Tech Talk: Microsoft would do well to look to history

Microsoft is reported to be "re-thinking" Windows 8
Microsoft is reported to be "re-thinking" Windows 8
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THE most interesting aspect of recent coverage of Microsoft’s apparent U-turn on Windows 8 was how little there was.

Further down the Pacific coast, Apple has only to sneeze to send the technology media into overdrive – and the fact that what could be the biggest marketing misfire since the invention of “New Coca-Cola” left them cold is proof (if proof were needed) that Windows is yesterday’s news.

If you missed it, Microsoft responded to “user feedback” by changing “key aspects” of the operating system it launched last October. The most telling feedback is how few bothered to buy it.

The absence of the customary Windows Start button, present on all versions since 1995, is cited as the problem because it creates a learning curve that users don’t want. However it’s more fundamental – Microsoft is making the mistakes of the UK motor industry of the 1970s, pushing out endless new trims on the Austin Allegro when what drivers really wanted was a Volkswagen.

The company’s dominance has been eroded away by the advent of devices – tablets and even phones – that do most of what the average home PC user requires and more besides. And, they do it in user-friendlier ways, with completely re-thought operating systems by Apple and Google. Set against those, Windows seems about as relevant as an old Allegro.

That doesn’t mean that Windows or Microsoft is going away any time soon – but it does mean that traditional Windows PCs will increasingly become work devices, like photocopiers and water coolers. Useful, but not for a home study. Figures confirm that people simply don’t want PCs as much: January-March sales were down 14 per cent, their sharpest decline on record. In that period, sales of tablets outstripped PCs for the first time.

So today’s consideration is not whether to buy Windows 8 – obviously not – but whether to bother with its successor, codenamed Windows Blue and expected to be released later this year as a free upgrade to early Windows 8 adopters. Microsoft is being tight-lipped on what it will bring – a Start button is possible – but it may be little more than a roll-back to earlier Windows. My upgrade advice is to think carefully about what you really need a home PC to do – and then consider whether a tablet would be better.