Microsoft is expected to announce Windows 9 (codenamed Threshold) at the end of the September, putting an end to the most damaging setback in the history of its most lucrative product line. As things stand now, Windows 8 usage trails even that of Windows Vista during the same timeframe after its launch. And Vista was previously regarded as the firm's biggest flop.
According to NetApplications, Windows 8 (including all permutations of the OS, such as Windows 8.1) accounted for just 12.7 percent of PC usage worldwide in August, up slightly from 12.5 percent in July. That places Windows 8.x well below both Windows XP—with 24.8 percent usage—and Windows 7, which is holding steady at about 51 percent of usage. (Mac OS X falls in at about 6.7 percent, NetApplications reports, and Linux accounts for about 1.7 percent.)
By comparison, Windows Vista accounted for about 14.3 percent of all PC usage worldwide at this point after its launch. So use of Vista, long regarded as the biggest Windows flop, actually outpaced that of Windows 8.
There's just one problem: Released in late 2006, Windows Vista only competed against traditional PC operating systems like Mac OS X and Linux. But Windows 8 arrived at an inauspicious time, and competes with popular mobile platforms like Android tablets and iOS (iPad) as well.
NetApplications doesn't make it possible to compare Windows 8 to those platforms, but when you consider that over 1 billion Android devices will be sold this year, it's not hard to understand that the damage Windows 8 has caused is more serious than what happened with Vista. Back then, all Microsoft had to do was refine Vista and release Windows 7 to set things right. Today, the task is more daunting.
Part of the problem is Windows 8's design, which comingles desktop and mobile platforms in a single system. The result, many feel, is a compromise no matter which type of hardware you use. Those with tablets are often forced to utilize non-touch-friendly desktop interfaces, and those on desktop PCs and non-touch-based laptops are often presented with inappropriate mobile user experiences.
Since the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has improved the OS to make the infractions less common, and to make the system more responsive for those with traditional PCs. But Windows 9 is expected to go even further and could, for example, eliminate some touch-based UIs entirely on traditional PCs. Likewise, it's possible that the software giant will eliminate the desktop UI on smaller tablets. The result, hopefully, is a single platform that works well—properly—on any device.
Windows 9 can't happen quickly enough. In addition to mobile competitors, Windows is being squeezed on the low end of the PC market by Chromebooks, which are popular in education and with cash-strapped consumers. And Apple's MacBook products, in particular, continue to dominate the high-end of the PC market as well.