Even with Windows 8.1, Windows 8 Is Still Searching for Its Killer App

There need to be more obvious arguments for adopting Microsoft's new software.

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Over the last few days, I’ve been spending plenty of quality time with Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 Preview. In multiple respects, it’s been a positive experience. As my colleague Jared Newman noted, the new features in this upcoming revision–which will be free to Windows 8 users when Microsoft rolls out the final version later this year–make it much easier to spend most or all of your time in the new-wave Metro interface and apps that use it. From more powerful management of multiple on-screen windows to a comprehensive Control Panel to a more customizable Start Screen, Windows 8.x is beginning to feel more like a full-featured operating system and less like a toy bolted on top of old-school Windows.

As the decimal point in its name suggests, Windows 8.1 doesn’t aim to be a game changer; it’s a more polished, complete version of Windows 8 rather than a whole new experience. If you already like Windows 8, you’ll like 8.1 even more. But the question remains: What will get non-Windows 8 users excited about making the investment of time and money required to move to Microsoft’s radical new version of its extremely venerable software? What, in other words, is its killer app?

That’s been a surprisingly tough question to answer for Windows 8 all along. As I’ve used the update and tried to figure out its potential impact, I’ve been mulling over possible factors that could help Windows 8.x catch on in a way that it hasn’t yet done.

Such as…

“No Compromises.”

Microsoft, I think, started out thinking that Windows 8’s killer app was what the company described as a no-compromises experience: the ability to run both touch-friendly, new-style Metro apps and classic, powerful Windows programs on one device. Then-Windows honcho Steven Sinofsky blogged in 2011:

Our design goal was clear: no compromises. If you want to, you can seamlessly switch between Metro style apps and the improved Windows desktop. Existing apps, devices, and tools all remain and are improved in Windows 8. On the other hand, if you prefer to immerse yourself in only Metro style apps (and platform) and the new user experience, you can do that as well!

At best, the duality hasn’t yet turned Windows 8 into an insta-blockbuster. Some people like the two-operating-systems-in-one approach; some find it disorienting or annoying; some haven’t tried it either because it isn’t inherently enticing or sounds downright unappealing.

Me, I think that “no compromises” is useful in some respects, but inherently clunky–especially since Microsoft refuses to make it easy for users to live in the classic desktop world without ever venturing into Metro, a move I find tone-deaf and pig-headed. (The Start button is back in Windows 8.1, but still takes you to the Metro-ized Start screen–here’s Penny Arcade’s profane-but-reasonable take on that design decision.) “No compromises” is a stopgap until Metro gets good enough that the old Windows interface starts to slide into obsolescence, just as DOS gave way to Windows. And no stopgap is a killer app.

Bold New PCs.

Another possible Windows 8 killer app are the computers it runs on. From Surface to Sony’s VAIO Duo to table-like systems that resemble ginormous tablets, Windows 8 is the first new Microsoft operating system in years that challenges the hardware industry to invent imaginative new form factors. That’s a virtue–possibly one which is essential to Windows’ long-term viability, since classic desktops and PCs are feeling more and more like mundane appliances that you don’t need to replace very often.

Still, one lesson of this creative renaissance is that a sizable percentage of PC users just want to get work done with something that feels familiar. The PC makers I’ve spoken with say that even conventional laptops equipped with touchscreens aren’t yet massive sellers, let alone more outré machines.

I do think that touchscreens, computers that break apart into two pieces or flip around into various orientations and other new ideas will matter more over time, as PC makers work out the kinks and consumers grow more comfortable with unconventional features. But judging from the ugly downward slope of recent PC sales, they’re not yet a killer app either–at least not yet.


If you want to be boring and literal, you can maintain that a killer app needs to be, well, an app. The original one was probably VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet; in the early 1980s, people bought Apple II systems just to run it.

There are now more than 100,000 Metro apps–not bad at all for an eight-month-old interface. Jared audited how many popular iPad apps are available for Windows 8, and found the situation to be mixed. (Among the pieces of good news: Facebook and Flipboard are coming to Windows 8.)

Ultimately, sheer quantity of software isn’t a killer app. Nor is filling in a checklist of popular apps that already exist on other platforms. What Windows 8 needs are broadly appealing programs that are unique to the operating system and make the most of Metro’s possibilities.

There are some nice, slick Metro apps, including some of the ones Microsoft provides with the operating system, such as the Bing Weather and Bing News programs. But even after scouring the Windows Store and soliciting recommendations on Twitter, I haven’t seen anything that knocked my socks off the way they flew off my feet the first time I saw Flipboard. (Or, for that matter, the way they did the first time I saw VisiCalc; I happened to attend its first public demo, at a Boston Computer Society meeting, when I was 14.)

