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October 26, 2010

Windows 8: Don’t believe the hype

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by Brian Turner

If there’s one thing Microsoft appears to have managed over the past decade, it is to have rushed out poor versions of new operating systems in order to satisfy shareholders.

After the debacles over Windows ME and Windows Vista, the message is clear - no one should be getting too excited about Windows 8.

Okay, so it’s not out yet - but a target launch date of Q4 2012 for Windows 8 was leaked on Microsoft’s Dutch website this week, to much excitement - even though Microsoft already showed this date in its Windows 8 development roadmap last year, during a slideshow presentation at the Professional Developers Conference.

And in the excitement, memories of Microsoft’s big failures over the noughties appear immediately forgotten.

Windows 98 to ME

After MS eased us from Windows 3 and into Windows 95 and then Windows 98, it looked as though the company had successfully delivered us into a modern computing environment.

However, the development of digital media through the 90′s, and the increased role of the internet, meant that something new was required above the existing Windows 98 framework to bring us into the new century.

And so Microsoft announced this is exactly what the next operating system from them would deliver on - a digital muti-media experience. And then they rushed out Windows Millenium, aka Windows ME, much to the chagrin of the computing community.

Windows ME was intended to deliver much, and failed in most areas. It’s attempts to increase system stability and reduce crashes meant vetting of software drivers caused all sorts of hardware and software compatability problems.

And the attempts at multimedia and internet integration were seen as failures - to the cynical commentator, all Windows ME offered as new was an updated version of Windows Media Player.

And the European Union saw that as uncompetitive, bringing a long running anti-competition case against Microsoft.

Windows XP

Windows XP - what Windows ME was supposed to - was delivered a year later in 2001. And it finally gave users what they wanted - an updated and highly functional computing environment.

Windows XP was more multi-media friendly and dealt with the realties of a modern internet, with proper networking tools. And Windows XP was remarkably stable compared to Windows 98 as well.

Despite resistance of moving to a different looking OS, users were easily won over by the rarity of the blue screen of death so common previously.

Windows XP was so successful that its replacement would not be released to the wider world for another 6 years.

Windows Vista

To call Windows Vista highly-anticipated would be an understatement.

Tech news websites were alive with buzz about Windows Longhorn - its working codename - throughout development.

Microsoft promised a raft of new and improved features, from it’s new Aero Graphical User Interface (GUI) and search engine Indigo, which was intended to steal the march Google Desktop had stolen over the company.

Alas, shareholder demands for a release caused the product to be launched before properly completed. The result was that instead of delivering on its promises, users were given Longhorn-lite. Vista.

An operating system a bit more advanced and better than XP in theory, but in reality caused so many compatability issues with hardware and software that it flopped hugely.

While Microsoft continued to shout about sales figures for Vista as being comparably faster than for XP, the company was forced into an embarrassing admission - XP stubbornly retained so much market share that Microsoft would be forced to support XP longer than planned.

The simple truth was that the early adopters of Windows Vista had become so frustrated, and the word spread that this was not the OS you were looking for - buy Windows XP computers instead.

It took another 2 years of development to fix the various problems - and roll out the services originally planned in Longhorn - to be released as Windows 7.

Windows 7

The grand naming of operating systems - and subsequent failure of Vista - caused a more humble approach to be taken by Microsoft.

Yes, everything planned for Longhorn would be released as a new OS - effectively, Windows Vista properly done - but because of the huge marketing fanfare, and failure, of Vista, the successor OS would be more flatly named Windows 8.

In effect, it was a rebranding of Vista now it was completed to specification - Windows 3 was succeeded by 4 operating systems excluding the NT and server lines - 95, 98, ME, and XP. Vista was the 8th incarnation. But Vista was commercial suicide to maintain.

Windows 7 still has its flaws - there is so much legacy software out there still used on XP machines that would not work with Vista that Microsoft built in a virtual XP mode into higher versions of Windows 7.

On the one hand, this provided a push for XP users into 7. Cynically, only if they paid extra for the privilege.

But, overall, despite concerns, and the general need for at least 2 GB of RAM to run it smoothly, Windows 7 has been a general success.

It has been the real successor to XP, just as XP was to 98.

So what now?

Windows 8

First things first - Windows 8 has been initially scheduled for launch in 2012 - presuming initial development testing over 2011 goes well.

But looking at Microsoft’s record with ME and Vista, it may be too soon to get excited.

Certainly there is a lot of extra functionality being mooted for the next big Microsoft operating system. This may include some or all of the following:

1. Standard touch screen integration
2. Enabled 3D viewing
3. Built in face recognition for security
4. Faster start-up as BIOS is dropped
5. Better mobile integration, not least with Apps
6. Integrated web applications
7. Support for USB 3.0 and Bluetooth 3.0
8. Support for HTML 5 standards

But people like me have been here before - wowed by the features planned during the Longhorn development, resulting in the massive disappointment of Vista.

2012 may seem like a long time away for a new update to the OS, but from Microsoft’s own history, it’s too soon.

From past experience it may be more reasonable for Microsoft to provide a fully working next generation OS around 2014 instead - bad news for anyone who tries to link a new Windows release to a Mayan prophecy end-of-the-world conspiracy. Skynet may not be a launch name for Windows 8 after all.

But more importantly, from past experience, it’s worth reigning in any existing excitement and anticipation of what Windows 8 will be like.

Because in the end it can only be judged on what is delivered for user experience, as opposed to promises and expectation.

In the meantime, no doubt we’ll be keeping up with the latest Windows 8 rumours and news at Techwatch. Just don’t be surprised if we don’t act all gushy and excited about it. Not yet at any rate.


If you’d like to take a trip through memory lane, there are some nice screenshots of older versions of Windows here:

  • Windows 3
  • Windows 98
  • Windows XP

Story link: Windows 8: Don’t believe the hype

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1 Comment »
  1. Yawn…

    Comment by shadow — October 28, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

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