There was a time in the tech business when your company could be as slow as molasses in January yet still prevail based on sheer market size. That day disappeared in the rear view mirror many years ago, as Microsoft is about to learn as it prepares to introduce a major Windows upgrade.
If you haven't heard of Windows 8, it's understandable. (Most of us have been distracted by all those iPhone 5 rumors, Netflix pricing complaints, and Kendra.) Microsoft has been giving software developers the big pitch to introduce new features and get them to create software for the new operation system.
Windows 8 will feature more tablet and touch-like features, as well as erase the interminable boot up time that it currently takes a PC to start up. And Windows 8 will be available for desktops, laptops, and tablets. It will also look remarkably like the company's mobile phone software, which uses customized tiles you flip through -- and the Xbox 360 will follow suit with a changed interface to match.
Unfortunately, Windows 8 may be dead on arrival.
First there are the usual complaints about compatibility issues. One striking piece of news: The tablet-style version of Windows 8 (called Metro) is going to pull a Steve Jobs and stubbornly refuse to work with Adobe's Flash. Yes, the dominant way that consumers watch videos on the Internet will not function in the glitzy version Windows 8. It will work in a "classic" desktop version of Windows 8, but who wants that old software on their shiny new Windows tablet?
Furthermore, you won't be able to get any old application to work with the Metro version of Windows 8. Shunning the one feature that helped make Windows a near monopoly -- just about every program worth having worked on it -- Microsoft will switch to a gated community approach like that of Apple. Want a new app for your Windows Metro tablet? You'll only be able to purchase it through the Microsoft Store. (We'll see how well that model works against the iPad.)
A Whole New World
Annoying as these problems may be -- and things may change before the final version is released -- the biggest problem for Windows 8 is simply that the world may have passed it by.
The last version of Windows was released in 2009. Since then, the iPad was introduced, TVs connected to the Internet have become commonplace, and smart phones have become the computers we use most. Not to mention the fact that more people have become accustomed to using their game consoles as Web browsers. Even the cybercriminals and hackers have begun turning away from desktop computers and Windows and begun to focus more on infecting Web sites and smartphones.
The point is that it's a different world now. What Microsoft feared back in 1994 has come to pass: Most of our work is online -- documents, calendars, photos, music, movies, and information -- so we have become operating system agnostic. Windows or OS X or Linux? Who cares? It just isn't a very important issue any more.
Microsoft's Lost Clout
Back in the day, just the mere whiff of a rumor that Microsoft was going to release a new version of its OS would freeze the market. Companies would halt IT purchases. Consumers would stop upgrading or buying new applications. No one would buy hardware. All for fear that whatever was purchased today, wouldn't work with the new version of Windows tomorrow.
But we're not in a holding pattern any more.
All of this is not to say that Windows 8 won't be better than Windows 7 (and certainly better than Windows Me). And yes, market analysts will contend that Microsoft will still sell gazillions of copies of Windows 8 when it's released, perhaps early next year (Microsoft hasn't set an official date).
Corporate and equipment manufacturers may snap it up too -- though some analysts think the operating system may flop there too. But no one will be be buying it with the same zeal they did back in 1995 -- or even 2009.