For all the ambitious things Microsoft is doing on multiple fronts these days, I think it erred badly by not having killer Metro versions of the Microsoft Office programs available on the same day that Windows 8 launched. (Latest word is they might show up next year.) The company needs to show the world how Windows 8 is done, just as Apple has traditionally built some of the best apps for its own gadgets.

Hey, It’s Windows.

Windows 8 may not feel like a hit, but as the current version of the world’s dominant operating system, it’s still everywhere. Microsoft sold 100 million Windows 8 licenses in the first six months. The next PC you buy, assuming it’s not a Mac, will almost certainly come with it. Over time, the sheer scale of Microsoft’s customer base will lead to many, many people becoming Windows 8.x users. That inevitability is a killer app of sorts; Windows 8 can afford to get off to a sluggish start in a way that most products cannot.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a disaster that Windows 8 is still a platform in search of a killer app. There are plenty of examples of past products that flailed around a bit before finding theirs: The original Mac, for instance, debuted in early 1984, but didn’t get its killer app–the combination of the PageMaker desktop-publishing software and LaserWriter printer–until 1985. But Windows 8 can’t live without a killer app forever. And even though Windows 8.1 is a thoughtful, meaty update, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be its own killer app. Sooner or later, something else will need to do the trick.


Windows 8.1 is a great step back to it's dominant OS look and feel.  Windows 8 with it metro screen was too much a wanna be in the touch screen world.  I mean why would you put a touch screen OS on a non-touch screen computer?  I never figured this out.

With regards to the search for a killer app for Windows 8.1 - I think that just as for previous version of Windows you would have to give this aware to RollBack Rx.  It is a must have for any Windows based PC's.


Bing Maps could have superior mapping ability, but it plays the ''I can do everything Google Maps and Apple maps can do''-card, which doesn't make it more focused at present, also the new innovations Bing Maps bring often feel ''clunky'', Having Windows 100% in the Cloud is the future, especially since this is the leading factor of the B.Y.O.D. device trend in modern offices, but it's something EVERYONE else is also doing, and by late 2014 EVERYTHING shall be in the Cloud, while it would've fully matured by around 2016, the Xbox One could be a leader at this if it can phase in Cloud-gaming faster than Sony, but Microsoft may have a certain mediaphobia since the launch, something which could've spear-headed the Windows ecosystem either in the ground or in the Sky (no pun intended).

Bing Health & Fitness is actually just a more functional version of the present Microsoft HealthVault app, and let's not forget that Google donated their Google Health consumers to Microsoft because they saw no vision in it, thus this in nothing near a killer app, Calculator, Sound Recorder & Scan are just Windows RunTime versions of existing desktop applications that are already built-into every Windows Device. Bing Food & Drink may bring some awesome features, but it's hardly something that's unique.

Microsoft has 2 core demographics it needs to woo, Business(wo)men and Gamers, although Windows 8 is built for both, these are also 2 types of people that tend to use outdated hardware for decades.

Windows 8 is presented as the O.S. for everyone on every device, there's an app for photo-lovers, cooks, 3D-Printing, Xbox LIVE, Windows Live Messenger, Windows (Live) Mail, Bing Travel, Bing News and many more all come built-in, Cross-platform gaming across the Xbox One, Windows Phone, Windows R.T. and Windows could be the killer app for gamers, and the increased functionality in Windows 8.1 (Blue) are things that business(wo)men need, but these are not complete, nor fully operational(, yet).

The Bing Translator (the Microsoft Translator) faces heavy competition from Google Translate, and Micorsoft Office may still be the King, but Office as a killer app didn't help Windows Phone much either. Microsoft is now the everything and everyone company that can do ALL the rest can, but that's it, it can do WHAT YOU KNOW, Bing is as good as Google most of the time, but it's not better, Windows 8 has all the features but nothing that sets it apart.

If Microsoft would play it cards right, it would join forces with ALL Cable-/Satelite-Companies in America, Canada, Australia and the U.K.  for their Xbox platform (as they are already trying) and the killer app on Windows could be a built-in app that acts as Live T.V. with augmented features (similar to the Xbox One) and make this a cross-device experience all from the Cloud taking nothing on your hard-drive, working fast and fluid.

Of-course this would be harder for the few people without internet conenction, but Windows 8 is functional on its own.


