Steven J. Vaughan Nichols: Windows 9 in 2015: Desperation isn't pretty

Seriously, Microsoft? You want to get Windows 9 -- Windows freakin' 9 -- out in 2015?

I get that you want to distance yourself from the Windows 8.x train wreck. Who wouldn't? But by upgrading Windows on a consumer pace, aren't you taking a big chance that your enterprise customers will turn their backs on you? I mean, companies want desktop operating systems they can rely on for three to five years, not three to five seasons.

Let's start with some fundamentals. As Paul Thurrott, senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro and the boss of Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows, put it, " Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public." According to Thurrott, the free upgrade Windows 8.1, which offers major improvements over Windows 8, is installed on fewer than 25 million PCs. "That's a disaster," he wrote. Windows 9 (as it's expected to be designated; Threshold is the code name for now) "will need to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users" and enticing users to a Windows experience on new types of personal computing devices. "In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not."

That's not me, Mr. Linux, talking. That's a dyed-in-the-wool Windows expert and supporter speaking.

What Thurrott doesn't mention in that essay is how Microsoft is also facing serious competition on the desktop for the first time in decades. People love Chromebooks. Adding insult to injury, the two biggest PC OEMs, in the world, Lenovo and HP, are shipping Android-powered PCs, and AMD and Intel are supporting architectures that will let OEMs build dual Android/Windows systems.

That's four of what once were Microsoft's staunchest allies. The Intel move is especially significant. If you hadn't realized it before, you should know by now: Wintel is pushing up daisies; it's pining for the fjords; it's an ex-alliance.

And bringing out a new operating system will somehow change this? I understand that radical change is needed to get Microsoft back on track after the Windows 8 derailment, but I'm afraid the company is only going to further alienate its once locked-in customer base.

The company will be asking home users and CIOs to make yet another jump to yet another desktop experience in rapid succession. I don't think they're going to follow Microsoft again.

As it is, an alarming number are still hanging on to Windows XP or Windows 7 tooth and nail. When those folks do move, they seem more likely to move to smartphones, tablets or Chromebooks.

So what should Microsoft do? I think it should pull a page from its past. In 2008, Linux netbooks started carving into Windows' market share. Back then, Vista was the dead whale on the beach that no one wanted stinking up their offices. So the boys from Redmond brought XP back from the grave and gave it away to OEMs.

They can't do that now. XP is more than 12 years old at this point, and it's creaking too much for one more curtain call.

What Microsoft could do, though, is overhaul Windows 7. Users don't want Windows 8's "Metro" interface, but they do still want Windows 7, with its Aero interface.

So why not give it to them? Maybe Microsoft can't bring itself to abandon Metro just yet. Fine. Just make it an option, not a requirement. I'll bet users will flock back to a Windows that feels like "real" Windows to them.

Yes, it will be embarrassing, but which would you rather be, Microsoft? Red-faced, or fading to irrelevance in a world where Windows is no longer the dominant end-user operating system?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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