Forget the horror stories: Windows 8 looks good


(MoneyWatch) It's become fashionable among pundits to write off Microsoft's new (MSFT) Windows 8 platform. Surveys claim that most users don't plan to upgrade to the new operating system and that companies won't flock to it.

But much of the talk comes from a deep misunderstanding about how people and companies approach software upgrades, failing to consider how initial reluctance to use the tech is likely to fade away. Microsoft is betting big on the Windows 8 launch, but this isn't good money after bad.

Ed Bott at sister publication ZDNet points out the fallacy in much of the criticism of Windows 8 in noting that it echoes the cool reception that Microsoft's Windows XP platform received on its debut in 2001. Most of that doom and gloom turned out to be off base -- 11 years after its introduction, XP still has huge market share.

Businesses move slowly

To understand where some "experts" are likely to be wrong in their predictions for Windows 8, start with corporate purchases. It's easy to forget how difficult and time consuming it is for corporations to shift to a new operating system. I often speak with representatives from a range of companies, from small outfits to firms to the largest corporations. Regardless of company size, a common topic is the work necessary to move to Windows 7. Yes, that's 7, not 8.

In short, a company can take years to get around to upgrading its tech platforms. The reasons include the following:

- Any custom software may have to be rewritten to run on a new operating system

- Browser-based applications for employees may depend on older versions of browsers not supported by the latest operating system

- Hardware may not be powerful enough or compatible with the new system, which means an upgrade involves the entire computer

- Corporate IT departments often have far more pressing duties, and a new client operating system rarely offers a significant financial benefit to the company

- The real deadline for a major upgrade is always when the vendor -- typically Microsoft -- officially ends support for an older version of the software

However, Microsoft has never seen immediate upgrade shifts by most corporate clients. It takes time, with later adoptions helping to fill in revenue over the years. Microsoft may be heavily dependent on Windows for driving sales, but it doesn't depend on a single iteration of the software. Expect the usual long uptake by businesses.

Consumers adapt quickly

As for the lack of consumer excitement about Windows 8, just because people say they have no immediate plans to upgrade doesn't mean that they won't wind up using the platform either at work or when they buy a new PC or laptop, as new devices will come equipped with the software. Even with PC unit sales down across the industry, that will still mean a lot of de facto upgrades.

People don't like change, and moving to what seems like a new operating system is part of that. However, people do eventually adapt after a few days with new software.

And some time I recently spent in one of Microsoft's new stores -- this one in upscale Orange County, Calif. Mall -- suggested to me that many people seem intrigued with Windows 8. There are some big changes to the user interface, of course, but most people will adapt relatively quickly.

Then there are the new form-factors available. I tried a number of machines with the operating system, from Ultrabooks that frankly seemed overpriced at $,1200 to the more attractive Microsoft Surface and a light Asus notebook that had a good feel and reasonable price tag. There is a lot that will catch the eye of buyers.

So pay no attention to any predictions that Windows 8 is dead on arrival. Ultimately, the market will make that decision. And remember, even Windows Vista sold a ton of copies, and it was a dog. If it did well commercially, it's hard to see why Windows 8 wouldn't.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.