So long and thanks for all the fish: Windows 8 circles the drain

It's been less than two years since Windows 8 was released to the general public. Windows 8 was a bold move by Microsoft, its attempt to create a version of its massively popular operating system that could power multiple types of hardware, enabling the use of touchscreen PCs and tablets while maintaining support for conventional desktop users.


Windows Ocho Screenshot

Windows 8 was all about bringing a single OS to the desktop/tablet party, by offering a hybrid experience that could accommodate keyboards, mice, and fingertips. Windows 8 was the launch pad of Microsoft's strategy to gain some relevance in the mobile computing market, a market dominated by Apple's iPad and iOS, and the multitude of relatively inexpensive tablets running Android.


Now, less than two years and one major update (Windows 8.1) later, it is looking more and more like Windows 8 may be dead in the water.


Windows 8 Adoption Has Stalled


The latest reports from web analytics firm NetMarketShare indicate that Windows 8 adoption, which had been slowly climbing since its debut, has come to a standstill, stalling out at a relatively modest level of market share.


As of the NetMarketShare July 2014 report, Windows 8/8.1 owns 12.48 percent of the desktop OS market share. At its current market share, Windows 8 is the third-most-popular desktop OS overall, a position it achieved in less than two years. This isn't an insignificant achievement.


On the other hand, Windows 8 market share actually dropped between the June 2014 and July 2014 NetMarketShare reports. The slip in Windows 8 market share wasn't large: it only fell from 12.54 percent to 12.48 percent. But this small dip, coming after what were very small gains for Windows 8 in recent months, is a pretty significant red flag. The data suggests that Windows 8 adoption has ground to a halt.


What OS Is Charging Ahead?


While Windows 8 growth has stalled, Windows 7 adoption has increased significantly over the last 10 months. According to NetMarketShare, Windows 7's market share has increased to 51.22 percent over the last 10 months, a 4.83 percent gain in this timeframe. This means that Windows 7 currently accounts for over half of all Windows installations — making Windows 7 the most popular desktop operating system in the world at this time.


If you take Windows XP (which is slowly disappearing, but still hanging in there with about 24 percent market share) out of the picture, the comparison between the three most popular desktop operating systems isn't even close:


  • Windows 7 (51.22 percent)
  • Windows 8 (12.48 percent)
  • Mac OS X 10.9 (4.12 percent)


Why Is This Happening?


Enough articles have been written about Windows 8's shortcomings to create a book on the subject. Users didn't like the replacement of the traditional Start menu with the Start screen. The mix of the Start screen and the Windows desktop was jarring and undesirable. The use of "hot corners" and finger gestures (often of the obscene variety) was poorly documented and confusing. And, the release of the lighter-weight Windows RT, a version of Windows 8 compiled to run on ARM processor-powered devices, confused consumers even more.


The major update release of Windows 8.1 did address several user concerns, but it didn't provide enough of a push to help Windows 8 reach critical mass in the marketplace.


The real truth of the matter, however, is that Windows market share is driven by the enterprise. This is how it has always been: While Microsoft always markets to its home user customer base, the biggest influence on the company's products comes from its big business and government clients.


And, while Microsoft tried to build some compelling enterprise features and office worker magic into the use cases for Windows 8 tablets and convertible laptops, this wasn't enough to encourage companies and government offices (many of them just recently lumbering away from XP and Vista) to leap to Windows 8. Instead, the data suggests that big business and government have widely chosen to deploy Windows 7.


What's Next For Windows?


Microsoft's answer to this question is Windows 9, codenamed "Threshold." While it is expected that there will be continued minor updates to Windows 8, most tech blogs are reporting that the Microsoft OS team has diverted the bulk of its resources to producing the next version of Windows. There are whispers that a preview version of Windows 9 could be made available as early as this Fall, with a target release date in the first half of 2015.


If these Windows 9 reports are accurate, then this reflects a change in thinking at Microsoft. During a similar crisis with Windows Vista, Microsoft seemed more interested in challenging consumers on their dislike of the new OS, than making significant changes to it. As a result, Vista would crash and burn in the marketplace, and Microsoft would have to address the failed OS's issues with the release of Windows 7, which would be marketed as the "people's choice" operating system.


While it's unlikely that Microsoft will completely abandon Windows 8, it is expected that Windows 8 will take a back seat to the development of Windows 9, and to the ongoing support of Windows 7, the current reigning champion of the workplace.


Coming Up: Windows 7 Training Blog


The research done for this article has had an impact on my own personal training goals. Prior to writing this piece, I had begun to put together a study plan in preparation for challenging the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification exams for Windows 8.


Based on the current (and likely final) state of Windows 8 adoption, however, I have changed my plans, and will be preparing for the Windows 7 MCSA exams instead. Windows 7 will be five years old in October 2014, but it remains the most relevant desktop OS to get certified on at this point.


In upcoming weeks, I will be writing a series of blog-like posts about my experiences as I prepare for Microsoft exams 70-680 and 70-685. Specifically, I will look at different exam preparation tools, and how each one contributes to the process of earning a new certification.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Aaron Axline is a freelance technology writer based in Canada.

Aaron Axline is a technology journalist and copywriter based in Edmonton, Canada. He can be found on LinkedIn, and anywhere fine coffee is served.