Everybody is talking about the new Windows 8 operating system, which is due out next fall. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is trying to conquer a share of the smartphone and tablet market and to that end is introducing the new Metro interface which is supposedly tailored with the mobile user in mind.
The problem with Windows 8 is that Microsoft's new OS will be shipped and pre-installed on desktop and laptops alike; while the new Metro environment may look cool, users who care more about efficiency and productivity are probably going to be disappointed; I tried the consumer preview on a friend's PC and as soon as I began using it I felt helpless, like a fish out of water, as I was being forced to use a touch-based user interface on a system that uses traditional keyboard and mouse input devices. The start button is gone and, even worse, you cannot disable the Metro interface and revert to the classic desktop; unless the developers change their mind before the official release, I guess that users that prefer the old interface will be required to install some third-party advertising-supported rubbish to get back the environment they were comfortable with.
Microsoft has dominated for two decades the desktop and laptop market, and this thanks to a simple and conservative design, backward compatibility, long term support and consistency.
With Windows 8 Microsoft is taking a gamble, where at stake is its loyal user base, in an attempt to get a slice of the mobile market, where competition is fierce - namely Android and iOS - and profit margins are thinner. It is as if Harley Davidson (NYSE:HOG) suddenly decided to discontinue its legendary V-Twin engine and began equipping its choppers with hybrid eco-friendly engines because going green is the new fad. Call it corporate hara-kiri.
The new OS may work great if most of your computing activities are about updating your status on Facebook or checking the weather forecast, but I doubt that business users (engineers, doctors, architects, etc.), small offices and knowledgeable home users will rush to get Win 8 to run the latest cool app.
Moreover, the new metro interface may disappoint tablet and smartphone users as well, because when you want to use Windows Explorer or the Control Panel the new look just disappears and you're presented with the usual windows 7 interface; I wonder how you can efficiently manage files and tweak settings on a mobile device when you can barely see the icons.
This video also gives you an idea of the hassle average-Joe will go through when he uses the new interface for the first time. The man in the video ends by saying "Are they trying to drive me to Mac?". It may turn out Microsoft is doing its old rival Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) a favor by scaring away its customers from the desktop market.
It is as though Microsoft is once again confirming the theory that when they have a good OS out, you should skip the next. Win 98 was good, Win Millennium Edition was bad; Win XP was good and Vista was a fiasco. Now Win 7 is probably the best Microsoft OS to date and Win 8, in its current form, has all it takes to become the next flop.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.