*not to mention they just increased licensing fee 15% – anyone for a short…
Contributed to Forbes By:Anthony Wing Kosner
The departure of Steve Sinofsky so soon after the launch of Windows 8 was not a vote of confidence by the maker of the world’s largest operating system. But is it a sign of Microsoft‘s imminent collapse?
Last week, usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote a devastating critique of Windows 8 on his Alertbox blog. He writes, “One of the worst aspects of Windows 8 for power users is that the product’s very name has become a misnomer. ‘Windows’ no longer supports multiple windows on the screen.… When users can’t view several windows simultaneously, they must keep information from one window in short-term memory while they activate another window. This is problematic for two reasons. First, human short-term memory is notoriously weak, and second, the very task of having to manipulate a window—instead of simply glancing at one that’s already open—further taxes the user’s cognitive resources.”
He goes onto find fault with the “flat” style of the Metro graphics, which he says “reduce discoverability;” the overall low information density and the requirement for horizontal scrolling; the “overly live tiles;” the “hidden charms” which make him scold, “out of sight out of mind;” and the UI that he says is “littered with swipe ambiguity,” and “error-prone gestures.” Ouch! He characterizes Windows 8 UX as “weak on tablets, terrible for PCs.”
Nielsen feels compelled to end his post by stating that he does not “hate Microsoft,” and likes Windows 7 quite a lot. “One doesn’t have to hate or love a company in order to analyze its UI designs.”
Okay, so Microsoft overreached on this one. They’ll fix it for Windows 9, right?
But will it get the chance? I know that sounds extreme, and it never would have occurred to me if I hadn’t read Charlie Demerjian’s piece, “Microsoft Has Failed,” on his SemiAccurate blog. Demerjian lays out a scenario for a precipitous death spiral:
The problem is that if you are locked in with a choice of 100% Microsoft or 0% Microsoft, once someone goes, it isn’t a baby step, they are gone. Once you start using Google Docs and the related suites, you have no need for Office. That means you, or likely your company, saves several hundred dollars a head. No need for Office means no need for Exchange. No need for Exchange means no need for Windows Server. No need for Office means no need for Windows. Once the snowball starts rolling, it picks up speed a frightening pace. And that is where we are. The barriers to exit are now even more potent barriers to entry.
The first thing this reminded me of was Catastrophe Theory, a branch of mathematics developed by René Thom in the 1960′s that describes, “phenomena characterized by sudden shifts in behavior arising from small changes in circumstances, analysing how the qualitative nature of equation solutions depends on the parameters that appear in the equation. This may lead to sudden and dramatic changes, for example the unpredictable timing and magnitude of a landslide.” (See graphic above for an illustration of this principle.)
Demerjian goes on to say that even though Microsoft is willing to pay developers to port applications for Windows 8, the sentiment in the developer community is very negative. The company has taken their 12% share of the mobile phone market and Nokia‘s 30% and rolled it into Windows Phone’s current 2%. Even more damning, analysts are calling for a decline in PC and laptop sales for the holiday season (and Chinese New Year) on the heels of the release of Windows 8. That’s not what’s supposed to happen when there is pent up demand for a new product.
He ends on a note of doom:
In the end, the death spiral for Microsoft is in full effect, and management is expending a lot of effort to speed it up. Anyone who dares point out that the entire system is collapsing, or worse yet suggests an alternative, gets Sinofsky’d. Or was it Guggenheimer’d? In any case, Microsoft is unwilling to change, and that is very clear. Even if they wanted to, they are culturally far beyond the point of being able to. What was a slow bleed of marketshare is now gushing, and management is clueless, intransigent, and myopic. Game over, the thrashing will continue for a bit, but it won’t change the outcome. Microsoft has failed.
I hope this isn’t true. Microsoft has been a stabilizing force in the market and many users are very attached to its products. For the first time, however, businesses can look to Google and to Apple and see plausible, battle-tested alternatives to the products they have used from Microsoft—for much less money. And in a bizarre way, Microsofts spasm of innovation has made the company now a destabilizing factor for IT departments and Google Docs is looking an awful lot like the old guard.
The big question is how fast Microsoft might collapse if businesses began to defect en masse. Like other phenomena of global instability, extreme change seems to come quicker now. For Microsoft, the window is closing fast.