Like many Colorado State University students (and customers in general), I feel that Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 8, is a disaster. This would be good news to Apple users like myself, but as a business minor, I have a certain interest in free market capitalism and competition therein. Therefore, I’d like to share my views on what I think is wrong with Windows 8 and how to fix it.
1. One size does not fit all. Microsoft was late to Apple and Google’s mobile device party, so they tried to catch up by having Windows 8 run on smartphones, tablets and computers. The problem is that a touch interface and a computer with a mouse and keyboard have different strengths. Apple grasped this and made two OS’s: OS X for Mac, which is designed for a mouse, and iOS for iPhones and iPads, which are designed for touch. I’m not saying that Microsoft should copy Apple, but recognizing why Apple’s strategy worked and theirs didn’t will do them huge favors going forward.
2. Be the same, but different. Microsoft needs to appeal to two crucial markets: longtime PC users and the new mobile market. Windows 8 looks fancy, but does neither. It alienates Windows 7 users who suddenly lost access to the Start Menu and can’t change it back, yet scares off the mobile market with awkward gestures and a dearth of apps. Windows for PCs and mobile can be similar, but they should be optimized for their respective platforms. Microsoft would do well to recall how Google broke into the mobile market: while their operating system, Android, has distinct differences from its competition, it was familiar enough to appeal to a large user base. And even if people didn’t like it, Android is as customizable as an OS can be.
3. Stop trying to be Apple. Yes, Apple’s profit margins are incredible lately. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean Microsoft should try and be Apple. Apple wasn’t always on top anyway; in the 90s, Microsoft reigned because no matter what you bought, they got a cut. You either bought a Mac with Microsoft Office, or you bought a PC with Windows and Office. If Microsoft can provide outstanding software solutions for every platform, they could tip the balance of power in their favor.
4. Branding is key. Microsoft needs to implement these things and use it to reinvent their image. I know Apple fans and Google fans, but not many Microsoft fans, probably because Microsoft doesn’t know how to listen to customers. For example, when people said they disliked Windows 8’s tiled Start Screen on their desktop, favoring Windows 7’s classic Start Button and Menu, they put the Button back on… But it still leads to the (in)famous tiles in place of the menu. Instead of giving people what they want with Windows 8, they seem intent on convincing people it’s great through advertising. Does it make Microsoft come across as competent, or just desperate?
Microsoft doesn’t have to be Apple and make both hardware and software (like the Surface), nor do they have to be Google and make search engines (like Bing). Judging by how both products underperformed, they shouldn’t try to be their competitors, either. They need to be the best Microsoft they can be. The whole market — including us Apple fans — would appreciate it.
Collegian Columnist Dan Rice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanRiceman