Mar 252013
 
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talks Windows 8

Killing a technology product is never a clean process, as Google well know. Microsoft show the way to deal with a failed project and we’re seeing their five stages of abandoning a product as they prepare to retire Windows 8.

The stages of Microsoft are abandoning a product are well known – the failure of Microsoft Vista is the best example, but not the only one.

As Microsoft smooths Window 8’s pillow and prepares for its imminent demise we can see the process at work.

Denial

At first the company denies there is a problem, the flashy advertising campaigns are boosted and the various ‘in the camp’ commentators get informal briefings from company evangelists to fuel their snarky columns about people getting Microsoft’s latest product all wrong.

This usually goes on for around six months until the market feedback that the product is dog becomes overwhelming – usually this happens at the same time the first reliable sales figures start appearing.

Anger

As the consensus in the broader community becomes settled that the new product isn’t good, the company’s tame commentators turn nasty and lash out at the critics for ‘misrepresenting’ the new product.

This is usually a touchy period for Microsoft and other vendors as they can’t risk being too aggressive but they have to allow their allies to both let off steam and try to recover the credibility they lost in hyping what’s clearly been a market failure.

Bargaining

Once it’s clear the perceived wisdom that the product isn’t very good isn’t going to be shaken, the vendor comes out with special offers and pricing changes to try and coax users over to the new service.

With Windows 8 Microsoft tried something unusual, rather than cutting prices, Microsoft announced they would increase the cost of Windows 8.

The idea was probably to panic people into buying the product and giving Microsoft a revenue and market share bounce for the quarter.

It didn’t work – the consensus that Windows 7 is a better product meant people stayed away.

Depression

As the realisation that pricing tweaks and promotional stunts won’t work sends the company, and its supporters, into a funk.

For experienced industry watchers, the silence around a product that’s been heavily hyped and defended for the previous year or two is a good indication that the next version is being accelerated.

Acceptance

Eventually the vendor accepts the product has failed and starts working on its own exit strategy – hopefully one that doesn’t see too many executives sacked.

With Microsoft’s this process starts with a quiet announcement that the replacement version of Windows is on the way, in this case Windows Blue.

At the same time, the tame commentators start talking about ‘leaks’ of the wonderful new system that is in the pipeline. Early beta versions of the new product start popping up in developers’ forums and file sharing sites.

Eventually you get stories like this one that appeared in The Verge yesterday – Windows Blue leaks online and we can be sure the Microsoft public relations machine has subtly moved onto the next version.

Vale Windows 8

So Windows 8 is coming to an early end. In one way this is a shame as it was a brave gamble by Steve Ballmer and his team to solve the ‘three screen’ problem.

Computer users today are using three or more screens or devices – a desktop, a smartphone and a TV or tablet computer.

Microsoft were hoping they could develop a system that unified all these platforms and gave users a common experience regardless of what they were using.

It appears to have failed, probably because the different devices don’t have the same user experience so a keyboard based system doesn’t work on a touchscreen while a touch based system sucks really badly on a desktop or laptop computer – which is Windows 8’s real problem.

Unrealistic expectations

Another problem for Microsoft were the unrealistic expectations that Window 8 would halt the slide of personal computer sales.

PC manufacturers have been baffled by the rise of smartphones and tablet computers – vendors like Dell, HP and Acer have miserably in moving into the new product lines and they hoped that Microsoft could help arrest their market declines.

This was asking too much of Windows 8 and was never really likely.

So the cycle begins again with Windows Blue, the question is whether it will be the last version of Windows as we move further in the post-PC era.

  4 Responses to “The Five Stages of abandoning a product”

    • Meh, Ed Bott is probably Microsoft’s biggest apologist. He’s still in the denial phase.

      Have a read of the stuff Ed wrote about Vista – he was probably the last stalwart defending the system long after everyone else had given up on it.

  1. I’m confused about how you could come to the conclusion that Microsoft is “abandoning” Windows 8 by looking at the leaked builds of Windows “Blue” – aka Windows 8.1.

    They’re doubling down on the new Windows 8 ‘Metro’/Modern interface, not abandoning it. Windows Blue (8.1) is mainly about filling in the missing gaps in the new interface that Microsoft didn’t get time to complete before they released Windows 8 (all of those moment when you’re using the new interface and then you get thrown back into the desktop to complete a simple task). The Windows 7 way of doing things isn’t coming back I’m afraid. Hopefully the PC makers deliver the proper hardware this time around.

    So yea, I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this one.

    • It’s alright Andrew, you can disrespectfully disagree with me if you like.

      Judging by the early leaks of Windows Blue that we’ve seen, you’re certainly right it appears Microsoft are doubling down on the “Metro” interface.

      I don’t think Windows Blue will go back to Windows 7 any more than Windows 7 went back to XP, what I’m fascinated in is how Microsoft are preparing the ground for retiring Windows 8 with a minimum loss of face.

      Whether the final version of Windows Blue is radically different to Windows 8 remains to be seen, I suspect it depends on what Microsoft chooses to do with Windows Phone and the Surface.

      Device drivers are an interesting problem, Windows 8 certainly didn’t have as many problems as Windows Vista where the changed security requirements blocked a lot of devices which worked fine under Windows XP or NT – for vendors, their problem is hardware margins are so thin that they don’t have the money to rewrite software for legacy equipment.

      Interesting days.

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