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More Windows Boredom

So some members of the tech media are talking about the possibilities of Windows Threshold, also known as Windows 9, as a potential salvation for the company. Before you get into the nuts and bolts, this makes sense. Windows 8 and 8.1 were utter failures compared to even Windows Vista. Even reviewers were skeptical, including the ones that usually fawned over every release from Microsoft.

That has to be the unkindest cut of all.

Indeed, even the regular people who had a chance to use the Windows 8 betas were not enamored of the changes, yet Microsoft persevered, evidently hoping that, with extended exposure, the new OS would be a winner.

In passing, I’ve always wondered how this train wreck was allowed to make it to release. Knowing that the PC industry was on the decline, Microsoft should have made doubly sure they had a product that that wouldn’t upset existing Windows users, not an unproven pipe dream. In the face of negative feedback, they might have worked to give the desktop environment more emphasis, and keep the traditional Start menu. Perhaps users would have become accustomed to the interface formerly known as Metro if it was presented as an alternative, not the default.

The fact that Metro or the Modern UI failed on the Zune and Windows Phone should have been a clue that it probably wouldn’t succeed on a traditional PC, particularly in the enterprise where IT people and corporate executives — Microsoft’s biggest customers — aren’t  interested in change for change sake.

True, there appears to be an increase in PC sales of late, particularly in desktop computers, largely as a result of companies replacing older gear in the wake of the end of support for Windows XP. That, however, is a temporary phenomenon. Once the old gear is replaced, sales will likely return to previous levels. It’s important to note that many companies buying new PCs are downgrading to Windows 7. There is no compelling case for Windows 8.1.

With Windows 9, Microsoft is hoping to reverse the trend, and persuade business customers to embrace the new OS. So the desktop environment will be front and center again on desktop computers and note-books that aren’t convertible. There will be a rejiggered Start menu and other features that would seem to be natural outgrowths of Windows 7.

Published reports also mention some sort of Notification Manager setup clearly influenced by OS X. It may be a couple of years late, but it’s good to see Microsoft trying to add some useful features. There may also be improved integration with cloud services, and better power management.

Again, it hardly seems that any of these features are cutting-edge. It’s the usual case of Microsoft trying to imitate features that have already been introduced and perfected on a Mac. This playing catch up scenario, however, is all-too-common with Microsoft, a company notorious for delivering a good enough imitation of someone else’s product, often Apple’s.

Yes, the Modern UI is different, and on a smartphone there may be some value, although customers have yet to give it much support. But it would have been helpful for a reporter with access to Microsoft’s executives to ask the hard questions of why they believed that installing that interface on Windows would somehow attract new customers, or keep old ones. Clearly it was a major misfire.

But doing that is difficult, since reporters may fear the loss of access if they don’t play ball.

From what I read about Windows 9 so far, it does appear Microsoft is trying to reverse the damage caused by Windows 8, at least for those who are thoroughly turned off by the tiled interface and merely want a simple Windows update with the features and interface elements with which they are familiar.

Reverting to a more acceptable environment may not seem as sexy or compelling, but from a business point of view it makes a lot of sense. Don’t forget that, with all the changes wrought by OS X, including Yosemite, Apple has never forgotten what makes a Mac a Mac. As I wrote in one of my early books about OS X, you can take someone accustomed to the original Macs back in the 1980s, introduce them to OS X, and they would understand the fundamentals in short order.

Despite the claims of some that Apple is moving too far into the iOS universe with Yosemite, my personal experience shows otherwise. Without considering the expanded features of Spotlight, for example, I have been able to continue to do all of my work without changing anything. The pointing and clicking achieves the same results despite the flatter, more transparent interface elements and the new system font.

Still, I am somewhat encouraged that Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, seems ready to make big changes. Even trying to restore what was useful in Windows is a good start, though we’ll have to see how Windows 9 works out when there’s an actual public release to evaluate.

Regardless, there’s nothing in what I’ve read about Windows 9 that is destined to excite anyone. But a return to a familiar environment might be enough to reverse at least some of the damage caused by Windows 8.