Though Microsoft did not have a booth at CES for the second year in a row, a rather convenient rumor leaked out as journalists set off to catch their flights home and the show floor was cleared. According to Paul Thurrott, who runs “Supersite For Windows,” Microsoft plans to announce a new version of Windows at this April’s BUILD conference and release it a year from then.
Putting Windows 9 on the market in April of 2015 would give Windows 8 a short three-year run, but no one can argue that change is unnecessary, and even a 2015 release feels a bit late. Still, as the saying goes, it’s better late than never – if Microsoft does what’s needed to get Windows on its feet.
Microsoft was on the right path when it decided to split Windows RT and Windows 8 into two slightly different operating systems. The problem was not the idea, but how it was executed. Windows 8 was shipped with a forced focus on touch that most consumers (lacking a touchscreen PC) could never appreciate.
Over 100 million desktops ship every year to businesses and consumers, and giving them the middle finger with an unnecessary touch interface was a disaster that damaged not only Windows 8, but also Microsoft as a brand. Desktop owners frustrated with the Metro UI are unlikely to be eager for a Surface.
Windows RT, meanwhile, was saddled with a bizarre focus on productivity, as if what iPad users really want is a tablet that can be used to write a dissertation. Though RT lacked a desktop, the OS felt like it was trying to emulate the capabilities of desktop PC.
Windows needs to become not a single compromise but instead a range of operating systems, each with a very specific purpose, which share a kernel and developers can port between with minimal effort. Taking this approach will be more complex, but it’s a challenge Redmond must accept if it hopes to make Windows competitive across desktops, laptops and tablets.
Fix resolution scaling
A war has ignited in the PC market as companies compete to offer new, high-resolution displays that offer a resolution up to 3840 x 2160, also known as 4K. Toshiba and Lenovo already have 4K laptops in the pipe for a summer 2014 release, while others like Dell and Asus are aggressively pushing 4K via desktop monitors. Though monitors were already sharp, the clarity offered by new Ultra HD panels is striking.
Microsoft’s simplistic Metro UI scales OK, but everything on the desktop is hopelessly inadequate.
To combat this, Microsoft needs to introduce higher-resolution graphics for its desktop interface, add a greater variety of scaling presets, and look into a scaling algorithm that can better render legacy apps and icons that don’t have 4K assets available. These features were needed two years ago, but they’ll be absolutely critical by the time Windows 9 rolls out.
Make a better app store
We’ve been hard on Microsoft’s app store for a long time, and for good reason. Developers have found it difficult to make money, so there are less useful apps, which leads to less people using apps; a vicious cycle.
Many of the store’s problems can be demonstrated by a search for Facebook. Do this on an iPad and you’ll find the official Facebook app, followed by a plethora of Facebook-connected games and apps that are only tangentially related, but also obviously are not Facebook apps. Switch to a Windows 8 device, however, and you’ll find not only the official app but also third-party apps of varying quality which may or may not be trustworthy and may or may not cost money.
App promotion still feels lazy and Microsoft does little to weed out apps of questionable credibility, or even rope off semi-adult oriented apps (like those that are nothing but image galleries of bikini babes) from everything else. To fix these issues, the company must become far more pro-active, expanding curation and promotion while edging out apps of question credibility or legality.
There’s no reason why these steps could not be taken immediately, but Windows 9 would be the perfect opportunity to re-launch the store, and it’s an opportunity Microsoft desperately needs to take.
Reimagine the desktop experience
The greatest sin of Windows 8 was its ignorance of people who still use desktops and laptops; the company’s biggest fans. Microsoft should cater to this audience, and re-inventing the desktop would be a great place to start.
There are many things about the desktop experience that are a bit strange, including the desktop itself. Improvements to the Windows taskbar and Windows Search have made desktop icons almost irrelevant – so, what’s the desktop for? Couldn’t it be given a different purpose?
What’s important is that Microsoft still has a core audience of desktop users, and their needs must be met.
Honestly, I can’t guess at what might make Windows 9 better for desktop users, but that’s beside the point. What’s important is that Microsoft still has a core audience of desktop users, and their needs must be met. Ignoring them will only drive them to alternatives with greater speed.
Drop the price
Microsoft used to be a monopoly. There was no legitimate competitor throughout most of the 90s and the first few years of the near millennium. As such, Windows could be sold at a high price to both manufacturers and consumers. What were we going to do – buy a Mac? Hah!
But times have changed. Aside from Mac OS X, which has become a strong alternative, consumers can choose to avoid Windows in favor of iOS or Android, both of which come free with a device and never charge for an upgrade. To make matters worse, PCs running old versions of Windows continue to hum along; a Net Marketshare report from December 2013 showed that XP is still three times more popular than Windows 8.
The days of charging $100 for a new copy of Windows need to end. Microsoft had the right idea when it discounted Windows 8 at release, but more must be done. A permanent drop to a more tolerable price, like $40 or $50, might tempt consumers to grab the newest version. While this move might cut revenues in the short-term, it’s absolutely necessary to grow Windows 9’s user base to a size worthy of developer attention.
Windows 9’s release, which is rumored to occur in April 2015, can’t come soon enough. Microsoft needed to fix the problems of Windows 8 the moment it was released, and waiting several years before introducing another revamp has already damaged the company.
If it arrives when expected, Windows 9’s development cycle will be incredibly short by historical standards, and the rumors leaked thus far suggest it will be an incremental update rather than a massive revamp. We hope that isn’t true, but we won’t know for sure until Microsoft’s next Build conference, scheduled to begin on April 2 of this year.