The Windows 8 developer preview is out, and early reports indicate that Microsoft has taken a dramatic turn in its latest version of the Windows operating system. While some are impressed with the Metro interface, vastly improved touchscreen functionality, and overall new look, others are cautious about how these new changes will impact traditional users. In my case, I’m a recent switcher who would be glad to switch back from OS X to Windows if Microsoft made some changes to how things are done. Here are five ways Microsoft can win back switchers.
Batten Down the Hatches
One of the charms of the Windows operating system is how open it is. While not nearly as open as Linux, Windows gives developers a great deal of leeway in terms of inherent abilities, and that could be a very good thing. The problem with this is, Windows is built to support millions of different possible hardware and software configurations. This creates an incredibly large area for fault, often resulting in unpredictable bugs occurring. I remember various programs (like Adobe Audition) becoming unresponsive under one version of the OS because of various patches or hardware incompatibilities with the software. This became a common occurrence, especially when using large productivity software that attempted to make the most out of any hardware configuration.
Concentrate on User Experience
User experience should be the primary focus of any consumer-grade operating system. Several Linux distributions are notoriously difficult to work with, and that’s because they are focused at IT professionals who have enough of a grasp of the technology to control every aspect of their experience themselves. Windows shouldn’t operate like this, at least, not by default. Making things easier for everyday users means less money spent on support services, and more sales to everyday people. One of the main reasons I recommend OS X over Windows to people is because I don’t want to have to keep supporting their use of the system every time they want to install something new.
One big step Microsoft is supposedly taking to make the user experience more enjoyable is by creating a program market where users can easily purchase, install, and update their programs. This has worked remarkably well on both Linux and OS X, and could be one of the biggest and most welcome changes to Windows. Whether developers decide to take part in the market is yet to be determined, but I have a feeling it would be in their best interest to do so.
Offer Less Choices
Seriously Microsoft, it’s time to stop with the extreme price differences between different versions of your operating system. Yes, you deserve to be paid a significant amount for your research and development time, but locking down built-in drive encryption and remote access to customers who spend a few hundred dollars more is ridiculous. If you want to significantly increase your retail upgrade sales, lower the price of your software. You’ll make it up in volume, as long as the upgrades are significant enough to drive customers your way. Take a note from Apple: people can’t spend their money fast enough if the price is reasonable.
Providing one version of your OS for all users, without making them break the bank to purchase your software, would inspire many of them to upgrade to the latest version without putting it off until they need a new computer (which may be five years down the line in most cases).
Play to Your Strengths
Windows has always been the best operating system for PC gamers and business professionals. Rather than pushing its users toward a console solution, Microsoft could easily leverage its PC gaming market share as well. Create an environment where Xbox 360 and PC gamers can share the same gaming space. A few games have accomplished this, but creating an easy platform for developers to seamlessly integrate these two gaming worlds into a shared space would be an excellent step.
As stated before, Windows is also the largest platform for software developers. Staying true to the old motto “developers, developers, developers, developers,” coined by Steve Ballmer years ago, is key. Promote good software, and provide an easy platform for users to find and recommend this software to friends.
Windows is a strong desktop operating system, and Windows 7 was a great improvement on what was a disappointing release in Vista. Catering to the tablet world doesn’t mean putting the same OS on both platforms and hoping for the best. Windows failed on the tablet market in the past and if any of the successes and failures of the past three years have taught us anything, it’s that tablets deserve to run on a mobile OS. Apple’s iOS was a smash hit on smartphones, and was designed to step seamlessly into the tablet market.
The same can be said for Android, which required some tinkering before it really flowed nicely on a tablet platform. Putting a desktop operating system on a tablet and giving it a different UI isn’t playing to the strengths of Windows Phone 7 — possibly one of the most promising mobile platforms Microsoft has ever created.