Reports say that Microsoft will abandon the Windows 8 Start screen interface for traditional computers in the next version of Windows, code-named Threshold. That's a pretty drastic step. Does it mean that Microsoft recognizes that Windows 8 was the biggest operating system bust in its history?
Mary Jo Foley reports that the next version of Windows, due out in 2015, will adapt itself to whatever hardware it's installed on -- and that means that for desktops and laptops, the Windows Desktop will be front and center, along with a Start menu. Users never need to see the Start screen if they don't want. Tablet and phone users, on the other hand, won't even have the Desktop to go to.
The change is essentially Microsoft's admission that Windows 8 has been a failure. It's the biggest turnaround that Microsoft has ever made when it comes to operating systems, nearly the equivalent of if the company had reverted back to DOS after the release of Windows.
Windows 8 is not merely a garden-variety version of Windows for Microsoft. It is the company's vision of the future of computing. And users hate it, with good reason.
Is Windows 8 the worst operating system Microsoft has ever released? There are some bombs it has to compete against. Windows ME was laughably bad, and lasted only a little more than a year before Windows XP was released. But Windows ME's badness was nothing compared to the awfulness that was Windows Vista, a bug-ridden, hardware-unfriendly operating system with high-end system requirements and annoying features such as overly intrusive User Account Control.
Being worse than Windows Vista takes some work, but Windows 8 has proved to be up to the task. It forces users of traditional computers to wrangle with an operating system built for touchscreen tablets, and it bolts together two entirely different operating systems. Even Rube Goldberg would have been embarassed to sketch out something like this.
The consequences of Windows 8's problems will haunt Microsoft for far longer than Vista did. Windows 7 largely fixed what was wrong with Vista, and as a result Microsoft suffered no serious long-term losses because of it. Not so with Windows 8. Windows 8 came out at a time when Microsoft needed to make a splash with tablets. But because its tablets were forced to run an operating system built for both tablets and traditional computers, Windows 8 has never been a great tablet operating system. As a result, Microsoft fell behind even further in mobile.
That's quite a remarkable accomplishment: A single operating system hurting Microsoft in both mobile and traditional computers simultaneously.
The good news for Microsoft is that it seems to have recognized Windows 8's failures. The question is whether the next version of Windows can help Microsoft recover from them.