How Microsoft turned its embarrassment over Windows 8 into a ‘fascinating entrepreneurial moment’ – Business Insider

windows 8 launch steve ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the launch of Windows 8. It
eschewed traditional Windows elements like the Start button in
favor of big, touch-friendly buttons.

Wikimedia Commons

Windows 8 was enough of a
that Microsoft was willing to skip a whole version
number, all the way to Windows 10, just to
put some symbolic distance between the past and the future
of Windows

But for all its problems, Microsoft executives say that
people who used Windows 8 regularly actually liked it a lot.

For Chuck Friedman, the Microsoft Corporate VP in charge of the
Windows shell — the inside baseball name for the parts of
Windows that you actually use, like navigating files and
folders — the Windows 8 situation presented a
“fascinating entrepreneurial moment,” he tells Business

When he took over in this role in July 2014, Microsoft was just
about a year from shipping the final retail version of Windows
10. His job, then, was a balancing act between isolating the
things that made people happy about using Windows 8, while
also tearing out the stuff that earned it its bad

“Instead of blame the past, it’s embrace the past,” Friedman

Embrace change

A big part of that was learning to accept Windows 8 for what it
was, not what it could have been, Friedman says. If they weren’t
willing to bring pieces of Windows 8 along to Windows 10, not
only would they risk throwing the baby out with the
bathwater — there would be a bigger risk of completely
alienating those who upgraded from 8 to 10. 

But just adding Windows 8’s touchscreen-friendly interface
together with Windows 7’s more traditional Windows experience
wouldn’t have been enough, either. Simply mashing two things
together would have caused more problems and confusion for users
upgrading from both operating systems, and it’s key to maintain
“empathy for the user,” he says.

windows 8

“It’s not good enough if you’re just bringing the world
together,” Friedman says.  So Friedman decided they needed
to start over and rethink what people actually wanted from

For instance, one of the biggest criticisms of the original
version of Windows 8 was not having the traditional Start menu
(though it was later
added back in 2013’s Windows 8.1 update
), so that was a
logical place to begin.

But it wasn’t enough: That was just meeting the most minimum

“It turns out you don’t get credit for having a Start menu,”
Friedman says. “You need create a reason for people to buy.”

Best of both worlds 

And so, Windows 10 debuted a Start menu that also works in
some of Windows 8’s “Live Tiles” design, which presents
information to you, like the weather or your next meeting,
without forcing you to open the relevant app. It also
added Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual digital assistant, which
can automate a lot of tasks.

Plus, Windows 10 took inspiration from the “super snappy”
performance of Apple’s iPad, so even when you are using it as a
touchscreen, it’s more responsive than Windows 8 before it…even
though most of the swiping gestures were carried over.

Windows 10

Friedman notes that people aren’t necessarily looking to buy a
tablet, or a laptop, or even Windows itself — people are
looking for a way to get stuff done, whether that’s gaming or
making spreadsheets. That means less of a focus on any given
feature, and more emphasis on what it’s like to actually use.

Friedman understands the stakes better than most: Before he was
in charge of the Windows “shell” (the term for the part of
Windows that people see, as opposed to its underlying guts), he
was an exec with Microsoft’s troubled smartphone division. No
matter how technically proficient Windows Phone was,
it never got much traction in the market against iPhone or
, because there it didn’t provide enough of
an advantage in getting things done over its competitors.

“There wasn’t a reason to buy it,” Friedman admits.


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