Windows 8: Cursed?

We all know of the Star Trek movies – that long running cinema franchise that grew from the television series from the late 60’s. Even if you are not a fan of the show or the movies, it’s hard to ignore the existence of the show and its multitude of spinoffs. If you are a fan of the movie franchise (even a casual one) you are aware of the dreaded “Trek movie curse”. The curse is relatively simple – every odd-numbered Starr Trek movie before the reboot has been a critical and box office flop while the even-numbered movies have been critically acclaimed.

The Motion Picture, the Search for Spock, Star Trek V, Generations, and Insurrection. They have all been plagued with poorly written story lines, illogical and baffling art direction, and bad acting / direction. The curse is something of a vision of hindsight – easy to see now that we can look back and compare the movies. That curse is somewhat unique to the franchise and, depending on who you ask, has been broken (or not) in the reboot of the series in 2009. Mind you, I don’t mean “curse” in the “woo woo” way. It is an observation as opposed to a belief in anything supernatural going on.

But the curse itself is not altogether unique. The Microsoft Windows operating system appears to share the same fate as these films, with versions of the venerable OS doing a hit and miss dance with consumers. This all depends on where you start counting and what members of the product line you choose to include. For our purposes here, we are talking about the consumer releases and leaving out the “network” versions of the software – WinNT, Win2K, Win2003, Win2008, and so forth. These are meant more as server software or at least for use in IT business environments instead as consumer system designed to surf the Internet and play games.

Of course, where do we start our count on the consumer side? Windows 1.0? 2.0? 3.x? Well, Windows 1.0 was not exactly a consumer product like we expect today. After all, it was produced when the personal computer market was still in diapers. The software was quite limited, but this was as much to do with the youth of the market as anything within the program itself. The same thing could be said of Windows 2.0 – released in 1988, it was still very early in the development of the consumer computer system. Not to say that there wasn’t a market at that time, but compare the sales figures in ’88 to ’98 and it looks quite sickly. Besides, these versions were not quite capable of operating the system alone. If you recall, the OS of the day at that time was DOS (Disk Operating System), a text based OS that provided users the ability to interact with computers without needing to sequentially load disks or type out long strings of commands. Windows was not an OS at this time, it was a shell layer laid atop of DOS that was meant to give you a different means of interacting with the system. It relied on DOS for a fair component of its operation. Even up to Windows 3.x, DOS was needed for the system to operate even if it was just in the background.

So we come to Win95, the first version of Windows designed to operate the system alone (though it still used the DOS kernel deep down) and it is here that the curse takes hold. Win95 was a good first attempt, but was plagued with memory leaks, crash bugs, and all sorts of other mischief. It was a failure. Replacing it in 1998 was Win98 which featured better memory management (it still leaked), better functionality, speed, and so forth. It was a success. How can we tell? We need only look to when the support for an OS was discontinued. Win95 was released on 24 August 1995 and support was halted on 30 November 2001 (just over 6 years). Win98 was released 25 June 1998 and support was halted 11 July 2006 (just over 8 years. It was scheduled to be dropped two years prior but popular demand forced Microsoft to delay cutting off support. Win95, on the other hand, disappeared with little more than a whimper.

The next great release of the OS was WinME or Windows Millennium Edition. Hard to say something kind about this one as it was one of the biggest pieces of OS garbage ever built. This was partially due to the last minute inclusion of the DOS kernel in the system due to demand from some users (read: hardcore nerds) that wanted the DOS kernel for “functionality”. What it did was destabilize the entire OS, rendering it a bugged out monster with enormous memory leaks, BSOD’s, and vulnerabilities. Sadly, the original Windows Kernel within the OS was pretty good and would serve as the basis for future versions, but this zombie OS was just plain awful. Released on 14 September 2000 and discontinued on the same day as Win98. Ouch!

Now we get to the star of the Windows line, Windows XP or Windows Experience (yeah, XP actually stood for something). What can one say about XP other than that it has been the most popular OS on the planet? Gone was the DOS kernel and in was the new Windows-only kernel. XP learned from ME and from 2K – it’s memory management was tighter (it knew to free memory once programs were close), its desktop slicker, and its capabilities were wider. It had a bit of a rocky start, but a couple service packs rapidly brought it up to snuff. Released on 25 October 2001 and service is expected to be discontinued on 08 April 2014 – that’s almost 13 years.

Windows Vista was next. An OS that build on XP and included numerous functionality upgrades, including better indexing and search functions, better memory management, and a new method of storing .DLL files that allowed multiple versions to be archived and used as needed by programs, eliminating a lot of conflicts and BSODs of old. But the program was big, heavy, and slow. Things just took longer to get done on it. Business and consumers were not about to give up the slick and smooth interface for a new clunky one, no matter how many new bobbles they put into it. It also came with a ridiculous number of versions, confusing consumers that were used to Windows XP. Period. Released 30 January 2007 with no end date for support as yet.

Now we come to the current golden kid – Windows 7. It is not that much different from Vista, except it sports better speeds and scalability. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s caught on as a result and has recently pushed XP out as top OS. To note, it was released on 22 October 2009.

Which brings us to Windows 8. Looking over the details above, it should be painfully obvious which way a prediction for this OS would lean. Despite the number, in the realm of actual operating systems, it has landed on the supposedly cursed number. Does this mean that it’s actually doomed?

That depends on a number of factors, some in the OS and some in the broader market. Success is a never a single, solid number. It shifts as the market changes and in terms of computer technology, the market is always changing. My opinion? I think it’s not going to “win”, as it were, at least not in the business / desktop market. Why? It’s actually pretty simple – just look at the release dates above.

Oh sure, there’s the issues with the new Metro system in Windows 8, the lack of Start Menu, the poor showing on the integrated Apps store, the closed ecosystem for the store similar to Apple, the idiocy for shutting down, and difficulties in switching between programs some have noted. All of that is true, but it still pales before the simple fact. It’s too soon. I’m dead serious. Don’t look at the dates involved – look at the market. Windows 7 was released only about 2.5 years ago. It is just now seeing deployment in business settings – my office has just begun rolling it out to our laptops. Programs are being updated to specifically work with the OS. In other words, Windows 7 is just now beginning to replace XP as THE OS. Windows 8 might be like sweet “mana” from heaven in computing terms, but it’s just too soon.

Let me put it this way. In 2000, I was using Win98 as my primary OS. By 2003, I was using Win2k. It took until 2006 for me to get into XP. I got on with Windows 7 in 2009 when it came out. Right now, I don’t see me needing a new OS until this one starts to show its age. That’s likely going to be at least another 2 or more years into its life cycle if not more. I don’t need a new OS – there is nothing that I can think of that I need to do with my computer that the Windows 7 OS does not already facilitate. For businesses, it is even worse. If they are just now moving to Windows 7 after ten years on XP, what is the likelihood they are going to chuck that for 8 anytime soon? Almost zero.  Like Vista, it will be automatically included on new systems and like Vista, it’ll be Windows 9 before I bother with it. The same goes for business users. They don’t need it yet. Oh, it will sell, but I do not expect it to replace Windows 7.

Let’s see if the Star Trek curse holds.

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