Technologizer

How to Tell If Windows 8 Is Succeeding

Nobody truly knows how Microsoft's new operating system (and new tablets) will do. But here are the clues to keep tabs on in 2012, 2013 and beyond.

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com

Microsoft's Panos Panay demos Surface at Microsoft's Windows 8 launch event on October 25, 2012

You can find pundits who are predicting that Windows 8 will succeed. You can find pundits — lots of them — who are predicting that it’ll fail.

Starting today, their opinions don’t matter much. The radical operating-system upgrade and Surface, Microsoft‘s PC/tablet hybrid, are now on sale. Windows 8′s fate rests in the hands of millions of consumers, the vast majority of whom haven’t been paying much attention until now.

When people ask me how I think Windows 8 will do — which, lately, they’ve been doing approximately 15,000 times a day — I have a stock answer. And it’s an evasive one: I say that more than with any major product I can think of, it’s tough to figure out what’s going to happen with this one. I don’t think that Microsoft or PC makers or opinionated bloggers really know; there are too few parallels in PC history to compare this rollout with.

So rather than prognosticating about Windows 8′s future, I’m happy to be surprised by whatever happens. But I do have a few tips for anyone who wants to judge how it’s doing:

Don’t obsess over Windows sales figures. Windows 8 is Windows, so it’s going to ship on the vast majority of computers starting today, no matter what. So the fact that Microsoft is going to move a lot of copies isn’t in itself a sign that consumers are loving the upgrade. (Windows Vista may have turned out to be a failure, but it sold in impressively large numbers.)

Do pay attention to PC sales figures. They’ve been sluggish lately, and one theory holds that the slump is in part due to everyone biding time until Windows 8 shows up. If the next few quarters show improvement, it may mean that Windows 8 is getting consumers interested in PCs again.

Talk to friends and family. The ones who aren’t tech enthusiasts, I mean. Their reactions to Windows 8, pro or con, are going to do more to determine the product’s fate than any other single factor. It’s going to be fascinating to learn whether they love it, hate it or are just plain baffled by it — and to what degree they see the absence of the beloved Start button as a poke in the eye.

Look for killer apps. When Windows was young, back in the 1980s, it was applications such as Excel which convinced DOS users that this new and radically different environment was worth adopting. Windows 8 needs programs that are so compelling that vast numbers of people think to themselves: “Holy cow, I need to get this.”

Watch PC design. Hardware makers have done a pretty good job of putting the new operating system on computers designed for it — ones with touchscreens, detachable keyboards and other new features. At the same time, they’re continuing to make many, many garden-variety PCs. If consumers snap up the new-and-inventive machines, it’ll be better news for Windows 8 than if they’re inclined to stick with the conventional ones.

Monitor Surface’s success, or lack thereof. Surface is likely to represent a tiny fraction of overall Windows 8 sales, but it’s the Windows 8 hero device — the one Microsoft designed to be the ultimate expression of what it’s trying to do with this operating system. (Yes, I’m aware that Surface for Windows RT, the model that goes on sale today, is technically not a Windows 8 device. But it’s too confusing to maintain that it’s something altogether different.)

Microsoft is selling Surface directly to consumers, so the only way we’ll get hard numbers about its sales is if the company chooses to disclose them. (If it’s doing well, Microsoft is likely to share some stats; if it’s a dud, Microsoft is likely to stay mum.) But regardless of what Microsoft chooses to say, it’ll be possible to get a vague sense of how Surface is doing. If you frequently see people using it on airplanes and in coffee shops, that’s a promising sign; if you never seems to show up in the wild, that could be ominous.

Be patient. It’s possible that Windows 8 will start to look like a hit almost immediately. But even if it ends up being one, it’s more likely that it’s going to take a while until consumers and developers get their heads around all of its fundamental changes to an operating system which hadn’t seen much fundamental change in years. And even folks who are intrigued by the basic idea may think it’s smartest to sit back and see where it goes. If you think you’re going to be able to come to any definitive conclusions about Windows 8′s long-term prospects in 2012, you’re jumping the gun; the situation may be fuzzy even a year from now.

Heck, I believe that it’s conceivable that Windows 8 will look like a disappointment — but that the next major upgrade (Windows 8.5? Windows 9?) will be a winner.

Way back in June 2011, when Microsoft first previewed Windows 8′s altogether-new interface, I said “this is fun.” That’s still the word I associate with the new OS. As real people get their hands on it and form visceral reactions to what Redmond hath wrought, watching what happens is going to be a blast — and that’s the only prediction about Windows 8 I feel comfortable making.

11 comments
marwyn
marwyn

Windows 8 on desktop? NEVER!

HermanMerman
HermanMerman

Windows 8 is schizophrenic. You can access the desktop but there is no start menu or button and then you must leave the desktop environment to launch your app. Windows 8 has such a strong case of Schizophrenia I will not be leaving System 7 anytime soon and I used to be motivated to upgrade...wow I am glad I did not. Since, I have used Windows 8 and can report for the desktop it suck like a hog. Windows 8 is a tablet OS not a desktop OS. No matter how MS tries to spin this they have wrecked the desktop experience. Now the news about the Surface's faulty screen protector/keyboard — they are splitting at the seems exposing electronics (it is a disaster). Oops. Apple anyone?

spineshank155
spineshank155

I have Windows 7 and tried Windows 8. I hate Windows 8. Windows 7 might be a a bit more expensive but imo is much better in the long run with less frustration. The new start menu is confusing and despite some people calling others names because they are unable to comprehend the new style just isn't right imo. I've been telling XP users to get Windows 7 and if you already have Win 7 just to keep it. If they happen to find out more about Win 8 and like it then fine, but i just don't like it. It's awkward and i don't see any use for it. Not to mention it's digging up a huge wall in between others. Some people like it & can't understand why people don't like it. All the while i don't understand why anyone likes it in the first place. It baffles me. Windows 8 is the first OS to have this degree of ridiculous hate, against OS and against those who are against the OS. If MS had properly done the OS in a way where everyone (or mostly everyone) would be happy then this would not have happened. I happened to like Vista as well. As much as it was sometimes a pain with the slowness (most likely due to hardware) it wasn't that bad of an OS. I myself have been called an idiot for posting pointless things about Windows 8. It's my opinion about the OS and i haven't yet seen any reason for needing an upgrade. Some people enjoy it and i'm not knocking that but i am knocking MS for releasing something that i find incomplete or a downgrade. I happen to really like Windows 7, imo with every OS  MS has done well in keeping the integrity of it (minus the few hicups or major problems with certain software of course). Windows 8 to me though changed that feeling & i'd really hate to tell people that i do PC work for that eventually they will have to deal with the changes, no i don't like that because people should really be getting what they want, not another confusing OS to learn.

kemaltolan
kemaltolan

Windows Phones, Windows Tablets, Windows RT or Microsft's SURFACE and subsequently Windows 8 would be a tremendous success and iPad killer if business would be able to use them. Employees get them and multiply the benefits to friends and so on. In the end companies will install Windows 8. Check out this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2_wxkv2djgIf that little macro is working on a windows tablet ... the iPad killer would be born and Windows 8 will be a great success story.If not, why bothering buying a clone, an inferior product if you can get the original? Why should companies bothering installing Windows 8?

cm6096
cm6096

1. Don’t obsess over Windows sales figures:  Are you kidding? 

2. Do pay attention to PC sales figures:  No one buys a new PC for the operating system lol

3. Talk to friends and family:  Yes, cause gossip is a much better barometer for success of a product than sales figures lol

4. Look for killer apps: You mean like MS Office.  PS, most of the 'apps'...  are not a MS product

5. Watch PC design:  again, sales of PCs (or their design) is irrelevant.

6. Monitor Surface’s success, or lack thereof: Well, good luck buying one.. they're backordered for weeks because of overwhelming demand.

7. Be patient:  Of course be patient... it doesn't even matter if win8 is a steaming pile of dung, MS is the tech utility, if you want to do business, have a backend... well then you're doing business with MS.  No IT department is thrilled to upgrade, its a pain in the rear.  But all will eventually upgrade.  So be patient... its just a matter of time.

Anton_Student
Anton_Student

@cm6096 You should not look at Windows sales figues because they most likely include computers who got shipped with windows 8, not actually how many people who like it/use it. Like you said, no one buys a computer based on the OS. A lot of people might get a new computer, get rid of 8 and and go with 7. I mean, Vista sold pretty deascent yet windows xp have more users

Lucine
Lucine

I am an user of Windows 7 and the latest Wndows 8 is not suitable to my Thinkpad. If you want to setup Windows 8, you should buy a new computer first.

hakim.badshah
hakim.badshah

Just brought my first copy of Windows(any windows for that matter)....for a life long member of windows community that's a big deal. Last one i got by default with a new PC. 

Windows 8 is going to be deal for MS ecosystem. it makes it viable and ready for fight with Google and Apple. It will take few years for enterprise to take this up....but then they are also going Mobile. 

sensi
sensi like.author.displayName 1 Like

Updated today to win 8 x64 pro from win 7 x64 ultimate, obviously no problem, learn the few keyboard shortcuts and how to use the windows key as a home button, learn that you can type your search query right from the start screen, pin to the taskbar the apps you use the most, etc: then you have your beloved windows 7 desktop but even more responsive and snappy, with among other improvements a faster boot and search...

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

I am preparing to upgrade my nettop to W8. I look forward to having it run faster which appears to be a consistent theme among most unbiased reviewers. Of late, the haters are talking about the steep learning curve. I've read the first login includes a very basic tutorial. I've followed its progress closely enough to have a very good idea how to manipulate the Modern UI., but most users will not have. I wonder if MS should have made the into / tutorial a little longer or at least given you the option to "un-check" a box when you're ready for the tutorial to stop popping up.

Yozhik
Yozhik

I like this article, it's non-biased and factual :)

I like Windows 8 and by equal measure I am sure some will/do not but as mentioned the true test will be seen over time.