October 9, 2012, perhaps emboldened by a few tasty beverages, I went on a bit of a rant on Twitter:
11:45 PM Apparently tip-toeing around it isn’t enough so I’ll just come out and say it: Windows 8 is going to be a shitshow.
11:46 PM One man’s opinion perhaps, but it’s not really. I’ve talked to a lot of folks on both sides and as we get closer I’m much more confident.
11:46 PM Total. Shitshow. Just wait.
11:48 PM Huge install base yes. But that will actually make it worse.
11:49 PM If you work for Microsoft or make a living off of Microsoft you can respond and that’s fine. But it does not change the very real reality.
11:50 PM It’s time to get your shit in order. Learn to code for mobile. The Titanic is sinking and you’re on it.
11:51 PM Okay, I’ve said what I needed to say. Feel free to reference later. But I’m quite sure I’m dead on here.
This was a little more than two weeks before Microsoft would unleash Windows 8 to the public. As you might expect, the reaction from the Microsoft die-hards at the time was outrage.
So you’ll imagine my amusement when I loaded Techmeme this weekend and found the top story to contain a bunch of information about something called “Threshold”, aka: Windows 9. But even more interesting were the blurbs contained in the story by Paul Thurrott: 1
But Threshold is more important than any specific updates. Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That’s a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.
To distance itself from the Windows 8 debacle, Microsoft is currently planning to drop the Windows 8 name and brand this next release as Windows 9. That could change, but that’s the current thinking.
In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.
I’m of course interested in tooting my own horn here. But I’m even more interested in questioning how some folks didn’t see this coming — particularly those within Microsoft. As much credit as I’d like to give myself (see: above), I think the writing was pretty clearly on the wall here. And yet no one within the company said anything?
I understand that there are few businesses out there with higher stakes than the Windows business for Microsoft. And on one hand, you have to give them credit for trying something a little different. But all they had to do was talk to a handful of developers and/or users who were testing early builds of the product — as I did — to know that it was going to be a total shitshow.
Instead, they shipped.
And so I wonder if it’s worth renewing a call for every large company to have some sort of SVP of Devil’s Advocacy. To be the “no” man in a sea of “yes” men. I know that such a role wouldn’t alleviate all fuck ups, but perhaps it would save a few companies a few billion dollars here or there.