As the news comes through concerning the glories of Windows 8.1, and arguments begin about whether it is good enough, I reminisce about the good old days when Microsoft was not so jumpy about how it moved the industry along.
Let me give you an example of how it used to work. The greatest change in user interface was the move to the modern GUI first introduced by the Xerox Star in 1981. It was later carried to the Apple Lisa in 1983 and eventually the Macintosh in 1984.
Microsoft was following this development and began working on versions of Windows, which it was talking up from the beginning of the trend. It was finally released later on in 1985 as Windows 1.0, but it was an optional shell that ran on top of DOS. It was pretty much a toy.
As time went by DOS and Windows were continuously updated. They ran on parallel tracks; the DOS command line interface was not tossed out to make room for Windows, and Windows was not foisted on the public with DOS as some sort of backup interface to be used when needed.
This, unfortunately, is what happened with Windows 8, which has a dual interface within a single product. It has "Metro" and desktop working awkwardly side-by-side.
It wasn't until 11 years after the Macintosh and 14 years after the Xerox Star that Windows really took hold with Windows 95. Despite the success, DOS continued to be developed and was killed in 2000 with DOS 8.0. It was a calculated and concerted method that never forced anyone to do anything, and it was both plodding and successful.
So how does that compare with the new and panicky Microsoft, which would have pulled the plug on DOS in 1986 and forced us to use Windows 1.0, take it or leave it? The funny thing is that even Apple has not moved the Mac to a touchscreen, yet PC desktops are all now targeting touch.
The old Microsoft would have teased the touchscreen for years by bringing out a shell then a parallel product that would take perhaps a decade to get traction, as it should.
Simply put, a touchscreen interface running full-screen apps along with completely new and alien icons is a radical change by any measure. Such an approach exposes the hysteria Microsoft is feeling.
For some time now I've been an advocate for a patch like Windows 8.1 to stop the bleeding. Even so, it will not solve this basic problem at Microsoft: The company’s inability to stay calm. As witnessed by the evolution of Windows, these things actually take time, and time works to the benefit of Microsoft.
Microsoft always gets more attention when it is developing a solution. The company could have milked its "solution" to the iPad rather than move the iPad interface to the desktop as if that was some sort of solution to the emergence of a new interface factor. The iPad appeared in 2010. It is now only 2013 and, apparently, all that we are used to doing on the desktop is over already.
I wish these people would get a grip.