Back in January, Microsoft announced that it had sold 60 million Windows 8 licenses. But it seems that the majority of these licenses were sold to PC makers and have yet to be loaded onto system and sold to the public. More than four months after its release, Windows 8 is seeing very slow adoption amongst users.
Why is this, and what could Microsoft do to make the operating system more attractive to consumers?
Lower the License Price
Microsoft is slow to adapt to changing times. Have you noticed that Linux is free, Android is free, and OS X is cheap, while Microsoft continues to charge big money for Windows, even when it is selling an upgrade? This is because Microsoft's business model continues to revolve around selling software, while many others have moved on to selling products that combine software and hardware. A system builder copy of Windows 8 Professional will set you back over $130, even when discounted on Amazon. Compare this to a Kindle Fire, which only costs $159, or a Kindle Fire HD, which starts at $299.
Even compared to its closest rival, Windows comes across as pricey, especially when it comes to upgrades. Apple's OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion upgrade had a price tag of only $20. Compare this to a retail upgrade copy of Windows 8 Professional, which has a recommended retail price tag of $199, and even when highly discounted on Amazon, it is still only a few bucks less than $100.
Windows is expensive. Very expensive. Too expensive.
Give People a Reason to Want Touch
Touch is at the core of Windows 8. It's the reason Microsoft dumped the Start Menu in favor of the Start Screen.
So if touch is so important, give people a reason to want it.
Sources I've spoken to at both Microsoft and hardware makers are all pointing fingers at the other side, claiming that they need to do something to educate users about touch. Microsoft believes that this is the job of the hardware makers because they have the most to gain or lose, while the hardware makers think that it's Microsoft's job because it was Redmond that wanted to change Windows to make it work across all platforms.
Whoever ends up picking up the tab, education is surely needed. I've spoken to countless people who don't have a clue about the benefits that touch offers or why they should care about it. And some are so confused that they believe that you can't use a mouse on Windows 8 and that all hardware has to be touch-enabled.
There's a lot of confusion out there, and that's not good for sales.
Lower the Price of Windows 8 Hardware
PCs are cheap. But if you add a touchscreen to them, all of a sudden the price rockets stratospherically. Partly this is due to the expense of touchscreen panels, but it doesn't help that the hardware makers see touch systems as 'premium,' and as such, are padding the price out accordingly.
Microsoft has a lot of clout with hardware makers, and it should work to bring down the price of touch hardware. A simple way for Microsoft to do this would be to cut the price it charges for Windows licenses for touch-enabled machines. Microsoft is rumored to pull in some $70 to $100 per Windows PC from the hardware makers, so there's plenty of wriggle room here.
Apps, Apps, Apps!
One of the primary drivers for iOS and Android has been apps. People love apps, and they can't seem to get enough of them.
Microsoft has built an app store into Windows 8, but in order to get compelling apps into that app store, it needs to convince developers that people are buying Windows 8 hardware and that there are eyes on the app store. Developers are wary of supporting new operating systems and platform, instead choosing to go for quick and easy targets — iOS and Android.
Microsoft needs to encourage developers to write compelling apps for Windows 8. There are two ways Microsoft could do this.
First, it could get Windows 8 hardware into the hands of as many people as possible. The more people are using Windows 8 hardware, the more eyes are on the app store, and the more confidence this gives developers that Windows 8 is a serious platform.
Second, it could give developers incentives. Currently, Microsoft takes a cut of around 30 percent for sales through the app store. Cutting this would mean more revenue in the pockets of developers.
Bring Back the Start Menu and Desktop
The biggest complaint leveled at Windows 8 focuses on the touch elements of the user interface. While Windows 8 is an awesome operating system on devices such as ultrabooks and tablets, it's not as good on regular desktops and notebooks driven by keyboards and mice. In fact, it's so bad that usability experts at Nielsen called it "a monster that terrorizes poor office workers and strangles their productivity."
This is something that Microsoft can't ignore. The easiest way that Microsoft could address these concerns is to bring back the old interface — specifically the Start Menu and desktop — for people who are using traditional hardware.
The best time for Microsoft to reintroduce the old user interface elements back into Windows 8 is when it releases the first service pack for the operating system. This would eliminate much of the resistance to the new operating system and allow people who want to use Windows 8 like earlier versions of Windows the opportunity to do so.
The new interface presents a significant learning curve for users. And for people who aren't on touch hardware, this is wasted time that would be better spent using the PC rather than learning how to work around the new interface.
Whenever I write about Windows 8, I feel conflicted. On a tablet or ultrabook, I feel that Windows 8 is modern, refreshing, and easy to use. But take the same operating system and install it on a desktop or notebook, and the interface that I loved suddenly feels like a massive drag on productivity.
And then you stop and realize that you are paying for this drop in productivity, and you can't help but feel angry at Microsoft for breaking the Windows that I had come to know and love — not to mention rely on daily.
I want to love Windows 8, and I want others to love it too. Microsoft has a chance to follow its touch aspirations and make an operating system that works on non-touch systems. All it needs to do is give users a choice. Combine this with cutting the price a little and getting compelling apps into the app store, and I feel that I could learn to love Windows 8 again.