Windows 8 damaged Microsoft in ways 10 can’t fix

In mid–2013 I needed a new computer. Like many others I chose A MacBook Air instead of a Windows laptop.

It wasn’t my first Apple. In 1984 I bought one of the first 128k Macs. There were others.

Yet for twenty years my work had revolved around Microsoft Windows.

A vote against Windows

So why throw away the skills and software investment?

It came down to three reasons.

First, the 2013 MacBook Air’s all day battery. At the time no other laptop came close to this. With care you could eke out 12 hours. The best Windows laptops of the day could manage, perhaps, six hours. And that’s being generous.

Second, the MacBook Air is light and thin without compromising on the keyboard or touchpad. While many rival 2013 laptops were as light and thin, there were compromises.

Microsoft misstep

The third consideration is more complicated. It wasn’t so much that Windows 8 was an annoying, hard-to-use mess. Although that is true.

It was that Microsoft’s misstep opened the door to alternatives in ways earlier Windows upgrades did not.

Moving from Windows 8 was not going to be a wrench.

At around this time Windows 8.1 arrived. It was another dog’s breakfast. Microsoft doubled down the madness.

Windows 8.1 was meant to fix 8. It changed nothing.

The move from Windows 8 to OS X Mountain Lion proved less jarring than the move from Windows 7 to Windows 8. There was no going back.

There could have been going back.

Surface Pro

In mid–2013, Microsoft’s first Surface Pro was a promising alternative to the MacBook Air.

True, it was underpowered and overpriced. The first Surface models needed expensive add-on keyboards that are fine for casual use, but painful after hours of touch-typing.

Microsoft’s second generation Surface Pro was better. The keyboard wasn’t perfect but was usable.

Had they arrived a few months earlier, a Surface Pro may have graced my desk instead of the MacBook Air.

This may sound contradictory given the earlier comments about Windows 8. There is a simple explanation.

Windows 8 didn’t make sense on a two-year-old desktop computer. Nor did it make sense on a 2013 Ultrabook. Windows 8 was almost as bad on an ordinary 2013 touch screen PC.


You could see what Microsoft was trying to do with Window 8 when you tried it on a Surface.

Windows 8 still wasn’t great. Yet on a Surface it showed occasional glimpses of logic. There were hints of elegance.

As Apple might say; it just works.

Maybe it doesn’t work well as you’d hope. Yet on a device that acts as both a laptop and a tablet Windows 8 was no longer incoherent.

Coherence isn’t the first word that springs to mind with Windows 10. Yet, for the most part, that’s what distinguishes it from Windows 8.

If you’re using Windows 10 on a laptop without a touch screen, you won’t find yourself accidentally dropping into tablet mode. It acts like a laptop operating system.

A laptop operating system that acts like a laptop operating system shouldn’t be a big deal. But that was the problem with Windows 8. It didn’t act like a laptop operating system or a PC operating system.

Apple operating system

When I chose the MacBook, I went to Apple for the hardware and stayed for the software.

It took time to warm to OS X.

The first thing I did after taking my new MacBook Air out of its box was install Windows 7.

For a while the MacBook Air was a Windows laptop. It may have been the best Windows possible laptop of the time. The MacBook was snappier, lighter and had longer battery life than anything that came with Windows installed.

Over time I moved to OS X. It was a revelation. Life was easier, work was easier, everything was easier. My productivity soared.

Robust alternative

OS X, or macOS as it’s now called, isn’t perfect. It has flaws and annoyances. On the plus side it is robust in ways that Windows never was. You can go months without rebooting. Try doing that with Windows 8.

These days a lot of computing takes place in the browser. You can do almost everything there.

That’s the thinking behind the Google Chromebooks. They use a browser as an operating system. With so much software now being delivered as an online service, operating systems take a back seat.

This is an area where Windows will struggle to recapture its greatness. When everything revolved around operating systems, Microsoft called the shots in the computer industry. Apple carved out a niche.

Browsers, clouds

Now the PC action is all in and around the browser and cloud computing. Today’s main battleground is with phone operating systems.

Microsoft is strong in cloud. It has first class cloud apps, but it lost the plot with phones.

You can still get phones that run Windows 10. Almost no-one buys them. Microsoft has little interest in selling Windows Phones. That may undermine other parts of the business.


In contrast Apple not only has the popular iPhone, but has found ways to integrate the iPhone with its laptop operating system.

It feels like magic when an incoming iPhone call gets the Apple Watch tapping your wrist and a notification appears on the MacBook. You can answer the call or respond to a text message on any of these devices. They act as a coordinated team.

Windows 10 fixes a lot of the Windows 8 problems. It’s the operating system Microsoft should have had in 2013.

The damage from a failed version will echo down the years at Microsoft. And elsewhere. While it isn’t the reason why PC sales plummeted in recent years, the Windows 8 debacle did not help.

Big numbers

Last month Microsoft trumpet that 400 million computers now run Windows 10. It’s an achievement. But let’s not forget in most cases Microsoft gave the software away.

Today it costs more than $100 for an everyday user to buy a Windows 10 upgrade. At that price Microsoft missed $40 billion in revenue.

It’s not just the money. Nor is it the loss of prestige or the distraction. There’s also a loss of momentum. Above all these, there’s the dawning realisation that Windows is no longer centre stage.

Nothing is going to fix that.

This story was first posted at

3 thoughts on “Windows 8 damaged Microsoft in ways 10 can’t fix

  1. So I switched for non-Windows 8 reasons Bill, but kind of like you — hardware. I travel frequently and I got sick of lugging 3.5kg of laptop around the world. At the time I ended up buying my 13″ Macbook Pro there were two Windows-based contenders – one from Samsung, and one from Sony. However both of these companies sold unspeakably crippled machines in the Asia Pacific Region compared to what could be bought in the US. SSDs that were no bigger than 256GB, fixed 4GB RAM, no choice of CPU, and lower resolution than the Retina (Samsung demonstrated a Note 9 model that never eventuated which would have been comparable). The Macbook has a high-end core i7, 16GB of RAM and the largest SSD of the time (512GB). It genuinely was the only machine available in NZ with these specs. And.. I was going to use it to run Windows 7. However, our IT elves decided that it was a travesty to set up such a nice machine with Windows and so they made sure it was unusable (about 1/3 of the hardware didn’t function correctly). I gave up, found OS X pretty much let me do the same things. I didn’t (and still don’t) like the Mac versions of Office, so I bought Parallels. I’m no longer much of a Windows developer, but again under Parallels I can run Visual Studio when I have to. And so when it came time to replace the desktop at work I switched that to an iMac as well. I have some machines at home that run Windows 10. It seems fine – or at least not a downgrade from Win 7. Would I go back – well unless Apple decides to upgrade its line sometime in the next 6 months I might but I think I’d miss a lot of what I’ve gotten used to on the Mac.


    • Ah… the Mac version of Microsoft Word. Best not to get me started on that…

      And yes, Parallels is impressive, but it feels wrong to pay another NZ$100 or so just to make Word behave.


  2. Sadly Bill Gates was the brains behind Microsoft and once he stepped aside factions with in the company caused Microsoft to lose direction. I’ve got Windows 10 on my trusty HP of 2011 vintage but it is my secondary OS. I use Ubuntu 16.04.1 as my primary OS… It just works better. It wakes from sleep to using an application in a snap whereas Win 10 takes several minutes to get through all the background maintenance and begin to run smoothly. I have an iPhone SE now because there are zero decent Windows phones available. It’s quite possible that I could move to a Macbook once the old HP snuffs it.

    Liked by 1 person

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