Posted by Matt Egan 30 September 2014
Windows 9 and the death of the OS as a must-have product
Don't expect the world to stop for the launch of Windows 9. Those days died with Vista. (For more on Windows 9, read: Windows 9 release date, price and features rumours.)
We look back on Windows XP with misty eyes now, but it's worth remembering the excitement that was generated by the pre-launch publicity for Windows Vista. That Vista was such a lemon shouldn't obscure the fact that within PC-loving circles it was anticipated with something approaching fever pitch. Certainly more interest than the imminent launch of Windows 9 can hope to garner. Windows launches used to be very different in the pre-mobile world.
The high-point of OS-launch excitement was, of course, Windows 95. A $300 million ad campaign featuring The Rolling Stones and the cast of Friends combined to create sufficient hype that PC World stores opened at midnight and people actually turned up to buy the latest Windows operating system. It's unthinkable now that national news broadcasts would be led by a Windows launch. That is the exclusive domain of Apple's latest smartphones. And the muted response we can expect to see when Windows 9 launches should be a word of warning to Apple: the iPhone was once a runaway market leader and as such it retains the interest of the wider world. But nothing lasts for ever.
Because Windows 95 - flawed as it was - did represent a significant staging post in the development of desktop computing as we know it now. It was the first truly graphical user interface for a mass market operating system. And to a greater or lesser extent every version of Windows since has been little more than an iterative upgradem. Indeed, the primary reason for renaming Windows every couple of years is to kick start the PC upgrade cycle and sell lots of computers. This seems positively quaint in an age of smartphones and tablets - and laptops and PCs that last for years. But as smartphones and tablets have muscled in on laptop territory, and PCs have got cheaper, the urge to upgrade every couple of years has disappeared.
XP is remembered fondly because it was stable and secure, fixing the problems of Windows versions past, and with none of the bugs that spoilt Vista. But at the time it was just okay. It came at a time when Microsoft was focused on solving problems and improving security rather than adding on features to attract new users. And it also came along at the height of Windows' and destkop computing's popularity. Never again would a Windows OS upgrade have such an effect on the market for PCs and laptops.
Fast forward to 2014 and Windows 9 shares with XP (and Windows 7) the distinction of replacing an unloved version of Windows, ironing out problems and restoring Windows' reputation. As such it is both a challenge and an opportunity for Microsoft. But it is nothing like the opportunity that was Windows XP. Customers have many more connected computers in their lives these days, and they just don't care as much as they used to. For the most part the internet is our unifying platform, to which Windows is just another background along with Android, iOS and the rest. Indeed, I'd argue that for many people the Xbox interface is a more important GUI than is their Windows 8 PC.
Windows 8 is disliked because it is a radical if necessary departure from the norm. And because it looks so strikingly different to its predescessors. But it is perfectly fit for purpose, if a litle clunky at times. Windows 9 will iron out these kinks and move us further toward a unified mobile and desktop Windows world. Some people will like it, many will profess to hate it, most will notice only when they decide to buy a laptop. Because as important as is the launch of a new Windows, it will never again capture the imagination of the world. (See also: How to watch the Windows 9 launch event live.)