Inertia (or why Microsoft’s biggest problem is their PC dominance)

Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion.

Microsoft doesn’t know what to do with Windows. Or at least it doesn’t seem like Microsoft knows what to do with Windows. Microsoft’s greatest strength in the desktop market today is inertia. The dominance the company has built over the past 10-15 years as the de facto PC operating system for both business’ and consumers is because of this inertia. Since the release of Windows 95 has there been another feasible option? Mac OS of course provides a more than viable alternative but the fact is that Windows remained dominant and Mac OS was always a niche player.

Microsoft’s problem is that it’s a much different world now, and up until last year their flagship operating system was still stuck in 1996 where UI/UX was concerned. Microsoft didn’t have an answer to the question that tablets posed and they needed one badly so they created Windows 8; the operating system that would bring Windows squarely into 2012 and compete against not only Mac OS but more importantly iOS and Android. Windows biggest competitors were now mobile operating systems, the operating systems that came pre-installed on the smartphones and tables people purchased. Microsoft also felt the need to make one operating system that would work well on tablets and also on traditional desktops and laptops and created an operating system that unfortunately doesn’t work very well on either.

What’s interesting, is that the main issue that Windows 8 has in the marketplace isn’t one of functionality its one of familiarity. The way people use Windows hasn’t changed fundamentally since Windows 95; graphics get better, features more polished but at the core there’s always been a desktop with icons and a Start menu. Users are used to this, they expect that when they turn on their Windows PC they will see a desktop with icons and a Start menu, that hasn’t changed in almost 20 years, until now. Windows 8 isn’t familiar, which may be acceptable if a long time Windows user were to pick up a Windows tablet, but on the desktop people want what they’re used to. It wasn’t broken (at least not on the desktop) so why change it? Microsoft would argue that Windows 8 works equally well for tablet AND desktop users. A similar argument however could be made that while they may work equally well, they don’t work very well in either usage scenario, unless you are willing to do some tweaking. But users who’ve gotten used to interacting with iPhone’s, iPad’s and Android smartphones and tablets don’t expect to have to tweak, fiddle or tinker with their computer/device do get it to a place where they’re comfortable with it, they expect it to be comfortable and familiar from the minute they press the ON button. For those of us that don’t mind tweaking their PC’s Windows 8 is a great upgrade, but for the rest; where’s the incentive to leave the warm, familiar, comfortable, functional Windows 7/Vista/XP which they’re accustomed to? Especially when their desktop and laptop computers are probably now more than ever relegated to appliances that are only used to accomplish “work” tasks and most leisure activities have moved to smartphones, tables, set-top boxes or game consoles. Users want something that gets out of their way, they’ve spent the last 20 years learning how to use Windows and don’t want to have to do so again. Can you blame them?

Once a train starts moving and picks up speed, it’s very hard to stop it, it’s the reason Window’s gained its dominant market position and unfortunately for Microsoft it’s also the reason it’s so hard for them to adapt to the rapidly changing PC or should I say PCD (personal computing device) landscape. The inertia isn’t Microsoft’s directly but rather a result of the expectation they’ve created in their users by not making any significant changes to Windows UI/UX over the past 20 years. Now that major change has come with Windows 8 and users want to continue along the same track they’ve been travelling these past two decades. Microsoft now has the challenge of stopping this train or at the very least changing its course.

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