own customers to jar themselves out of the inertia they’ve been in, and look at other products. And in this case, Windows is changing the customer’s market space themselves, from desktop-only to tablet-accepting.

  2. Seems about right to me..

  3. I’m not sure that there is a term to describe this in marketing – honestly I think we see the opposite far more often (the Innovator’s Dilemma, where the company making a product _refuses_ to change it while the market changes underneath). In some ways, this is sort of a “Cobra Effect”: – by trying to address a problem, you make the situation worse than if you had done nothing. Time will tell.

  4. It’s basically what happened when Novell brought in Netware 4 and the change was so big and difficult to manage that most It departments went over to NT 3.51. At the time Netware was 80% of the server market. Where is it now?

  5. This OS is going to be the death of Microsoft as we know it!  They are ignoring the (considerable) negative feedback they are getting on the OS and pushing their vision (of being Apple’s clone, albeit with a Fisher Price UI) on us, like it or not.  They are locking down the hardware, making “sideloading” applications from websites, or even from disks, impossible.  They are depreciating the desktop environment…making it look as bad as Windows 3.1, so you wont WANT to use the desktop, and also limiting developer access to APIs needed to make desktop apps.

    In short, they are setting themselves up for a colossal failure, and yet, talk to anyone at MS and they think they own the future!  Someone is serving some MEAN Kool-aid over in Redmond!

  6. Or what happened to IBM when they released their “PS/2” platform!

  7. I think the problem you point out already exists without the context of Windows 8; that is people are already walking into Best Buys and buying iPads because the believe it will meet their needs. In fact on multiple occasions I’ve heard people say tablets did the same thing as PCs. Windows 8 is a reaction to a market that is increasingly Apple device centric and just porting up Windows Phone would probably have the same effect as Android; larger phone apps. The issue with Win8 is that its not about reaching the users who want or need desktops or even those who think Win7 is the be all end all; its about having responding to market demand. My scenario for a possible Win8 buyer is one who’s looking for a tablet but can’t justify paying desktop prices for a limited device for them Win8 gives them confidence in their buy because it’s a computer as well as a tablet.  

  8. Rubbish, IPad is for cool not work. You aint gonna get anything done touching, tapping and tilting.

  9. You don’t know anything about iPads

  10. Can some of your smart-asses share with me how to work on an Ipad ?
    -> Accountant : Will a quickbooks run on an Ipad, if yes imagine the speed of data entry!
    -> Web Designer/Developer : Can you get Coda or Textmate or even VIM – full modes with debugging enabled ? And please no “Diet” crap
    -> Plumber : Can you keep a track of your receipts, invoices, supply in excel sheets ? No please don’t give me iWork crap because it’s not powerful for macros and other calculations.
    and many more……….
    Obviously either you guys are hiding how to do it or you guys are just plain dreaming! IPad as a work device mostly makes me laugh and chuckle.

  11.  It appears you know much, can you share how to use Ipad as a real work device. And no I don’t spend time reading reports, I need to be able to create them!

  12. Wao, James, you said it all! Darwin, ‘am waiting for you, what useful thing do you with your IPad apart from Instant-touching and playing Angry-pigs?