Microsoft wants you to forget Windows 8

Look to Vista for how Redmond will treat Windows 8 as it moves on to the next bright, shiny OS

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Estimates from analytics firm Net Applications confirm that disparity between Windows 7 and Windows 8. When both have been judged at the same points in their respective post-release timelines, Windows 7 consistently accounted for more than twice the total active Windows user share of Windows 8.

Windows 8 has led in percentage of total Windows user share over Vista, but not by much: Last month, in fact, Windows 8's lead over Vista at the same point in each editions' career was the smallest ever, only two-tenths of one percent.

Putting an end to Windows 8

To ease Windows 8 into the past, Microsoft will likely make little, if any, noise about the edition's final update, slated for Aug. 12, reports say. That bump-up, probably to "Windows 8.1 Update 2," will be released with little fanfare and few noticeable changes, certainly not with the modified Start menu Microsoft previewed this spring at its Build developers conference. From all indications, that -- as well as other features to restore an emphasis on mouse and keyboard -- will take place with Threshold to let the company tout that edition as a clean break from its predecessor.

Rather than belabor Windows 8, which is dead to Microsoft, it will beat the drum on the next name for its Windows client.

For that, Microsoft could re-run the post-Vista play, but turn it on its head. After Vista, the company declined to continue names as its naming convention ("XP" and "Vista" for the two consecutive releases) and instead went with the numerical "Windows 7." The smart move this cycle would be to quit numerals, tainted after Windows 8, and distance Threshold from its predecessor with a word as name. "Windows Threshold" has little ring, but Microsoft has legions of marketers who could come up with something much better. "Windows Redemption" is probably off the table -- too literal for what the company thinks, or better put, hopes.

From the Vista experience, too, Microsoft can assume that Windows 8 will slide toward, but not into, insignificance -- assuming Threshold is a better stab at what customers want -- as users upgrade and replace devices.

Much of Windows 7's success was ascribed to customers abandoning Vista or leaving the even-older XP, which they'd clung to because of wariness about Vista. It was actually more about Vista, which lost 30% of its user share in the first year after Windows 7's release. Windows XP shed just 15% of its share in the same 12 months.

Windows 8 (which includes Windows 8.1) will top out at around 16% to 16.5% of all personal computer operating systems in March and April 2015 -- the assumption is that Threshold will ship then -- according to the upwards tempo reported by Net Applications. Under the Vista-Windows 7 model, then, Windows 8's user share will fall to 11.2% to 11.5% in a year.

But if Microsoft offers Threshold free of charge to current Windows 8 users, as many anticipate, 8's decline should be much steeper. Using Windows 8.1's manhandling of Windows 8 -- the former was a free upgrade that reduced the latter's user share by 50% in just seven months -- as a guide, Microsoft could drive down Windows 8's share to about 8% by October or November 2015.

It took Microsoft nearly two years to cut Vista's share in half.

Let's see: 22 months with Windows 8 hanging around, most of that time with double-digit share? Or just seven months? Which will Microsoft choose?

No contest: If Microsoft wants to air out the stink of 8 from the Windows domicile as quickly as possible, it must give away the Threshold upgrade. It would simply be the smart thing to do.

In fact, the decision to make Threshold free to Windows 8 customers will be the sign that Microsoft needs the 2012 OS to just go away. Microsoft won't do it out of largess, it will do it to promptly draw the curtain on Windows 8.

Because the faster it can make everyone forget Windows 8, the better.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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