Tablet OSes killed Windows 8 and Microsoft with it

Analysis: Incomptetent management destroyed the company

2012 Microsoft LogoWindows has failed, PCs are dead, and the misery that is Windows 8 is to blame but why? There is one possibility that occurred to us that no SemiAccurate writer has seen posited yet, tablet OSes.

Lets go over a little history for those new to the game or who read sites that are afraid to lose ads if they point out the emperor has no clothes. That for the record would be most computer related sites, Microsoft spends a lot and that has direct influence on content. Go back and look at the wonderful reviews of Windows 8 especially how the big analyst houses had rosy forecasts, and how everyone with an ounce of common sense saw two trains speeding towards one another. You might want to go back and look at how a site promoted Windows 8 around launch and then retracted it when such abject BS was no longer tenable. Keep it in mind when you read their reviews and analyses, most sites nowadays are directly bought and paid for. Things like CNet’s Best of CES come to mind here.

From before day one SemiAccurate was critical of Windows 8 and Surface, we were the first to point out how serious ‘partner’ enmity was over that disaster was. Windows 8 can not compete in the tablet world for technical reasons, and will never be able to bridge the gap. Partners are in an even worse position, Windows tablets are financially untenable and they know it. With Windows 8, Microsoft has failed. When the numbers came out, they matched our predictions almost to the unit.

Luckily Windows 8.1 was said to fix everything, it would turn sales around. Almost every site with large Microsoft ad contracts agreed, it is much better. SemiAccurate laughed. Windows 8.1 came out and guess what, sales didn’t recover. IDC just released their year end forecast/wrapup for PC sales and their earlier dire predictions were actually a bit too optimistic, -10.1% instead of -9.7% for 2013. Before you sneer at a mere .4%, in a market of ~350 million units a year, that translates to 1.4 million PCs, more than some decent sized OEMs make outright.

Luckily 2014 will be a big turnaround because everyone fishing for Microsoft money is saying so. OK, IDC predicts it will only fall by another 3.8% and even Intel doesn’t even pretend that 2014 will be even much less up. The only company here that even tries to say that things aren’t awful is Microsoft, for some reason they see nothing wrong with a strategy that drove one of the most lucrative markets in the world into an unrecoverable tailspin. For them everything is going just fine, or at least they claim it is.

The main problem is that people HATE Windows 8. Worse yet this isn’t because of some dark conspiracy to slander poor defenseless and completely upstanding Microsoft, people hate Windows 8 because it is a fundamentally awful user experience. Everyone SemiAccurate has put it in front of has ended up buying a Mac or Windows 7 if that is still an option so it should come as no surprise that Apple Mac sales are more or less flat while PC sales are cratering. Coincidence? Microsoft sure says so but we doubt they believe their own PR.

So if Windows 8 is awful, the miracle fix of Windows 8.1 should change things, right? According to those IDC number the release of 8.1 did nothing to stem the bleeding, Surface has shattered a once solid partner ecosystem, and the company still has no Plan B. Why won’t they change? Why don’t they just do Windows 7.1 and call it Windows 9? Anyone with an ounce of common sense would at least give this a try but Microsoft is doubling down on a proven loser. The reason for this intransigence is mobile, phones and tablets.

Microsoft failed in their mobile plans for good reasons, Windows Phone 7 was awful, 7.5/7.8 fixed nothing, and Phone 8 was incompatible so everyone who had given 7.x a chance got burned. Microsoft went from about 12% smartphone marketshare with Windows Phone 6.x to around 2% by the time Phone 8 was triumphantly released. Even with massive subsidies and ad campaigns, Windows Phone is still struggling to get 3% marketshare or so.

Windows tablet numbers are harder to come by mainly because most companies with a stake in the game will count things like two in ones or other form factors in to tablet sales when needed, PC sales when needed there, and both to anyone who doesn’t look closely. Most industry analysts believe the non-Windows tablet market was larger than PCs by unit sales in 2013 but when that crossover occurred and by how much tablets lead is an open question.

That said IDC claims Windows tablets hit 7.5 million units in 2013. If you assume the tablet market is only as large as the PC market, ie 315 million units total in 2013, that would mean Windows has about 2.4% tablet marketshare. If the tablet market is a more realistic 400 million units, the numbers come in a bit below 1.9%. IDC’s prediction for PC sales in 2017 are 305.1 million PC units with 39.3 million or 12.9%, being tablets. Tablets are still growing by massive numbers so we will leave it up to the reader to figure out what they feel is an appropriate number to use for 2017. 400M is 9.9%, 500M is 7.9%, 600M is 6.6% etc.

This is the short way of saying Windows tablets are a dead-end, with a best case scenario of barely double-digit marketshare pushing them is folly. But Microsoft still does. Why? It is complex but at the first sign of weakness from Redmond any ecosystem that is being built around the OS vanishes. Developers have been burned again and again, Phone 7.x, Phone 8.x, Windows 8 managed code, support, ads promises, and much more have left a decimated developer landscape for Windows 8 manged code aka Apps. What is left is pay to play, MS has to walk around with cash in hand to get most apps started and many developers won’t bother even when incentivized. No market is no market even if the development costs are somewhat subsidized.

