Three years ago, I was working at Microsoft to ensure that the security response process didn’t get in the way of the Windows 7 launch. Despite some white-knuckle moments, the launch went off without a hitch and Windows 7 has gone on to be the most popular version of Windows since Windows XP.

With the launch of Windows 8 though, I’m not with Microsoft anymore, and more has changed than just my lack of a blue badge. The tech world of fall 2012 is a much different one than in fall 2009 and nearly unrecognizable compared to fall 2001.

You can see these changes in the coverage and predictions around the Windows 8 launch. There’s no shortage of people calling this a “make or break” release, predicting disaster or likening October 26, 2012, to Microsoft’s Waterloo: a guarantor of ultimate success or abject failure. Whether or not you agree, the view that this release is a true existential challenge to Microsoft is a very different one, compared to the tenor around the launch of Windows XP in 2001 or even Windows 7 in 2009.

Naturally, Microsoft and its supporters are “super excited” about this release. They exude nothing but confidence in their vision of a new look and feel of Windows on desktops, tablets, and phones. And certainly, if the justification of confidence is meeting great challenges with boldness, they have reason to be confident. Whether or not you think the new direction is wise, you can’t argue that they’ve met these latest challenges by simply turning the crank and making a new version that is nearly indistinguishable from the last.

In fact, there is an irony that so much of the criticism of Windows 8 is centered on the “look and feel” because that was the root of Apple’s suit against Microsoft over Windows 2.0 and Windows 3.0 back in the 1990’s. Back then, Microsoft was criticized for being unoriginal and copying Apple’s innovations. Now, it’s being criticized for being too radical. Incidentally, the beautiful twist in this is that Apple recently used a Windows Phone as an example of someone NOT copying them in their patent suit against Samsung. How things change.

I would argue, though, all these predictions of large scale failure or success are misguided. We all like stories and Microsoft has been at the center of larger-than-life narratives, both of its own telling and by others’ accounts, for decades now. But these tales obscure the reality that is less dramatic and more complex.

No matter how badly Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 might do, Microsoft isn’t going to disappear. Even IBM — whose rise and fall many gleefully use as a roadmap for Microsoft these days — survived, adapted, and is doing well today. Microsoft is more than Windows, Windows Phone and even Office. There are products like Dynamics, Windows Server, SQL Server, and Exchange that quietly succeed year over year. If you take those products, Microsoft’s cash on hand, and legacy sales (meaning sales to customers who can’t afford to be on the leading edge), there’s no chance of Microsoft disappearing any time soon. In a worst-case scenario, the stock may languish and there may be unprecedented layoffs, but there will still be a Microsoft.

However, no matter how wildly successful Windows 8 and Windows Phone might be, the world has already changed. The success of Apple, Google, Amazon, and Samsung in the phone and device space since Windows 7 came out has changed the landscape permanently. These companies did in three years what United States v. Microsoft couldn’t do in more than ten years: they brought diversity and broke the dominance of a single vendor. In the end, we’re all better off for this and we’re seeing again from these companies, as well as from Microsoft, that competitive scrappiness that drives innovation and benefits customers. This shows how the market is much more effective than regulation and antitrust enforcement at remedying imbalances in the technology space — something to think about as Google is looking more and more like the Microsoft of the mid-1990’s.

It turns out that it’s not the Windows 8 launch that’s critical, it was the Windows 7 launch that was: we just didn’t know it at the time. Windows 7 was too much of a “turn the crank” version and left openings, especially with regard to devices. That created the opening that others have been able to successfully exploit these past three years to gain footholds that won’t go away.

Yes, Windows 8 is important and a big change. But it’s not so much a “make or break” moment as an adjustment and adaptation to a new business reality that’s already there. As such, the results, whether a success or failure, will be much less spectacular than people would have you believe. There will be a Microsoft a few years from now. There will be another version of Windows, too. It will likely look more like Windows 8 does than Windows 8 looks like Windows 7 because the big shift has already happened. We’ve been living in the new normal for a couple of years now; we just didn’t know it.

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  • Paul Murphy

    that’s just not true. what’s changed is with the rise of mobile, the ecosystem is more fickle then ever. what’s popular today can be gone tomorrow – no incumbent of any space can rest on their market share anymore.

  • Tim Acheson

    This article began like a case study in subtle anti-Microsoft propaganda, lovingly crafted by a disgruntled former employee. The author unintentionally reveals himself as a text-book passive-aggressive, desperately uncomfortable with the notion of continued success at the company in his absence. However, the article offers some genuine insights.

  • Tim Acheson

    “Yes, Windows 8 is important and a big change. But it’s not so much a “make or break” moment”

    This is self-evidently true, to anybody with even the most shallow knowledge of Microsoft — a highly diverse and successful company, albeit a business which does not shove its self in our faces the way Apple does.

    Even if Windows 8 fails, it was no big deal and it was worth a try. Vista was a failure, and the subsequent version, Windows 7, went on to become the fastest-selling OS of all time. If Windows 8 fails, the next version may not. If you look under the hood, Windows 8 is not as different from traditional Windows as it seems based on the UI. The UI is only skin-deep. Underneath is a fundamentally similar yet much improved OS which can easily evolve again and perhaps even take on a radically new UI in the future.

    Windows will always be a victim of its own success. A Windows XP PC from a decade ago is still as useful now as it was then, so there’s no pressing need to upgrade.

