Release after release, Microsoft pushes Windows forward. Yet the operating system is continually undermined by the “value-focused” low-end machines pushed by the majority of OEMs. This race to the bottom has tarnished Windows for a decade and now threatens to derail Windows 8. Microsoft must do something to stop the crap before it’s too late!
Attack of the Craptops
The Windows PC market is a scary place. Consumers are bombarded by “latest-technology” hype and meaningless specs. Walk into a typical PC store and you’ll see rows of flashy laptops surrounded by stickers and signs breathlessly proclaiming features you’ve never heard of. And everything is available for low, low prices that make the Apple Store seem like a complete ripoff.
As Paul Thurrott noted yesterday, the latest Best Buy circular says it all: “Upgrade to the latest technology”, the headline reads. The Toshiba Satellite notebook directly under this headline lists for just $369.99. Unsurprisingly, it’s an outdated piece of crap. Sure, the AMD Trinity “APU” (combo CPU and graphics processor) is fairly recent, but it’s not as good as Intel’s low-end offering. And a 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drive and 4 GB of RAM? No thanks!
So what’s so “latest technology” about that Toshiba notebook? Windows 8, that’s what. But that Toshiba and its ilk aren’t going to offer a good Windows 8 experience because they lack a touch screen, have limited RAM, and use a slow hard disk drive. There’s nothing “latest technology” about most of the PCs you can buy off the shelf at places like Best Buy!
Not Enjoying Windows 8
At Dell World, I tried out Windows 8 with a touch screen and it was a revelation. Suddenly the bizarre
Metro tiled “start screen” made sense! Once I learned how to switch windows and tasks, I was impressed by the smooth animation and innovation in that interface. A convertible tablet like the Dell XPS 12 really does right by Windows 8!
It brought to mind my MVP trips to the Microsoft campus, where it seems every employee has a convertible tablet with a touch screen. I was also reminded of my time putting a Surface RT tablet through its paces. The “Metro” Windows 8 experience really is enjoyable, productive, and innovative!
Unfortunately, Windows 8 is let down by two body blows:
- Switch back to the old desktop or use a non-Metro application like Office and you’re going to be frustrated with the touch screen input method. You’ll be glad you can convert your XPS 12 back into a laptop or snap a touch cover on your Surface tablet! Your Windows 8 touch experience is continually frustrated by the flood of old fashioned and plain non-compliant applications!
- A bigger issue for the mass market is the fact that the vast majority of PCs are fatally under-equipped to deliver on the promise of Windows 8. Sluggish I/O from old fashioned hard disk drives, bare-minimum RAM, and slow CPUs and graphics chips are bad enough. But using Windows 8 with a touchpad really doesn’t come near the experience on a touch-screen device!
These two factors combine to ruin the Windows 8 experience for most buyers. Even if Microsoft gets their marketing message across, drumming up some excitement among customers, the vast majority of Windows 8 PCs on offer are a disappointment.
Kill the Craptop
Microsoft should take matters into their own hands. OEMs are locked in a race to the bottom, and big box retailers are playing along. Microsoft must put a stop to it, but it might already be too late!
The craptop/netbook factor is already strangling the Windows PC market. Most consumers really don’t like Windows anymore, believing it’s a bloated mess since it runs so poorly on the “latest technology” PC they just bought for under $500.
Picking up a good Apple or Android smartphone or tablet seals the deal. An iPad or Nexus 7 runs smoothly all day on battery power and does 90% of what consumers want. Microsoft’s own Surface puts the average PC to shame, too! Consumers will eventually give up on PCs if they’re not compelling. And that spells doom for Microsoft!
The “Touch-Only” Option
Microsoft should cut off low-end devices and require a touchscreen for Windows 8. They should also demand a decent amount of RAM, a fast CPU and GPU, and all-SSD storage. This is pretty drastic, but it would place a stake in the ground, at least where laptops are concerned.
The OEMs would freak out, but this would be in their best interest, too! Not only can they escape the low-margin craptop game, they can improve customer satisfaction and salvage the laptop PC market.
Dell, HP, and the rest are perfectly capable of producing quality machines, but there’s no market for them right now. By requiring decent hardware to get the latest and greatest operating system, PC buyers would finally have access to the good stuff. They’d learn that Apple’s MacBooks aren’t magical after all!
But what about the desktop? As Ed Bott notes, multi-touch trackpads are acceptable with touch-enabled Windows, but the wow factor is seriously diminished. And my imaginary all-touch no-desktop Windows Touch wouldn’t be a great fit on the desktop or the server. So I guess this leads to another idea.
The “Split Windows” Option
This probably wouldn’t fly, since it would instantly double prices and would leave desktops and upgraders in the lurch. So this leaves another less-drastic choice: Microsoft should split “Windows Touch” from “Windows Classic” and let the market decide.
- Windows Touch would be all “Metro” squares and touch applications. The Office team could port their iOS app to Windows rather than the other way around. And there would be no desktop or classic application compatibility. Windows Touch would run on ARM or Intel with fat binaries or an all-app store ecosystem. Imagine the iPad of laptops and convertibles!
- Windows Classic would ditch the tiles and continue with a hands-off desktop, keyboard and mouse metaphor. Continue to support craptops, netbooks, and desktops but make it clear that this is the past and Touch is the future. This would be the default OS for Windows Server, too, since Metro makes no sense at all in the datacenter.
The biggest issue with a “Touch versus Classic” battle is that consumers would likely opt for the cheaper path and sink the whole thing anyway. Sure, that Dell XPS convertible with Windows Touch looks awesome, but you can buy two or three Dell Inspiron laptops with Windows Classic for the same money!
It’s a rare company indeed that is willing to sweep away the past and move into the future, and this is rarer still in the computer industry. Apple has done this repeatedly but at less risk; after all, no one cared if they went under! I can’t imagine Microsoft taking my advice and killing off the low-end crap, since it would nuke most of the PC market at the same time. I could imagine a “Split Windows” future, but it’s destined to fail. So goes the market, and so goes Windows.