If you don’t understand how dire this state of affairs is, you might want to think about it long and hard. Microsoft is on the software death spiral already and is holding the line, barely, with buckets of cash. Any sign of weakness on their part and the little software support they can still manage to buy goes away. If you think the state of App support now is laughable, think about what happens if much of even those meager numbers go away. In essence any weakness shown not only means a quick death for any mobile dreams the company harbors, it could mean serious developer defections from Windows proper. Remember the two are one now, losses on one side mean losses on the other. Worse yet most major desktop software needs a mobile version or companion App. If Microsoft has no credible mobile platforms what will they write it for? This is a death spiral for all versions of Windows, mobile will drag the rest down with it.

That is the bind Microsoft is in. Their OS has failed, IDC says it has cratered the mainstream PC market to the tune of about 35 million units this year alone, next year is not looking good, and even their rosy forecast has 2017 down from 2013’s numbers. Tablets, non-Windows tablets that is, are doing a brisk business. Smartphones, non-Windows smartphones that is, are doing a brisk business. Microsoft is steadfastly toeing the line, Intel is cheering them on, and partners are fleeing as fast as they can get Android and Chromebook devices on the market.

Back to the original point of this, tablets. Microsoft has forced a tablet OS on to a PC where it just doesn’t work. They are not allowing OEMs to sell consumer products with Windows 7 even though the OEMs are desperate to do so, business PCs are not subject to the same restrictions in some cases though. The OS is violently awful, there is almost no one that likes it much less prefers it to Android or iOS, and App support for Windows 8.x has still not reached minimally acceptable level more than a year on. There are no signs this state of affairs will radically change in the foreseeable future, every promise by Microsoft in this area have been  inaccurate. Worse still the gap to competitors is measured in orders of magnitude, not unit counts, and Android and iOS are extending that lead every day.

So why did Microsoft miss the boat? Because of the sheer awfulness of Windows 8? No. Because it had, and still has, no Apps? No. It is because Microsoft forced users to choose a tablet OS. Before the death march that is Windows 8 the users could choose between a real OS and a tablet OS, but the real OS option has now been removed. For some reason anyone who had serious work to do chose a real OS, and since Microsoft has a monopoly on PC sales that meant they got Windows. Microsoft sold a lot of Windows, hundreds of millions of copies a year.

Then came Windows 8. It was truly awful at a fundamental level that Windows 8.1, 9, or 10 can’t fix unless Microsoft destroys their faltering mobile ambitions once and for all. They won’t. Keep in mind that is a fundamental design choice that is the very basis of the OS design, not a few features that need polishing. Apps won’t come until the user base comes up and IDC has backed up SemiAccurate’s long-held view that this isn’t going to happen. Note the lack of a qualifier like soon, 2017’s numbers are not close to enough even if IDC’s rosy picture pans out. And in light of this, Microsoft forced current and potential customers, pick a tablet OS, us or them, the choice of a real OS has been completely removed by executive fiat.

Stop for a second and ponder the magnitude of this stupidity, the sheer negligence that has to be rife among Microsoft managers and senior executives to allow this. They knew what they were doing and did it anyway, Microsoft knows what users want and made the conscious choice to not only offer something different but to also deny customers the possibility of getting what they needed to work. Every objective third-party said it would be a disaster but Microsoft carried on. On top of this Microsoft gave users another choice, abandon your current Android/iOS apps, music, movies, knowledge, social links, and devices and come to our OS that doesn’t have any apps, music, movies, inherent knowledge, social links, or devices instead.

Worse yet by forcing the new miserable and counter-intuitive UI on people and not allowing legacy Apps on the new store or on WART/Windows Phone, they quite effectively told people you can’t take anything from your current Windows software catalog and knowledge base with you either. Developers had to recode their entire software base for something that had a vanishingly small marketshare and make something incompatible with the billions of PCs currently in use. For some reason they didn’t. Buyers would have to abandon much of what they had bought for Windows 7 and earlier, some software, some media, habits, and many devices that worked for them and that they liked for something that didn’t have apps, didn’t work well, and was truly unpleasant to use. For some reason buyers are not flocking to Windows any more, just the opposite.

It all comes down to Microsoft. The company is so blindingly mismanaged that it is almost impossible to describe in mere words. Microsoft painted themselves in to a corner knowingly. When it was clear that the Windows 8 master plan had unquestionably failed they simply kept going because the situation they engineered meant all other options were far worse. None of these options can succeed, it is just a quest of how bad the outcome will be and how soon it will happen. The company has knowingly destroyed their rock solid desktop monopoly to chase a dream in a way that had absolutely no chance of succeeding. They had to know this before they started, they may be myopic, single-minded, and stubborn but they aren’t stupid. That said they have still failed.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate