Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: Told you so! Microsoft backs off on Metro

It looks like Microsoft has finally been hit by the clue stick of awful Windows 8.x sales often enough that it's learned its lesson. Apparently, in the forthcoming Windows 8.1 update, the user interface (UI) formerly known as Metro will be bypassed, and users will default to starting in the defective, but better than nothing, desktop mode.

I'm going to tell you more about this potential, game-changing move, but first let me get this out: "HA! I told you so!"

Sorry about that. But ever since I started pointing out just how awful Metro was for the desktop, I've been buried by nasty emails from Microsoft shills telling me how wonderful Metro really was. Even as Windows 8's sales slunk below Vista's abysmal sales adoption numbers they kept screaming that Metro was great.

The sad truth is that ever since Metro reared its ugly head, everyone knew its interface was awful for the desktop and that it would fail. Now that Metro has stunk up the Windows desktop like a three-day-dead rat in your bedroom wall, Microsoft finally, finally seems to get it.

Too bad it's so late.

Dumping Metro is a great step toward making Windows 8 more attractive, but the Windows 8 desktop mode still doesn't have a real Start menu. StarDock's Start8 has sold millions of copies of its real Start button replacement thanks to this simple foolish UI mistake. I think Microsoft would be crazy not to give its users a real Start menu again, and it seems that as the new Microsoft leadership moves in, the company will be bringing back a real Start menu.

I don't know if it will be enough. Chromebooks have been picking up steam. AMD and Intel (the top two CPU vendors) and HP and Lenovo (the biggest PC OEMs) are all betting that Android will make a popular desktop operating system. Who would ever have guessed that four of Microsoft's most loyal allies would be doing this even a year ago?

At the same time, if Microsoft does indeed change its ways, it will be leaving developers who drank the Metro Kool-Aid in the lurch. Sure, Metro will still be the primary interface on tablets and smartphones, but have you looked at Windows Phone sales numbers lately? They barely register in the U.S.

As for the tablet market, it's Android and iOS all the way. I've been hearing from some friends of Microsoft that they're sure that Lenovo buying Motorola means good things ahead for Windows on smartphones and tablets. Really? They must be using really good drugs to come to that conclusion.

Lenovo is not a stupid company. It has already invested in Android, and it just bought a company known for -- wait for it -- Android smartphones. One of the classic military maxims is to never reinforce failure. Why should Lenovo, or any other company not named Microsoft or Nokia, invest in mobile Windows? I can't see it.

Earlier, I described Windows 9 as a desperate move for attention and I suggested that a return to a Windows 7-style desktop would be Microsoft's best plan. It looks like the company agrees with me. Now the billion-dollar question is: Will it be enough to bring back Microsoft's software vendors, hardware partners and the all-important customers?

I don't know if it will be or not. I do know it's probably the only move Microsoft could make with Windows that gives the operating system a fighting chance to not start a long, slow fade into desktop irrelevance.

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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