@AgostoNuñez From what I can tell, W8.1's killer app is the level of integration search plays in all aspects of the system. IMO, MS should have released Windows RT as Surface and not as its own hardware platform. The x86 compatible version should have stayed Surface Pro. Moreover, they should not have included the desktop in the Surface version which would have saved money by not having included Office. Office for the Modern UI is on its way and will add incremental revenue once available. The bottom line is that MS should have realized that a version of its product, Surface OS, should be made almost free, like $15 at most in terms of licensing. The only way for MS to have stolen market share was to produce a low cost Surface OS that had a clean break from the desktop. Both Surface products are overprices, with the Surface RT device being way over priced.


Well, I've saying this since it came out, Killer Apps are what makes it, Microsoft probably though Xbox Music (Zune) to be it, but this wasn't the case as a lot of people were with Spotify and Apple's iTunes (let's be honest, and Google can't stand a chance here). Windows Media Player for Windows Vista & Windows 7 could've been a killer app if Microsoft could've integrated it well into Xbox Video across their ecosystem to the Xbox console, but then again, if you could get a cable subscription on your P.C. it would easily take people away from Google's YouTube.

Microsoft SkyDrive and Internet Explorer 11 on Windows 8.1 (Blue) and many other functions that can be found on both Android, iO.S. and O.S. X, I've recently skimmed a list of their functions and Windows does it all, but they win in number of applications, unless you look at the desktop, at which Windows beats their entire ecosystems.

What Windows 8 might need is an app store for the desktop (similar to AllMyApps altready available for download on Windows XP and later), and as for killer apps cross ecosystem integration SHALL work in the future, but Microsoft has proven that it's not that time, YET.

New innovative applications can only come from those inspired to make them, and if //Build showed us anything, it's that Steve Ballmer loves developers, the Killer App is being developed as you read this.


It is good, always looking for better. If you are satisfied you can't progress. Sky should be the limit. But i think MS is in little hurry to introduce 8.1 because many people still not adopted windows8. 


Classic Shell is the killer app for Windows 8.x. It restores what people want - familiarity, continuity, trust and protects their investment in time, money, effort and past features.


@anonymuos Nope, Windows 8.1 (Blue) actually has more built-in features to support M.S. D.O.S. than even Windows 7, thus migrants from XP would find it better, + Windows 8's all apps screen is easier for an XP'er to navigate than Windows 7's weird-arse start-menu.


@AgostoNuñez  You are mistaken. Windows 8 has no better support than Windows 7 for NTVDM. Also, the Windows 8 All Apps screen is still designed for touch first, mouse/keyboard second. Since you bring up mouse navigation, it still needs a lot more scrolling than a more compact menu such as Classic Shell's which can fit many more programs without scrolling.


You know what? I don't want touch on my desktop or laptop I'm using as a desktop. I have a tablet and while I like it, the constantly having to clean of fingerprints/streaks is a pain. Also, I can hold the tablet comfortably and use touch. For a computer situated on a desk, there is no comfortable way to do touch - or even gestures. Holding your arms up and waving them doesn't make it any better. Then you just look like you are doing the chicken dance at your desk. Not to mention not everyone wants to have a camera on all the time. I only plug mine in when needed.

MS messed up by trying to make one OS fit all devices. They should have included a boot to desktop and start menu option for those using old fashioned computers and the option to boot to Metro for those who have touch devices and want to use them that way. If my current computer dies, I will seriously consider going Mac. If I don't, I'll be 'fixing' Win 8.1 to work like Win 7. I don't want my computer constantly accessing a bunch of widgets that will no doubt hog resources. I would wager most folks have little interest in a touch interface.

And really, Facebook app for Win 8 being a must have? I would find opening up the app less convenient than just clicking on a browser link to Facebook when I want to check on what's going on. I find my browser based Facebook easier to use than the iPad app if you want to do something other than check statuses or post an update.

sephiroth_4 1 Like

There's too much software today in any business (entertainment, gaming, computing) for there to be A killer app.  I think it's more the ecosystem and experience that needs to be focused on.  But I think Windows 8's overlooked killer app is the touching experience to the desktop to the masses.

AsokSmith 1 Like

Windows 8.1 killer app is Windows 8, literally killing the PC industry and the Windows franchise.

At it's current adoption rate, Windows 8.xxxx will be very lucky to have 20% by the time Windows 9 rolls out! Clearly, this is an EXTREMELY poor showing compared to even the execrable Vista when you consider practically the only Windows PC available to retail consumers for nine months have been Windows 8 machines, not to mention these numbers INCLUDE Windows 8 slabs, a category not available to Vista when it was being adopted.