    • Jason Hanson

      Yes but it took a few years to arise from the Vista debacle and come out with Win 7. Given users could easily opt back into XP, it was more a loss for MS not consumer…problem is, with this..users have nothing to opt back into. Would have to wait for them to fix or correct or add to…and having bought a $499 ($629 if you get the keyboard cover) product that doesn’t work or is frustrating to use….you tend to return it if possible or lose even more confidence and go elsewhere. That is if you can, as Win XP, Vista, and 7 are being phased out for this….and Windows software is used on the other similar product platforms.

      • Tim Acheson

        ” it took a few years to arise from the Vista debacle”

        In what sense? Vista wasn’t a debacle. It worked. The main problem was, XP is so good — and there was no reason to upgrade. Until earlier this year, Windows XP was still the most popular OS — and XP was released a decade ago.

        The gap between Vista and 7 was no longer that it would otherwise have been, and the success of Windows 7 proves that Vista did no damage.

        • Michael Hazell

          I agree. The only downfall of Vista was for to reasons. 1) the lack of good hardware that Vista really needed, and 2) the new driver system made device makers have to rewrite their drivers for the new system.

          On Windows 7, both of these issues have been solved.

        • Guest

          “The main problem was, XP is so good — and there was no reason to upgrade.” The same could be said for Windows 7. It’s so good, what exactly would be a good reason to upgrade to Windows 8? None! Especially if the new UI isn’t optimized for a desktop.

          • Tim Acheson

            Good point! Windows 8 is better and much faster, with all the performance bottlenecks addressed. E.g. Super fast boot up, 1 sec to recollect WiFi instead of 15, etc. MS really need to emphasise this fact.

            BUT the fact remains, Win 7 still works very well and a nw Einstein 7 PC purchased today for most people will still be just as good in ten years!

      • aemarques

        You are wrong. People will have downgrade rights to opt for WIndows 7 (or even Vista!) on a new PC, if they so decide:

  • Greg

    Might be a “make or break” moment for Ballmer though. See

  • AdamB

    The world changed and Microsoft changed with it, late as always but at least it did. Microsoft was/is late to practically everything, without a doubt not an innovative company in terms being of first to market and sticking with it, and not inspiring by all means. And yet it is a rare, enduring, and powerful success story for 37 years. So no matter how you slice this strange beast, it is nothing but successful.

  • Doug

    I think the biggest issue is the tile interface. Colored tiles are not catching on with the human brain. If the tile interface was liked by the human mind than more people would have chosen Windows Phones over Android and iOS. The niche adoption of Windows Phone is an indicator of the reception Windows 8 will receive.

    This is more an issue of what the human brain finds attractive than promotion and learning curves.

    • Jason Farris

      Colored tiles are not colored for long, they are alive with photos that represent your interests. You should spend some time with it.

      • npco543

        Yea, and when I have work that needs to be done, a pretty picture on a tile really helps me do that. /sarcasm.

        The “live” aspect of tiles are an interesting and potentially useful idea, but the implementation is a failure on most cases. The e-mail tile, for example, shows 2 truncated lines from the 5 most recent e-mails. I’ve found the two lines never contain enough information to prevent me from having to open the e-mail app, so what’s the point? I can’t even hover over the tile and scroll the mouse wheel (mice… remember them? The things that control 99% of desktops?) to access more e-mail previews.
        Outside simplistic tasks like seeing the current weather or news headlines, the implementation is tragically limited, much of which is due to disregarding all the input methods and system resources available on desktop systems. It essentially turns even the most powerful computer with multiple high resolution displays into a modest tablet without the touch input.

        Outside Metro, Windows 8 is quite nice, but if Microsoft is intent on Metro becoming THE ui for Windows, Windows 8 is barely an early alpha version of where it needs to be.

  • Michael Hazell

    Well, I always wondered why GeekWire covers nearly no Linux stuff. Do you guys know that System76 launched a new all in one Ubuntu desktop PC? I tipped you guys on it, but I’m not sure if you guys got it. I hope you guys can cover Linux some more.

    As far as the Windows 8 launch goes, I agree. It was not as big or publicized as I thought it would be.

  • AnonUser

    Very thoughtful. I agree with you – the game has changed permanently. And the change came from Mobile. They were busy protecting Windows and Office and didn’t see it coming from the mobile side.

  • Steve Fitzpatrick

    For people like me who like Windows – being able to move to a full Microsoft friendly set of peripherals is exciting.

    I can’t wait to buy my new W8 PC, a Surface and a Nokia 920. They’re all on my list of major purchases before the end of the year.

    I’m sick of my other devices having trouble not syncing or playing friendly. My iPhone and iPad keep resetting my POP3 email passwords for some random reason – too often now so I don’t use them for email anymore.

    Don’t get me started on iCloud – it was the one thing I really wanted to work seamlessly, but it’s near pointless. Dropbox is far easier, does exactly what it says it will do and is cross platform like nothing else.

    So for me, W8 and Surface is the best thing to happen in the PC world since Win95.

    • Deckard_Cain

      Then you should’ve tried Android devices. They play nice with Windows.

  • Deckard_Cain

    Windows 7 wasn’t the problem. The biggest problem was the lack of an effective mobile strategy. And even now, with Windows 8 I believe that Microsoft missed a chance. They should’ve differentiated the UI from typical PCs and tablets and hybrids.

  • Andrew McCallum

    I think linux is the way to go in the long-term. I liked the openness of Windows, but it appears that has come to an end; becoming more like apple than its own.

  • cerpinokus

    Yawn, you seem overly positive. Windows 7 will make some more money, since 8 is not acceptable. I surely hope version 9 will acknowledge the hardware the software runs on and not pretend it can be all to everything. It just doesn’t work that way.

  • Tim Acheson

    Like Vista, Windows 8 is no big deal.

    Nevertheless, the FUD continues.

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