Word that Windows 8 isn't selling well is probably only surprising to the people that have bought Windows 8 devices so far, because in enterprises around the world the OS has barely gotten any attention other than by the same tortured souls that tried to run Vista. Many sources this week have made mention of the fact that, due to especially lackluster sales, Microsoft may dial back the radical "features" of Windows 8 to make it more broadly acceptable and boost sales. This is, in large part, to boost consumer sales in the PC and laptop sectors that are losing market share to tablets, but it should also bolster enterprise adoption.
According to The Guardian, PC sales have dropped 14% this quarter, despite Microsoft touting how they've sold 100 million copies of the OS. Of course, the majority of those licenses have no doubt gone to unassuming consumers or to enterprises that are immediately downgrading them to Windows 7. Microsoft and, more specifically, former Windows head Steven Sinofsky are catching the blame for the decline of PC sales, and that may not be too far out of line.
What can we expect if Windows 8 executes what Financial Times is calling a "U-Turn?" (or what others have likened to New Coke)? I've written before that Windows 8 is, at its core, still Windows. It's managed the same way as past versions, and it can run all the same applications. Frankly, without Metro and other visual changes, it's probably not much more than a huge service pack for Windows 7. There has been some evidence, however, that Microsoft has re-worked the file system performance such that using Windows 8 in VDI environments allows for better performance and/or higher density. The bottom line: If Microsoft "fixes" Windows 8 and makes it more like the old days, enterprises would probably deploy it by the pallet (or VDI host).
All of this talk, by the way, is coming from a separate vector than the talk of Windows "Blue," which is the codename for the forthcoming update to Windows 8. They could be related, but most of the talk of Blue was centered on killing off the desktop mode entirely. Based on this information, the opposite might be true. It seems like conflicting reports on what Microsoft is up to is the only thing we can ever really count anymore.
So what's likely to change if these latest rumblings prove correct? First and foremost, I wouldn't expect much, if anything to change on tablet-only devices. If Windows 8 was designed with anything in mind, it was for that specific use case (touch-based, with some legacy Windows apps). In fact, Windows 8 in that situation is rather pleasant to use. The problem, as Dan Shappir put so well on twitter, is that it wasn't made for a 24" monitor on your desk.
@gabeknuth also, I actually really like Metro on Surface (WinRT). The mistake IMO is forcing the same interface on desktop with 24" monitor— Dan Shappir (@DanShappir) May 8, 2013
To accommodate those 24" monitors on desktops (and regular laptops, for that matter), expect to see the Start menu come back. It's the least Microsoft could do to soften the blow. It should be a configurable option, though–perhaps even automatically set based on device type. Tablets would get Metro, Desktops would get the traditional interface, and laptops/convertibles could have an easily accesible option to toggle between the two.
The Start menu isn't the only frustrating aspect of Windows 8, though. The way Metro (or TileWorld, or the Windows 8 interface) integrates with the desktop side of the OS is atrocious. Microsoft can do a lot to either wall one off from the other or to integrate them together in a more intuitive way. IE favorites could persist between modes, for instance, and opening a PDF in the desktop should open a viewer on the desktop instead of in Metro. If something does cross modes to execute, there should be a trail of breadcrumbs to return the user to where they started rather than leaving them stranded in unfamiliar territory.
The search functionality in Metro is actually pretty cool once you realize that it's context-aware. When you're in an application and start searching for something that should be in the control panel, it takes a moment to realize what is going on. I'm an IT guy, and this still frustrates me. Imagine an end user trying to navigate that minefield.
While we're at it, it would be nice to see some education on the gestures, or the ability to use them as a shortcut while giving people something to actually click on to do the same task. Closing applications, switching between them, and docking them in areas of the Metro screen could also use some attention. Solutions could be placing an X back in the corner, and some sort of layout/dashboard feature that let's you see all the apps and arrange them however you'd like.
I'm sure there are many more solutions that people can come up with (even more sweeping things like a different OS for tablets altogether). The important thing is that it appears Microsoft is ready to atone for the problems they've created. Of course, our bellyaching isn't what caused it so much as the aftershocks that continue to rattle throughout the PC industry, but we'll take it any way we can get it. They may have a way to go to win back consumers, especially those that have tried to get to Windows 8 and have a bad taste in their mouth. If I were Microsoft, I might even consider calling it Windows 9 to get away from the bad connotations surrounding 8. For enterprises, though, this could be just the thing to keep Microsoft and Windows in the discussion for a longer period of time.