In Windows 8.xxxxx, bringing back the Start Button that does nothing more than provide yet one more means to take one back to the hated, productivity-killing, single-window, no-taskbar, touchy-feely, flashy-blinky Metro UI screen instead of actually restoring the Start Menu is hardly addressing the issue. It's more like a spit in the face to Microsoft's remaining PC users.

Windows 8.xxxxxxx still doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of being adopted by the enterprise and SMB. The well is already poisoned, not to mention the fact that IT folks at these places aren't fooled by nonsense like Ballmer's "refined blend", which sounds like it was lifted from a bad 1970's TV ad for instant coffee crystals or a "premium" motor oil.

The "refined blend" of Windows 8.1 is akin to Coke "refining" New Coke by "blending" half original Coke and half New Coke and putting it in new cans and telling their customers that they were "listening" to them! Microsoft's users can tell the difference between a kick in the teeth and actually being listened to. This "refined blend" is being NOT listened to and it is NOT going to go well at all for Microsoft.

The enterprise and SMB are still going to skip Windows 8.xxxxxxxx just like they did with Vista and hope Microsoft comes to their senses with Windows 9 after Ballmer is fired. And if Microsoft still insists on shoveling out cell-phone operating systems on the PC after Windows 8.xxxxxxxxxxxx, then the enterprise and SMB will start to seriously look at non-Microsoft alternatives.


@AsokSmith‘’This is ridiculous.

People refuse the “learning curves” of windows 8, which is some 70% identical to windows 7, but they are willing to go through the “learning curve” of an entirely new system that’s 100% different?

That just makes no sense.

Google’s systems will NEVER become the default in enterprise land, because no company in it’s right mind is going to store all their data in a “free” cloud of which they have no control and which has as only reason of existence to collect data for advertising companies.

In case you didn’t notice yet, 90% of google’s revenue comes from advertising. Hardly a solid business model. If at some point in the future, legislation takes privacy seriously or if the advertising world changes, google will crumble like a house of cards OR they’ll need to start charging heavy licensing fees for their “apps”.

Apple also will NEVER be king in enterprise land, because no company in its right mind is going to put all their eggs in one basket (hardware + software) – especially not if that basket is also notorious for its dictatorial behaviour and secrecy.

The only real candidate here is Linux. But that didn’t work for the past 15 years, why would it today?’’

-Dogma Hunter, why Windows 8 is such a crucial step for Microsoft, Forbes.

IntangibleGuy 1 Like

Why are so many editors so intent about Windows becoming the dominant platform not only on PCs/laptops but also on every other computing device ? I'm very very happy about the current situation : WP8 in the doldrums (probably forever) and Win8.1 in no way a threat or menace for Android and iOS !!! That is what consumers really want and need. Variety and diversity.

Up to the rise of iOS and Android, Windows was the stifling OS that had utmost detrimental effects on innovation and progress !!! IE to name one !!! That said, I hope that Windows will never ever get a serious foothold in the realm of tablets and phones therefore leaving leeway for others to thrive and drive progress, beneficial to customers.


@IntangibleGuy Wrong, Windows opens up comtetion WITHIN the Ecosystem, while iO.S. and most Apple O.S.'es exist solely for Apple's profit, Google on the other hand does enjoy competition.


@IntangibleGuy It reminds me of other products I've seen in my lifetime--they make a product extremely versatile and it can do many things...just not very well. I feel Win 8 is a decent OS for a tablet or phone. For PC it feels very limiting and I hate the constant fullscreen, kiosk feel of the UI when using it on a PC.


@therealdude @IntangibleGuy I do want far less Full Screen and Horizontal scrolling on my desktop.

 Metro software is way too shallow and simplistic to give them any attention.   I don't want to devote a dual monitor desktop to a full screen calculator and weather widget.

Given the limitation of the API/interface I'm not sure they can make a "Killer App."



@IntangibleGuyGlad some people really can feel like they can speak for what everyone wants. Android, while I respect Android a lot more than IOS, may control most of the smartphone market, but half of them could not even handle the OS to it's full potential. Really the Galaxy series produced by Samsung is the only Android phone worth getting. And how is Windows Phone 8 in the doldrums? In 2012, a study has shown that Windows Phone now controls 5.2% of the smartphone market. And they expect that number to grow and surpass Apple by the year 2016. And if they want variety and diversity as you claim, why would they be using IOS, something that's idea of innovation is an extra row of icons. This is just another example of someone afraid of the innovation that Microsoft is bringing to the market. Don't think so? The great Steve Wozniak said the exact same thing.    Added the link just in case you had trouble finding it. Apple's innovation is gone.