But things are different this time around because Windows 8 is not just a new operating system for the desktop, but part of a whole new Windows 8 ecosystem that also includes operating systems for the increasingly important tablet computer market and for smartphones--all with the same tile-based user interface. That means it can't back away from the new desktop user interface without leaving its "one interface for all devices" strategy in tatters.
So Microsoft is apparently hitching its Windows desktop fortunes to a user interface which was originally designed for Windows Phone. And there's no getting around the fact that Windows Phone has spectacularly failed to impress thus far: IDC's Q3 2012 figures show Android was biggest selling phone operating system with 75% of the market, with iOS in second place with Apple in second place with just under 15%.
Windows Phone, by contrast, commands less than 4%. (Some may argue that there are other reasons why Windows Phone is failing, like a lack of apps, but that didn't hold iOS or Android back in their early days.)
In fact, Windows Phone may be irrelevant to the fortunes of Windows 8. That's because the key purpose of the "one interface for all devices" strategy is to capture a sizable chunk of the rapidly developing tablet market, says David Johnson, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "The big value proposition is the communality across form factors," he says. "Microsoft's best chance is that employees want to use Windows tablets and bring them in to their workplace."
Tablets Are Key to Windows 8 Impact
So what's most important for Microsoft is that the new Windows 8 interface proves popular on tablet computers--either the consumer oriented ARM-based ones running Windows RT, or the Intel-based ones running Windows 8 Pro which can be managed by IT departments, and which are thus more suitable for enterprise use.
And the good news for Microsoft is that although sales of Windows Phone devices have been poor, there appears to be a high level of interest in Windows tablets. A recent Forrester survey found that 20% of respondents plan to use one for work, compared to 26% who plan to use an iPad.